A World Lit Only By Fire

Josh and I spoke about A World Lit Only by Fire, which is a book that Jim Chanos recommended on Barry’s podcast.

This book is a deep dive into how people lived during medieval times.

We’re going to make these videos a regular occurrence, and hope that you’ll read along with us. Next time we’ll cover Lake Success.

Below are parts of the book that we referenced in the video.


Magellan wasn’t really Magellan, Copernicus wasn’t really Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik). These names are Latinized

“When the cartographers of the Middle Ages came to the end of the world as they knew it, they wrote: Beware: Dragons Lurk Beyond Here”

“Medieval men were rarely aware of which century they were living in”

“Columbus was thoroughly discredited”

“In April 1507 Martin Waldseemuller, professor of cosmography at the University of Saint-Die, produced the first map showing the Western Hemisphere. He called it “America”

Implications of the Renaissance

“When we look back across five centuries, the implications of the Renaissance appear to be obvious. It seems astonishing that no one saw where it was leading, anticipating what lay round the next bend in the road and then over the horizon. But they lacked our perspective; they could not hold a mirror up to the future. Like all people at all times, they were confronted each day by the present, which always arrives in a promiscuous rush, with the significant, the trivial, the profound, and the fatuous all tangled together.”

Loss aversion

“Fear of the devil was a stronger force than the love of God” another one “The fear of hell was probably a more effective check to savagery than the prospect of salvation.”


“History is not a random sequence of unrelated events. Everything affects, and is affected by, everything else. This is never clear in the present. Only time can sort out events. It is then, in perspective, that patterns emerge.”

Life expectancy

“Life expectancy was brief; half the people in Europe died, usually from disease, before reaching their thirtieth birthday. If a man passed that milestone, his chances of reaching his late forties or early fifties were good, though he looked much older; at forty-five his hair was as white, back as bent, and face as knurled as an octogenerian’s today.”


“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it struggles against the divine word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” Martin Luther

Strongly held beliefs

“The holy office in Rome declared that the notion of a moving earth circling the sun was “philosophically foolish and absurd and formally heretical, inasmuch as it expressly contradicts the doctrines of Holy Scripture in many places, both according to their literal meaning and according to the common exposition and interpretation of the Holy Fathers and learned theologians.” Twenty-eight successive pontiffs agreed. It took the Church three hundred years to change its mind.


Martin Luther blasted Copernicus- “People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon…This fool wishes to reverse the entire scheme of astrology; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth”

Copernicus was burned at the stake and a ban on his books was not lifted by the church until 1828


“Leonardo was lefthanded; his notes, seven thousand pages of which have been preserved, were written in mirror script. Though quite legible, they can be read only by holding them up to a looking glass”

“Da Vinci, like Copernicus, threatened the certitude that knowledge had been forever fixed by God, the rigid mind-set which left no role for curiosity or innovation”

The humanist movement

“Their movement was still transitional; the change was one of emphasis, toward a new faith which held that man’s happiness and welfare in this lifetime should come first, taking precedence over what might or might not follow it, that mankind’s highest ethical objective is not to the salvation of his soul but the earthly good of all humanity.”