“The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance” is the subtitle of A World Lit Only By Fire, which is misleading because so little is actually documented about the Dark Ages. The whole period is such nonsense it seems not worth the time to retell what little is known. The European folks went about slaughtering one another and the Roman roads endured. It seems impossible those few people who were literate, and in control, considered this devotion to spooks and speculation better than the civilization that their forefathers had abandoned and destroyed.

The first of three sections ends with naming Ferdinand Magellan the destroyer of the Medieval mindset when the ship he sailed around South America returned from the already known Philippines, proving the Earth was a sphere. The last section of the book ends with the appallingly bad judgment of Magellan to get into a stupid battle and get himself killed, and much of his crew assassinated a few days later. The book ends with, “Hardest of all is the sense of loss, the knowledge that the serenity of medieval faith, and the certitude of everlasting glory, are forever gone.” This concluding line was, for some inexplicable reason, why Magellan had died. He somehow thought himself invincible because he had found and traversed the straits now named for him, and then sailed across the Pacific. No one had done that before, and therefore God was on his side and he could not be killed by bamboo spears. Thus for Magellan the serenity of medieval faith, and the certitude of everlasting glory, were forever gone.

This book reads well, and it gives stunning examples of depravity of some well known historical figures, but it was also unsatisfying, leaving only a distaste for the Dark Ages. It creates a dread that the forces that created that mental vacuum are alive and well in modern society, and that –

Our wonderful world totters on the precipice of a new dark age that will be far darker than the previous one.