The History of the (Whole) World

my progress as I write, revise, send to my editor, re-revise, fact-check, galley-read, and promote my books, including (but not limited to) a multi-volume history of the world. While living on a farm, educating my kids, and teaching. And doing a few other things too.

The History of the (Whole) World header image 4

Publication day, sort of.

September 22nd, 2013 by Susan

Folks, tomorrow is the Official Publication Day for The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople.


…Which means nothing.

Publication day is a publishing myth. By the time publication day dawns, physical copies of the book have been floating around for weeks. Booksellers are theoretically supposed to wait until “publication day” to put books on sale, but unless the book covers an incredibly timely current-events topic or is written by J. K. Rowling, they don’t usually bother.

Even though the “official publication day” is Monday, September 23, The History of the Renaissance World has been selling from Barnes and Noble and The Strand for over a week. You could have ordered it directly from W. W. Norton two weeks ago. It started selling from Amazon with a “1-2 day processing time” on Friday. But today, 24 hours before “publication,” it’s gone to “Ships within 24 hours” status,” so I think we can safely say that it’s been published.

The only version that’s not available…? The ebook. That, which is instantaneously available and could have started selling weeks ago (since it wasn’t waiting on the printing and binding process), is being held until “publication date.”

Welcome to the irrational world of publishing.

In the meantime, if you happen to see it at your local bookstore, snap a picture for me, OK?

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Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare

September 7th, 2013 by Susan

Recently, the Wall Street Journal asked me to review Ken Ludwig’s new book How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I really, really wanted to like this book. And for the first few chapters I loved it. And then…

By the time I got to Chapter 37′s instructions on memorizing Hamlet’s soliloquies (“that possibility—that death would bring us the nightmares of hell . . . stops us from killing ourselves”), I was pretty well convinced that children have no business reading Shakespeare, let alone memorizing it.

You can read the whole review at the Wall Street Journal online. (If you have trouble getting past the “subscribe” page, you can also google “Wise Bauer” “Fancy’s Children” and follow the top link…for some reason that brings up the full article while the above link doesn’t always. Putting your browser on “incognito” or “private” will also help. And no, that wasn’t my original title. I liked mine better.)

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Thank you, Audible!

August 14th, 2013 by Susan

After my readers reacted to the original recording of The History of the Ancient World, Audible pulled it and reassigned the project to John Lee, the wonderful British actor who recorded The History of the Medieval World.

It’s now available. Have a listen to the sample, because hearing John Lee say “Alulim” and “Eridu” in the same sentence is an experience that can’t be described in words.

Audible page

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Thanks, Barnes & Noble!

July 11th, 2013 by Susan

In the midst of Barnes & Noble’s troubles, their editorial team has managed to post a review of The History of the Renaissance World.

Tackling the entire Renaissance has overwhelmed more than one historian, but for Susan Wise Bauer, it’s just another rich project. The woman who gave us The History of the World series, The History of the Ancient World, and The History of the Medieval World has long since mastered the fine art of historical narrative. In The History of the Renaissance World, she begins the story in the final year of the eleventh century, with Christians finally in control of Jerusalem after four hundred years, and proceeds to describe the cultural, political, and military changes, sometimes rapid and often cataclysmic, that affected civilizations from England, mainland Europe and the Middle East to India and China. Nor does she neglect things mostly beyond human control, including the Great Famine, the Black Death, and the Little Ice Age. An adroit retelling of an era of great rebirth.

B&N editor, whoever you are, thanks for reading and understanding the book. (Puts you one up on the Publisher’s Weekly reviewer.)

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Great review from Kirkus!

June 20th, 2013 by Susan

Kirkus Reviews, one of the major pre-publication review journals, has now published its positive review of the History of the Renaissance World.

kirkus jpg

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Really, really, really long audiobooks

June 4th, 2013 by Susan

A little while ago, my esteemed editor forwarded me this note from Norton’s subsidiary rights department…

Audio rights for THE HISTORY OF THE RENAISSANCE WORLD have just been sold to Audible. They’ll also do the other backlist titles that are still available: THE WELL-TRAINED MIND, THE WELL-EDUCATED MIND and THE HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD.

That was very happy news. Audible bought the audio rights to the History of the Medieval World a couple of years ago and produced a lovely version read by the British actor John Lee–in fact, it won a couple of awards. People then kept asking me why the History of the Ancient World wasn’t available on audio, under the impression that I have some sort of control over the process…which I don’t. Someone’s got to buy the rights first.

So, good on Audible. Frankly, I can’t imagine how on earth they’re going to make an audio version of The Well-Trained Mind (are they going to read ALL those lists of recommendations? With the prices? And the ISBN numbers?)…but that’s their outlook.

I just saw yesterday that the Audible version of The History of the Ancient World is now available for download as well. So I clicked over to the page to check it out.


