One of my Christmas gifts was Thomas Cahill's latest popular history, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: the Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe (2006). It's a quick read, obviously, for me to have finished it by Boxing Day afternoon--I'm fast, but hardly a speed reader.
This isn't meant to be a thorough, detailed history, but, as with Cahill's other works, a story of important personalities of a particular era and their impact on present-day civilization. Here his aim is to show that we are on some levels children of the Middle Ages, and that the Renaissance wasn't strictly a case of discarding a millennium or so of history to pick up where the Greeks and Romans left off, but was also a flowering of political, religious, and intellectual trends planted by the likes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Dante, Giotto, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, etc. Cahill doesn't check his own personality and beliefs at the door, which means that his work is never dry, but also that it'll be too opinionated for some tastes--for instance, it's clear that he's a Catholic, but one harboring major issues with the Church's theology and governance, and he engages in barely veiled Bush-bashing. None of his digressions into present-day issues bothered me, but, then again, I agree with most of his opinions.
The book made me curious to learn more about Dante and Giotto in particular. Though, it's interesting. I like to read about medieval Europe, and whenever I read a book like this, I think, "I'd like to learn more about X." But it almost never gives me plot bunnies--I don't think, "I'd like to write a novel about X." Muses are funny things that way. It's not that I think the British 18th or American 19th centuries are inherently more interesting than, say, the French 12th century. They just grab my inner storyteller more strongly.