There is nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering about Thomas Cahill’s latest Hinges of History volume, Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World, but that is not why the series is so popular. Cahill’s work is a high flight over the historical landscape with the occasional landing to meet representative and pivotal figures. It is a colorful and enjoyable read that introduces the reader to what might otherwise be a very foreign world.
Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World (Hinges of History)
by Thomas Cahill
Nan A. Talese, 2013
368 pages (hardcover)
Available at Amazon
The Hinges of History series embodies Cahill’s own enthusiasm for the subject without demanding specialized knowledge, which is why it has done so well since How the Irish Saved Civilization. In Heretics and Heroes, we meet individuals like Christopher Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Calvin, and William Tyndale. Cahill is a fantastic story teller, as his history is able to delve into the most unique points of their lives—what makes them significant and often outright weird—and connect it to the broader world.
His coverage of the Renaissance masters is complemented by beautiful reproductions of art, which makes the book worth the read by itself. Chapters also include well-chosen woodcuts and short, but unintrusive clarifying asides. Much of Heretics and Heroes contains stories, anecdotes, and discussion of Renaissance humanism and Reformation juggernauts that generally make up good survey courses in Reformation history.
Not a ground-level people’s history, it is more akin to the turning points model, where major figures and movements tell the story. The intertwined and complicated finer details of social, economic, and political restructuring are beyond the scope of a book like this. Though there are details lost in that big picture model, there is still a need for a well-written, evenly-paced, and beautifully illustrated introduction to the world of Renaissance artists and Reformation priests. If that is what you seek, Heretics and Heroes is a good place to start.