Wanting to both learn more about the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as take a short break from Civil War and WWII studies, I picked up William Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance (Back Bay Books; 1992) at a recent book sale. Having a bad habit of starting books, getting engrossed and breezing through the first half, before getting preoccupied with something else and never completing it, I was not sure if I would ever end up reading this. However, one day, as I pondered something to do in my free time, I just decided to flip it open and read a random page, which had to do with the Inquisition, therefore it intrigued me (anything involving Church corruption is more often than not going to alert and keep my attention). I started reading it that day, and I do not think I have ever been so into a historical narrative, not from any other subject. This book had me in its grip the entire time and would not let go until I was finished. I will be quick to say that this is the best narrative I have ever read, hands down.
Historian, writer, and friend Kurt Epps is always fond of saying, “You got to hand it to the Sumerians. They invented writing…and beer!” As a former English teacher, he once told me it was imperative when teaching ancient cultures to modern students who could not care less that some comparison to what we have today must be made to keep them interested. This little quip, more often than not, always got the job done, drawing amused stares and question like, “No way! Really?” Yes, really kiddo. The same thing happened to me last week, when dealing with even younger students, and any mention of alcohol whatsoever never ceases to produce childish giggles. Nevertheless, the Sumerian line actually seemed to peak their interest. “Go home and tell mommy and daddy,” I said, “That the next time they sit down to have a beer, they are actually drinking something that is thousands of years old.” I then, in this politically correct world, quickly attached the disclaimer that I am not advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages to underage students. We have an insecurity in this country when it comes to alcohol; adults can get hammered on weekends, but college students and those younger, well, they do to, but it is kept hush-hush (at least it was in the pre-Facebook “red cup” era of humanity).