OK, do me a favor. Click here and go to the Audible page. Listen to the sample.

What do you think of the narrator?

I mean, writers are rarely completely happy with the final form of any work that’s published or produced. We always have some gripe. And as much as I like John Lee’s voice, I actually can’t listen to him read my sentences because they come out sounding all wrong to my ear. I guess I always hear them in my voice, and to have a male British voice suddenly in my head instead is just weird.

But this narrator…

Well, I won’t finish that sentence. You tell me what you think instead.

ADDENDUM, June 13: Interesting…Audible seems to have taken the audio version down. Will it reappear with another narrator? Stay tuned…

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BookExpoAmerica, 2013

May 31st, 2013 by Susan

This week, Peace Hill Press has a booth at BEA, inside the Norton space. I’m here along with Pattie, my intrepid executive assistant, and John, the PHP Director of Marketing and online guru.

Here’s our booth (and John, coincidentally):


and here’s another look at our smaller poster and the book covers for the complete Creative Writer series, up on the wall:


My favorite quote about BookExpo this year comes from the regular Publishers’ Lunch email that I get on a daily basis:

“Book Expo America organizers continue to pull off the nifty trick of perpetuating an annual gathering for the US book industry that no one really needs anymore but lots of people still enjoy and find valuable.”

BEA is valuable for us because other book professionals–foreign rights agents, producers of various kinds of multimedia projects, bloggers, reviewers, and booksellers– “stumble across” us and realize that we exist.

As a trade fair, BEA is useful and generates lots of interesting contacts.

As a social experience, it makes me want to run away and hide under the covers. TOO MANY PEOPLE. TOO MANY BOOKS. I’m essentially an introvert. This is JUST too MUCH.

A few pics, in lieu of a more thoughtful (and wordier–I’ve used up all my words this week) analysis…

No matter where you are in the hall, you can find Penguin. In fact, you can’t not find Penguin. But I like it. The penguins look like they’re dancing in the air. I wish I could dance in the air.


The children’s publishers have a much cheerier side of the floor. (We’re distributed by Norton, so we’re over on the grown-up side. Which is fine, since we’re one of the few publishers over there to have toys as give-aways.)


The Common Core standards had a large presence in educational publishers’ displays. Carson-Dellosa tried to make it fun. Not sure it worked.


All of the women’s bathrooms had lines. All of them. All day. I don’t understand why facilities managers can’t get a clue.


The lines for autographs were RIDICULOUS. Longer than the women’s room lines, believe it or not.

Not sure exactly how clear it is, but this line for Rick Riordan’s signing was, essentially, an all-day commitment.


And this was a really good area of the autographing floor to avoid…


You know what’s worse than eight million fans in one place?….No fans at all in your line. I don’t know who this guy is, but it made me sad.


Um…that’s kind of a downer photo to end on. But that’s the nature of BEA. As a publisher, I enjoy being there because it’s clear that the PHP books fill a need that few other publishers are addressing. As a writer? I hate it. Hate, hate, hate it. The show seems designed to point out that some writers are SUPERSTARS [insert exploding fireworks and dancing bears here] and the rest are…not. The lobby has six or eight banners which are larger than most middle-class houses, advertising Wally Lamb, John Grisham, James Patterson-ish novels. Walking into the Javitz Center, that’s what strikes you: Here are the writers that COUNT.

Which is not even true. There are thousands of us who write, love what we write, write important things, and even make a living at what we write, who will never get a five-story banner at BEA. 362 days of the year, that is absolutely fine with us. The three days of BEA, we have to struggle to remember that we also make the book world continue to rotate.

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And the winners are…

May 28th, 2013 by Susan

Thanks so much to all of you who posted in response to my giveaway offer, below, of the History of the Renaissance World galleys.

As I noted below, I’m going to give away three copies instead of two. So, the winners, drawn randomly from the pool of comments, are…

Jayne (“Love the books. I know the new book will be awesome!!” Thanks for that!)
Landi Martinez (“I have been waiting so long for this book!” I feel your pain.)
Daniel H. (“Even started re-reading “History of the Ancient World” to warm up for ‘Renaissance’!” A fine, fine plan.)

(Now I feel really bad about all of you who didn’t win a book.)

A couple of new updates about work and writing coming soon. Again, thank you for your enthusiasm…it is much appreciated (and very encouraging).

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History of the Renaissance World galleys are here!

May 22nd, 2013 by Susan



For those of you who aren’t familiar with the pre-publication process, “bound galleys” are the first-pass typeset pages of a book (“first-pass” means straight off the typesetter’s computer, pre-proofreading, pre-correction), bound with soft covers and sent out to reviewers so that they have plenty of time to see the book before publication date.

