What ended up tickling my history itch this time around was the last Pulitzer winner, Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
, though I snagged several titles recommended in this thread for later reading.
If you put too much stock in The Swerve
's subtitle, you may be disappointed, but if you're interested in the story of the fellows who dug through monastic libraries looking for lost Classic works to see that they were copied and preserved, it's quite fascinating. There's a lot about Papal politics, too, and even a little about the actual influence of the work in question, Lucretius' epic Epicurean poem De Rerum Natura
(On the Nature of Things
The number one criticism you'll hear of the book is that Greenblatt didn't make much of a case (and IMO barely even tried to make a case) for De Rerum Natura
making an impact that would not have occurred in the poem's absence. While the poem became a favorite of many influential people, it's arguable how much Epicurean thinking was necessary to (as opposed to just prescient of) Modern views, and how much Lucretius' poem was necessary to (as opposed to just a lovely example of) the spread of Epicurean thinking during the Renaissance. Even if De Rerum Natura isn't absolutely central to Modern history, however, it's still history.