Monday, October 25, 2004

Diarmaid MacCulloch's "The Reformation: A History" is the history book I've noodled into following the Zinn. Interesting shelfmates.

First, MacCulloch's prose is much more agile and expressive. Zinn is blunt to clumsy dullness, and though this trait serves/complements his earnestness well, I'd say not perfectly well. The shape of what is to come is more-or-less known a few sentences into each chapter, and it gets kind of sloggy, unless you're getting emotional about the outrage along with him (which is unavoidable, sometimes, and advisable, sometimes, too).

Second, having that book precede this one highlights that this too (though, unlike Zinn, not only) is a people's history. More good humor (and an undertone of wistfulness for a more earthy Christianity, which he pretty convincingly documents as existing pre-reformation) enabled, obviously, by the historical distance to his subject (as opposed, again, to Zinn).

The chapter on Erasmus is truly excellent. His ability to relate in a few pages what is obviously a vast familiarity, and so elegantly, is stunning.

Interesting, nearly-at-random excerpt:

"French armies invaded [Italy], sparking military and political miseries that disrupted the peninsula for half a century. A terrifying and hitherto unknown disease also broke out. Apparently as fatal as the plague, unlike that disease it played with its victims for months or years, destroying their looks, their flesh, and sometimes their minds, and producing sores and scabs that stank and made the sufferers loathsome. Equally seriously it brought public shame, because very quickly people realized that it had an association with sexual activity. The disease rapidly set off on its travels, aided by the movements of armies, but in any case, it reached as far away as Aberdeen by spring 1497. Naturally, the Italians in their double affliction called the new scourge the French pox, a name that soon caught all Europe's imagination, much to French annoyance. France's attempt to relabel the pox as the Neapolitan disease was not an especially successful piece of spin-doctoring. We now call the modern descendant of this pox syphilis, thanks to the name of the hero (Syphilus) of a poem published in 1531 by Girolamo Fracastoro, a sixteenth-century Italian doctor."

That naming part, what a fascinating thing. It's not like the French government was annoyed by the disease; just its coined name. And the lame 'spin-doctor' motion. Wow. Sound familiar ("want some freedom fries, anyone?"; or more seriously, "those explosives? O, we just kind of didn't notice." or "Clear Skies Initiative" etc etc ad nauseum.)?

Do I even need that last paragraph, or does it go without saying?

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