The Faith of a Skeptic

Montaigne and Melancholy

by M.A. Screech
Michael Screech’s book on Montaigne is, as one would expect, intelligent, clear, very well-informed, and most illuminating. His wide first-hand knowledge of sixteenth-century literature, French, Latin, and English enables him to give this extremely difficult author the necessary intellectual background; for, as I argued long ago in this journal, only …

Which Side Was Rabelais On?

The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais

by Lucien Febvre, translated by Beatrice Gottlieb
The original version of this book was first published in 1942 (there were reprints in 1947 and 1962). It was primarily a polemical work directed against the interpretation of Rabelais as a militant anti-Christian atheist that had been put forward by Abel Lefranc in his introduction to Pantagruel in 1922.

Closet Believers

The Family of Love

by Alastair Hamilton
The Family of Love was a mystical sect or society founded in about 1540 by a wealthy German merchant, Hendrik Niclaes. It was Nicodemite, that is to say, systematically secret, encouraging its members to conform outwardly to whatever religion prevailed around them. It aimed at a personal inward religion for …

Laugh-in with Rabelais


by M.A. Screech
Gérard Defaux, in his Pantagruel et les sophistes (1973), announced that the study of Rabelais now has its “querelle des anciens et des modernes.” By this he means a quarrel between the Ancients who follow the traditional method of interpreting texts by bringing to bear on them as much relevant …

The Power of the Press

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-modern Europe

by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
This is a good and important book, and, in spite of its formidable length, the author’s clear and forceful style makes it a pleasure to read. Given the huge literature on the history of printing, especially in its early stages, it may seem surprising that there should be room for …

Mystery in History

Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah

by Gershom Scholem, translated by R.J. Werblowsky
I must begin this review with an apology. Being unable to read Hebrew and Aramaic, I have no firsthand knowledge of the main sources of professor Scholem’s book; indeed what little acquaintance I have with Jewish religious thought comes almost entirely from his other works, supported by some reading of …

A Secret Conspiracy Exposed!

Il Nicodemismo: Simulazione e dissimulazione religiosa nell' Europa del 1500

by Carlo Ginzburg
The meaning of the term “Nicodemism” is briefly explained in the subtitle of Carlo Ginzburg’s book, namely, religious simulation and dissimulation; a Nicodemite is someone who conceals his own religious convictions, while outwardly conforming to the dominant religion of his country. The origin of the term is the title of …

The Pope’s Horoscope

Reflections on Men and Ideas

by Giorgio de Santillana
This book consists of essays, articles, and lectures written by Giorgio de Santillana during the last twelve years, nearly all of them already published in various journals and collective works. I am heartily in favor of this practice. So much valuable work is otherwise effectively buried in periodicals, Fest-schriften, etc.