Both Nietzsche and Freud, no friends of medieval piety, believed that the Church-inspired asceticism of the Middle Ages was crucial to the rise of modern, secular, scientific civilization. Science, they thought, requires a highly disciplined going against the instinctive grain of life that had to be drilled into people for centuries. I mention this because there is no shortage of proposed causes of the rise of modernity out of the fading European feudal order four centuries ago, and there is always room for more. And what if it happened simply because it was cold outside?

To be fair, Philipp Blom, who is anything but a reductive, single-minded historian, doesn’t really contend in his new book, Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present, that the severe chill...


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