I have been reading Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, and so far am enjoying it. It’s about how historians have tended to emphasise the impact of orderly hierarchies because these leave big paper trails, and to neglect less orderly networks, because these leave less of a paper trail. Yet, networks clearly matter a lot, even if, as Ferguson points out, networks are not necessarily benign in their impact.
The chapters are short, which I like because I am reading this book in short snatches, in among doing other things. Even a short burst of reading means me probably getting through an entire chapter and maybe even two or more chapters.
Right now, however, I am in the middle of a chapter, about how Guttenberg met Luther, and about how Guttenberg turned Luther’s merely written thoughts into best-selling printed volumes, thereby unleashing the Reformation and much else besides. (Like modern science. Printing enabled science to accumulate.) This is a process that has long fascinated me, and it happened because two people merely met, rather than because one person met another person and gave that other person an order. (Modern science is likewise a network rather than a hierarchy. When modern science becomes hierarchical, it tends to degenerate into propaganda for the hierarchy it is serving.)
Modern science has mostly been benign: But the only slightly delayed impact of the Reformation was, as Ferguson notes, that (p. 84):
Religious conflict continued to simmer and erupted again in the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict that turned Central Europe into a charnal house.
I will now finish reading this chapter.