The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years That Shook the World

Twelve Jul. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9781538701188. $30. HIST
In 1492, Granada fell to Spain’s troops, and Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. In the four decades that followed, shifts occurred that transformed Europe, shifting it from economic backwoods to driver of world change. This book posits that the causes were multiple: new trade opportunities, Luther’s triumph, Charles V’s ascension to the Habsburg throne, Suleiman’s westward incursions. The number and range of print materials exploded. New means of financing and new trade opportunities fueled proto-capitalist mindsets. The center of gravity of the European economy began to shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Gunpowder warfare necessitated new methods of government financing; something like a modern state began to emerge. It’s not a new story but one that well deserves retelling when it’s told well, as it is here. Wyman (Tides of History podcast) grounds the history with profiles of individuals—some obvious (Christopher Columbus, Jakob Fugger, Aldo Manutius, Charles V, Suleiman), others less so (a mercenary knight, a backcountry wool trader). The details he includes are plausible but often unverifiable; this is the weakest part of the book.
VERDICT This work of popular history will appeal to readers of Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve or William H. McNeill’s earlier The Rise of the West.
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