This is an eccentric book.
Mark Somos has written a challenging and fascinating book. Secularisation and the Leiden Circle is to be commended for its topic (the much maligned origins and process of secularisation), for the author’s depth and breadth of knowledge and for his impressive research and analysis of the source material.
Over the last twenty years Richard Bentley’s star has, if not exactly risen, then at least been mapped.
It is a brave man who would take on the job of writing a history of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire between 1493 and 1806. Many historians would maintain that neither Germany nor even German national consciousness (certainly not German nationalism) existed during this period; as for the Holy Roman Empire, there is a long-running dispute over what it actually amounted to.
Network studies are fashionable today, both in the sciences and in the humanities, witness the ever-increasing research grants, books, articles, and calls for papers about knowledge exchange that circulate globally. Scientists working in artificial intelligence, engineering, statistics, and computational linguistics have been doing network analysis for a long time.
The art of making and using invisible ink, James Daybell informs us, was both described in printed books of secrets and manuscript recipe books and practised by letter-writers in early modern England (pp. 166–8).
Where does the history of consumption happen? The answer would be easy for the history of production: the workplace. Historians can use a well-understood taxonomy to organise their research: the farm, the factory, the office and so on. The history of consumption has never had this precision, thanks to the less location-specific nature of consuming.
The Ottoman Empire, over the course of its existence, evolved a cultural synthesis of strands coming from its Arab, Persian and Byzantine antecedents, as well as the folk culture of its constituent populations. Culinary traditions were part of this legacy, and the taste for sweets an ever popular and refined element, constituting a repertoire extending into modern Turkey and the Middle East.
I must preface this review by saying that I feel the discussion of human-animal interactions has been lacking a book like this for some time. From the outset, this book is fundamentally more than historical in its impact. The topics discussed, and so vividly illustrated, are anthropological assessments for the modern world, using history as base data.
Over 40 years ago, Robert Darnton proposed to evaluate the Enlightenment from its authors’ perspectives. After all, he observed, they were ‘men of flesh and blood, who wanted to fill their bellies, house their families, and make their way in the world’.(1) But with what did they fill their bellies, and when, and how much?