Receiving bound galleys is a mixed experience. It’s reassuring to see that the manuscript you’ve been laboring over is beginning to assume final shape. But…because bound galleys are uncorrected, there are always massive mistakes in them, and reviewers are looking at those mistakes.

This is a traditional part of the publication process, so responsible reviewers never point out typos and technical mistakes in their reviews; the assumption is that those mistakes will have been corrected in the final book. And, in fact, every bound galley says on it somewhere, “ADVANCE UNCORRECTED PROOF. Please do not quote for publication without checking against the finished book.” (Although I suspect most reviewers don’t bother.)

But there are mistakes, and there are mistakes.

In a lot of ways, these bound galleys are much cleaner than others I’ve seen. The timelines were in good shape, most of the maps and graphics were properly set, and there were no more than the usual number of dropped lines, skipped pages, missed corrections, and general flub-ups.

There were, though, two mistakes–both of which have now been corrected and will not appear in the final book–that caused me to bang my head against the nearest hard surface.

The first was (sigh) the cover. Here’s the cover…


Does that look familiar to you? It ought to–it’s the color scheme for the History of the Medieval World, just reversed. This color scheme was floated early on in the design process and I asked for it to be changed because it was far too close to the previous volume. The designer agreed and offered a different, much superior color scheme, which is in fact the picture on the back cover of the very same bound galley:


Somehow, the wrong version of the cover got sent out the door on this galley. Which just bugs me.

The second mistake…well, I named the first section of the book “Renaissances.” The plural was intentional. As the section makes clear, there is more than one “renaissance.” The typesetter then placed the title on every other page of the first section as a running head. Like this.



Argh, argh, argh.

However…having said that, if you’ll ignore the misspellings and the miscovering, the rest of it is pretty darn good. So I’m going to give away two copies of the galleys to my readers. If you’d like one, post a message here, and next week I’ll draw two names at random.

(To get you enthusiastic about what you’ll be reading, I’ve posted the table of contents right here: Final TOC Click on it for the PDF!)

UPDATE: So many of you are interested (thanks!) that I’ll give away three copies instead! I’ll close comments at 8 AM on Monday, May 27th, and announce the winners on Tuesday.

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May at Peace Hill

May 17th, 2013 by Susan

Greetings from the farm, where a combination of spring tasks (pasture management, fruit tree spraying, spring planting, dosing sheep with concentrated garlic juice, things like that) and lots of writing (new projects underway…very exciting) have combined to prevent new blog posts. I’m back on the job now, though. Promise.

Here’s how things look around here, after all that farm work.

front of house

Strawberries copy

Ben’s summer job. Those of us who live on farms find it useful to have many strong sons who are desperate for gas money.
BEn's summer job copy

The Old Barn, freshly painted for spring.

old barn copy

Goats marching to breakfast.

Goats marching copy

The ewes, in temporary summer fencing, and Mr. Collins, wondering why he doesn’t get to hang out with them.

ewes copy

Mr. C copy

My summer fashion footwear.

fashion footwear copy 2

Mars, the German shepherd. He thinks he’s being helpful. If only he had opposable thumbs.

Mars copy

The donkey believes that someday she will grow up and be a real horse.

donkey copy

Yep. Grass. Over there. Much greener.

waiting for breakfast copy

See? I have been working. Promise. Updates on the writing front coming soon.

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Spring is coming…

March 23rd, 2013 by Susan

Here on the farm, spring means fruit tree pruning, sheep shearing, planting, new pasturing…and all sorts of other things.

I’ll be posting photos of these activities as they happen. But this week I wanted to share a quick clip of one of my Leicester Longwool sheep, Mr. Collins.

(When you have sheep, by the way, you find out that each year’s flock should have a “naming theme.” If your flock is small enough to name, that is, which mine is. This flock has a Pride & Prejudice theme. Our two rams are Mr. Bingley and Mr. Collins, with Mr. Collins, naturally, being the black ram.)

If you want to know why this clip, it’s because on this particular morning, it occurred to me that having a large ram and a German shepherd is weirdly similar to having teenaged boys.

They LIKE each other. Really, they do. They just have no idea what to do about it.

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When Did the Middle Ages End and the Renaissance Begin? The Last in a Three-Part Reflection

March 10th, 2013 by Susan

Following on my first and second posts in this series, I’ll now wrap up by telling you why my upcoming History of the Renaissance World begins in the twelfth century and ends with the conquest of Constantinople.

And I’ll do so by giving you a preview of the book. Here’s the preface. Hope you enjoy.

History of Renaissance World


Not long after 1140 AD, the Italian scholar Gerard of Cremona travelled to the Spanish peninsula, hoping to find a rare copy of the thousand-year-old Greek astronomy text known as the Almagest.

