Inklings guest reviewer this week is not an employee but a Friend of Inklings. Linda C. Brown taught at Davis High School for more than 33 years!
Old English teachers, like me, hope former students find their way, that the ragtag roots that students are given in high school miraculously become polished in college or by life. Clearly, Patrick Wyman, who graduated from A.C. Davis High School in 2003, meets that criteria and beyond. Wyman, having earned a doctorate from the University of Southern California, has developed and produced podcasts called “Tides of History” and “The Fall of Rome” that capture and shape hundreds of amazing adventures into history-rich stories from all over the world. I would have discovered this sooner had I been able to figure out how to download podcasts.
Wyman, son of Yakima’s Kathy O’Meara-Wyman and Tom Wyman, has now added a new achievement: his first book. “The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World (1490-1530)” takes nine events in history and makes them come alive.
Admittedly, I am a recalcitrant reader of history because often it was presented to me as lists of names and dates that had to be committed to memory, and I couldn’t become immersed in the events because the stories conveyed a bunch of facts, but thank you, Dr. Wyman, for breathing life into what lies in the past and continues to influence the present.
The events covered aren’t surprises. They cover a 40-year segment of history that each of us has some knowledge of, like the explorations of Christopher Columbus, the arrival of Martin Luther and the printing press and the Ottoman Empire as well as Charles V. All of these will remind you of what you studied in high school and beyond; however, here they come alive through the details of daily life that we rarely were told.
Readers will notice immediately the rich sensory sounds, smells, sights, the sense of touch that make “The Verge” vivid and compelling. The stories are painted with incredible detail. In Rome, bells toll, “an incessant pealing” breaking “an otherwise still and silent dawn” with “carts rattling and scraping down the darkened streets”. Boots tramp, swords scrape against steel breastplates, leather scabbards slap, and all the men are “lean and dirty”. You, the reader are there! Thousands of Romans barely awake head to the walls. Martin Luther, who lusts after the rich holdings of the papacy, attacks. Germans, Spaniards, mercenaries raise their ladders against the walls and a battle to redistribute wealth ensues. The Duke of Bourbon (Charles V) wearing a “white coat” (what mother would let that happen?) is the first to scale the walls as the fog is rising from the Tiber. You can hear the sounds, smell the gunpowder exploding from the arquebuses and see the Duke raising his ladder. We feel the dampness from the fog and watch as “a violent shade of red” spreads across that white coat.
It is that real. I promise you that if you are a history lover, this book is definitely for you. But, if you are more like me, a resistant reader of history, it is even more compelling, because history no longer lies limply on the page.
A video produced by Powell’s Books in Portland introduces Wyman and a cohort, Mike Duncan, discussing “The Verge” as well as their shared interests in history. Duncan asks Wyman: Who are you writing for? And Wyman, without hesitation, answers, “I write for an audience of one: my dad, who is the most prolific reader of history I know. He wants history books that are not slow, not dry.” The elder Wyman prefers books that entertain, but the academics have to be there as well and there has to be a compelling story. That’s what “The Verge” brings to the reader.
In the interview, Duncan confesses that he loves the book, but had no interest in a character named Jakob Fugger (pronounced foog-uhr, although yes, for many years it was pronounced like a familiar curse word) until Duncan says that even he has been captured by Fugger’s story. That presents me with a challenge, and I must admit that Fugger has won my attention as well. It turns out that the Fuggers in the early 1500s were bankers and traded textiles with Italy; they were one of the wealthiest families in the world for over a century and their wealth and influence in the 16th century and beyond are astounding. According to Wikipedia, Fugger, in his day, accumulated $160 billion in wealth, which today, with an adjustment for inflation, would be valued at $400 billion. That grabs one’s attention, right?
Today, in Augsburg remain historical buildings from the 16th century like the Fuggerei built by Jakob Fugger the Younger, which had 52 houses at the time for poor, homeless Catholics. It continues today with each apartment having a direct link to the street, but the entire housing unit is apparently contained by a wall and the gate is locked at 10 o’clock each night. Since Fugger made much of his money from manufacturing linen and money lending, I wonder if the fear of being called a “usurer” inspired his generosity or rather his devotion to Catholicism. That’s another question for the next time I see Dr. Wyman.
I’ve more to read, but I promise you that all readers will embrace this book. It’s that good. Did I mention that I was one of his teachers?