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Plague and Pleasure: The Renaissance World of Pius II by White Arthur (2014-11-25)

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  • The Catholic University of America Press (1850)
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Review Text

  • By Philip Rogers on January 27, 2015

    The length of the book might make you think that this is one for academics only. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. Arthur White presents an eye-opening view of the history of the Renaissance in an extremely readable style. Using the life and times of Pope Pius II, largely taken from Pius' own accounts, Dr. White is able to point to a theme of escapism running through the Renaissance. He does this by pointing out the vast amounts of plague and war that troubled all Europe during this time, causing Pius and others to revel in pageantry and to surround themselves with art and architecture that removes from their view the filth of death and despair that they would otherwise encounter. This interesting view of the period of the Renaissance also caused me to rethink and ponder our own modern culture and view it in terms of escapism. I have subsequently found that to be a helpful shift in my understanding. If you are looking for a new and insightful view into the period of the Renaissance and even our own culture, this book is a must read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  • By Stephen Webre on February 11, 2015

    If you lived in Renaissance Italy you well knew that not all about you was glitter, flash, and bling. The men who created the beautiful images and structures that we associate with the period were often themselves rather base characters, and if they were not then their patrons likely were. If you happened to be rich and powerful, someone else rich and powerful probably wanted you dead, and that someone, as appalling as it might seem, might well be the Vicar of Christ himself, the Pope of Rome. Whatever your place in the late mediaeval scheme of things, you stood a good chance of falling victim to the plague. If disease didn’t get you, there was always warfare and starvation. With the Four Horsemen ever at your heels, close encounters with mortality were a daily occurrence and death tended to be not only premature, but agonizing to boot.To readers of such scholarly works as Lauro Martines’s April Blood (2004), Marcello Simonetta’s The Montefeltro Conspiracy (2008), and Alexander Lee’s The Ugly Renaissance (2014), this grim picture is familiar enough. Historian Arthur White’s great accomplishment in Plague and Pleasure is to connect the dots, making a convincing and well documented case that the constant burden of painful truth helped to create a demand for escapist fantasies, which manifested themselves in neo-classicism in art and letters, idealized landscapes and city plans, idyllic retreats, and elaborate festivals. Evidently a partisan of Johan Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), White insists as well that the Renaissance exhibited greater continuity with the mediaeval world than it did with the world we live in now.The appointed exemplar of White’s argument is Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II, 1458-1464), whose remarkably worldly journals provide much of the primary evidence. White’s disclaimer to the contrary, the book functions well as a biography of this well-known humanist, but it also succeeds brilliantly in employing him as a lens through which to view the Renaissance world. Although a work of impressive scholarship, Plague and Pleasure is easily accessible to the general reader. White’s fluid narrative blends effective story telling with close analysis, incorporating bits of humor as well. For a special treat, the book also exhibits the attributes of a good travelogue, as White frequently pauses to recount his own observations drawn from his efforts to follow in Pius’s steps and visit the places the pope once knew. The reader who has never been to Italy will want to go; the reader who has already visited the country one or more times will want to go back. Highly recommended.

  • By Duriel on July 19, 2015

    This work provides an overview of Renaissance culture in the context of the Black Death and the Northern European chivalric idiom. It follows the life of the man who would become Pope Pius II as he grows up in the Italian countryside, gains an education, and travels across Europe. The work is both intensely personal and broadly critical of the view of the Renaissance as the birth of modernity. An excellent, engaging read, particularly for those with a little knowledge of art history.

  • By Kevin Brown on October 19, 2015

    Fascinating and highly enjoyable read. I don't read a lot of historical non-fiction, but found this to be a page turner.

  • By Larry Simon on July 26, 2015

    Absolutely compelling prose! Brought me back to my days as his student!

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