His chances were better there than anywhere else in Europe. The southern half of the peninsula had been in Arab hands for centuries, and the ruling dynasties of Muslim Spain had brought with them thousands of classical texts, translated into Arabic but long lost to the vernacular languages of the West. The libraries of the city of Toledo, in the center of the peninsula, housed scores of these valuable volumes–and Toledo had now been recaptured by one of the Christian kingdoms of the north, meaning that Western scholars could visit it in relative safety.

Gerard found more than he bargained for. Not just astronomy texts but classical and Arabic studies of dialectic, geometry, philosophy, and medicine; unknown monographs by Euclid, Galen, Ptolemy, and Aristotle; a whole treasury of knowledge. Overwhelmed, he settled into Toledo and set to work learning Arabic. “Regretting the povery of the Latins in these things,” one of his students wrote, “he learned the Arabic language in order to be able to translate….To the end of his life he continued to transmit to the Latin world (as if to his own beloved heir) whatever books he though finest, in many subjects, as accurately and as plainly as he could.”

Renaissance had begun.


This is not a history of “the Renaissance.” Rather, it is a history of the world during the period which historians have often (although not universally) associated with a rebirth of interest in classical learning. As Gerard’s story shows, this rebirth began much earlier than the fourteenth century.

One of the first Italians to give a name to the reawakened interest in Greek and Roman learning was the poet Petrarch, who announced early in the 1340s that poets and scholars were ready to lead the cities of Italy back to the glory days of Rome. Classical learning had declined, Petrarch insisted, into darkness and obscurity. Now was the time for that learning to be rediscovered: a rebirth, a Renaissance.

Petrarch was lobbying, in a polite and academic but very pointed way, for the distinction of official Roman Poet Laureate; in that day, something perhaps equivalent to the Man Booker Prize or the National Book Award, a public recognition that he was an intellectual whose words should be heeded. As part of his campaign, he was placing himself at the head of an already-existing phenomenon. Since before Gerard of Cremona, Western scholars–many of them Italian–had been working through Arabic libraries, reaquainting themselves with Greek and Roman thinkers. So much of this intellectual groundwork had been laid already that many modern historians now speak of a “Twelfth-Century Renaissance.”

By 1340, in other words, renaissance was so far advanced that it had become visible. Historical eras are never recognizable when they begin; they can only be seen in hindsight. The Renaissance, as the following chapters will show, was rooted in the twelfth century. The twelfth century saw the real beginnings of the struggle between Church hierarchy and Aristotelian logic, a struggle which–reincarnated as a fight between Scripture and science, creation and evolution–is still ongoing in the United States in 2013. The twelfth century saw the death of the Crusades, the rise of the Plantaganets, the dominance of the Japanese shoguns, and the journey of Islam into central Africa.

It was a century of renaissances, and that is where my story begins.


The last chapter of this history tells the story of the Ottoman attack on Constantinople in May of 1453, when the triumph of the Turks brought a final end to the Roman dream.

The cultural phenomenon known as the Italian Renaissance continued well after 1453; I do not go on, in this book, to chronicle some of its better-known phenomenon (the political philosophies of Machiavelli, the paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael, the inventions of da Vinci, the observations of Galileo). But in worldwide terms, by the time Constantinople fell, the Renaissance had begun to shade into new eras.

Like the Renaissance itself, those eras were not named by historians until much later. But the ground of the Reformation was seeded and had begun to sprout; the followers of the English scholar John Wycliffe and the Bohemian priest Jan Hus were already organizing aganst the authority of Rome. And the Age of Exploration was well underway. Twenty years earlier, the Portuguese captain Gil Eannes had finally pushed south past Cape Bojador. A decade after Eannes’s boundary-breaking journey, Prince Henry of Portugal sponsored the first slave market in Europe: a closely orchestrated, carefully publicized event meant to whip up widespread enthusiasm for further explorations into Africa.

The Turkish overthrow of the Byzantine empire was a world-changer. As the historian Caroline Finkel points out, even the Turks were unsettled by Constantinople’s fall; the Ottoman chronicler Tursun Bey, the only Turk to describe the final battle, calls it a “veritable precipitation and downpouring of calamities from the heavens, as decreed by God Himself.” The transformation of Constantinople into Istanbul is an end and a beginning, an exclamation point and new paragraph in the punctuation of world events.

But the transition away from Renaissance and towards the next phase of human history is, perhaps, even more apparent in the events of the year before. The Italian pope Nicholas V had just issued a papal bull called Dum Diversas. In recognition of the expense and effort that the Portuguese had put into exploring the African coast, the Church gave official approval to the enslavement and sale of Africans by the Portuguese crown–a sanction confirmed again three years later in the charter Romanus Pontifex.

Wooing the allegiance and support of the powerful King of Portugal, the pope had transformed slavery into an institution that all Europeans could profit from without guilt. Historians do not normally speak of the Age of Enslavement, but in hindsight we can see that the decrees of the 1450s shaped the futures of three continents and began a whole new story.

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