From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages. In handsomely crafted prose, and with the grace and authority of his extraordinary gift for narrative history, William Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its rebirth-the dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as some of its most spectacular villains- the Renaissance.
Using only secondary sources, Manchester plunges readers into the medieval mind-set in a captivating, marvelously vivid popular history that humanizes the tumultuous span from the Dark Ages to the dawn of the Renaissance. He delineates an age when invisible spirits infested the air, when tolerance was seen as treachery and ``a mafia of profane popes desecrated Christianity.'' Besides re-creating the arduous lives of ordinary people, the Wesleyan professor of history peoples his tapestry with such figures as Leonardo, Machiavelli, Lucrezia Borgia, Erasmus, Luther, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Manchester ( The Arms of Krupp ) devotes much attention to Magellan, whose globe-straddling voyage shattered Christendom's implicit belief in Europe as the center of the universe. His portrayal of the Middle Ages as a time when the strong and the shrewd flourished, while the imaginative, the cerebral and the unfortunate suffered, rings true. Illustrations. (June)