The Renaissance: The Best One-Hour History by Robert Freeman

The Renaissance I spotted this book on Netgalley towards the end of last year and as I’ve been trying to read more historical non-fiction recently, I requested it immediately. It has taken until now for me to get round to reading it, which I feel guilty about as it really did only take an hour to read from beginning to end!

This book is part of a series of One Hour History books each dealing with a different historical period or theme. Other titles include The Protestant Reformation, The French Revolution and The Vietnam War, with more to come soon. This particular volume covers the period of history we know as the Renaissance.

Freeman begins by explaining how factors such as the decline of the feudal system following the Black Death, the fall of Constantinople which led to Greek scholars returning to other parts of Europe, and the decline in the influence of the Catholic Church marked the transition from the ‘Dark Ages’ into the Renaissance. Next he looks at Renaissance art (paintings, sculptures and examples of architecture) and developments in other areas including religion, printing, exploration and medicine. Finally, there’s a timeline showing the dates of significant events.

The author suggests googling the names of the paintings and sculptures discussed in the book so that you can look at them as you read. Most of these works of art were already familiar to me (Freeman chooses to focus on famous pieces such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, which is understandable, as this book is only intended to give a concise overview) and may be familiar to you too, but I would still recommend searching for the images to look at while you read what Freeman has to say about perspective, light and shadow and other techniques.

This very short book is obviously not intended for people who already have an in-depth understanding of the Renaissance (and it would probably not be very satisfying for those readers) but for anyone with little or no knowledge this is an ideal introduction. After reading it you may decide that you now know as much as you want to know about the Renaissance, but it could also be used as a good starting point for a deeper study of the period – although it’s disappointing that there is no list of suggestions for further reading.

This was not what I would describe as a particularly fun or entertaining book to read – with so much history to get through in so few pages there’s no time for anything but the basic facts – but it was an interesting and educational way to spend an hour of my time.

Review copy received via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “The Renaissance: The Best One-Hour History by Robert Freeman

  1. Carolyn O says:

    You might try William Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire if you’re looking for a more entertaining, but still very informative read. I’m glad these books are out there — I have a few gaps in history that I’d like to fill in.

    • Helen says:

      These books are perfect as a quick introduction to a period you don’t know much about. I do want to read more about the Renaissance now, so thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Leander says:

    I hadn’t come across this concept before, Helen, so thanks for flagging the books with me. I might have to have a look out for the other titles in the series: it sounds like a great way to acquire a working knowledge of a particular historical theme in a very short time. Very impressed that it did what it said on the tin and genuinely only did take an hour! 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think you would learn anything new about the Renaissance from this book as you already have so much knowledge of it, but maybe you would find some of the other titles interesting. There’s a limit to how much you can learn in an hour, but these books are a good way to decide if you want to delve any deeper into a particular subject.

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