After the excitement of my Jeopardy! appearance last week and a few days without my laptop (thanks to a defective power cord), I finally return to the actual mission of this blog– reading. I am playing catch up a bit, as I finished number thirty-one last Thursday. After a string of novels I decided to go for something more academic. I settled on Jacob Burckhardt’s seminal work of history, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.
Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance is a watershed moment in the treatment of the Renaissance. Earlier books about this period tended to focus on the great individuals. Burckhardt changed that by presenting a work of cultural history. Rather than focusing on specific individuals and their deeds, he focused on cultural trends and societal developments. The result is both informative and engaging. Burckhardt explores the Italian Renaissance in a systematic way, considering the development of the state, the individual, the revival of antiquity, advances in science and literature, secular society, and the changing nature and role of religion. Although more recent books include more depth in certain areas (particularly economics), Burckhardt remains the standard. What Edward Gibbon is to the end of the Roman Empire, Burckhardt is to the Italian Renaissance.
The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is a tremendously informative book. Burckhardt presents a wealth of information to be consumed by the willing reader. I learned a great deal and enjoyed the book very much. That said, there are a few cautionary words I should offer. First, go into this book prepared to look up various historical figures and facts. Burckhardt assumes a certain depth of knowledge regarding the Italian Renaissance, and the uninformed reader can get confused. Despite being reasonably well-studied in this era, I found it necessary to look up many things as i read. Second, the translation used in my edition (the Modern Library edition from 2002) and every other English edition I can find is that of S.G.C. Middlemore from 1878. While the book is very engaging, the translation is rendered in Victorian English and comes across a bit stilted at times. A modern translation would be a welcome gift from the literary gods. Even with these two caveats, I would highly recommend this book to any individual interested in the Italian Renaissance. It was an era that continues to exert an influence on our own and is well worth studying.
The Current Count
31 Read, 69 To Go