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David Willey is a physics instructor and an expert on the science of fire walking at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. He said people are able to walk across a bed of burning coals because "wood is a lousy conductor. Conduction is the transfer of heat from one substance to another via direct contact. In convection heat is transferred through air or fluid circulation.

In radiation it is transmitted as if spreading out in straight lines from a central source think of the sun or a heat lamp. In fire walking, a person's feet, which Willey said are also poor conductors, touch ash-covered coals. Since the fire walker is indeed walking, the time of contact between feet and coals is minimal—too quick for the coals to burn or char the feet, Willey said.

Today on the radio program Pulse of the Planet , Danforth explains the physics of fire walking by comparing it to putting your hand in an oven in which a cake is baking at degrees Fahrenheit degrees Celsius.

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The National Science Foundation partially funded this article to serve as a complement to the Pulse of the Planet radio program. Touching the metal inside the stove, however, would immediately lead to a burn, because metal, which is much denser than the air, is a good conductor of heat. The cake, Danforth said, has the consistency of the coals in a well-prepared fire walk.

Participants collected alms and sang the praises, not of Venus or Bacchus, but of Mary, queen of Florence. Jason Lemieux, U. His boys, who harassed women who dressed immodestly and men who appeared drunk in public or violated the Sabbath, angered Florentines who were only behaving as they always had. One of the signs that his control was slipping came in the middle of , when the government restored the Palio, the wild horse-race through the city, which traditionally took place on St.

A reenactment of the visit of the Three Kings, performed in open defiance of the papal excommunication, shocked many citizens—and made a number of his followers so nervous that they stayed away. When opposition stiffened, the categories with which the prophet divided the world into friends and enemies became sharper and sharper. As the split between pope and prophet became open and as the opponents of the Piagnoni gained control of the government, Savonarola used biblical language to lash his enemies.

Though he had recommended a form of government in which aristocrats held much of the power—and some of them supported him to the end—his message and his practices became more and more radical with time. Now he imagined himself as Moses, his opponents as Egyptians, and awaited the sign from God that would confirm his righteousness.

As to the pope, the prophet and his friends denounced him as an unbeliever who had bought his office, led a vicious life, and was really an atheist. In local politics, too, he showed an increasing harshness. During the summer of five men confessed, after being tortured, that they had been in contact with the exiled Medici.

The government condemned them for conspiracy and ordered their beheading. They claimed their right of appeal to the Great Council. Savonarola, who had insisted on this right when the constitution was reformed, stood by as the government denied it in this case. Charity extinguishes all sins.


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Savonarola burned books and works of art and rejected the pursuit of classical learning. Yet Weinstein shows that he was no demon, but a man, capable of deep human insight and generous conduct—even though he also thinks Ficino was right to think that the friar had deceived not only his hearers but also himself into believing that he was a prophet.


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One of the great virtues of this book is its respect for the human capacity to feel and act in contradictory ways. H oping to avoid a final confrontation, Savonarola retired from the cathedral to San Marco. After bitter debates, the government silenced Savonarola. Argument still raged—the Florentines were as restless and irritable as the prophet said—until a Franciscan, Francesco di Puglia, offered to settle the matter with a trial by ordeal.

He and a champion of Savonarola would walk through fire together. On the day, the friars of San Marco came in solemn procession to the Piazza della Signoria, where the trial was to take place. Bickering broke out. Domenico wanted to carry a crucifix, or the Host, into the flames. The Franciscans not only objected to this as sacrilege but also insisted that he be strip-searched for magic charms.

As the spectators waited and the friars chanted and argued, the heavens opened.

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Hail, lightning, and heavy rain ended the trial. When he retreated to San Marco, a mob surrounded the convent and murdered one of his chief supporters, Francesco Valori. Finally the government acted. Savonarola and his supporters were arrested. Interrogation, torture, and death would follow. Television has made dictatorship impossible, but democracy unbearable. Weinstein has dedicated much of his career to Savonarola. In a dazzling earlier book, he proved that Savonarola did not simply impose a grim new way of life on the Florentines. Rather, he drew on the Florentine tradition of republican politics—as well as on local traditions of religious prophecy that favored an alliance with France.

In this book, too, he shows that Savonarola consistently found ways to revive traditional Florentine institutions—there had been bands of boys and bonfires of the vanities long before his time—and charge them with a new, eschatological drama and meaning.

Walking Through Fire: Change Can Be Scary, But It’s Worth It

Most important of all, by deft and deeply informed reading of the sources, in all their contradictions, Weinstein makes clear that Savonarola was no simple pretender. Savonarola admitted that he had not had visions—but he never admitted, and never accepted, that his understanding of the present and future had been false. Slant Magazine. Yola seems capable of not only expertly mimicking the sounds of the past, but also creating something that will itself stand the test of time. The Observer UK. User Reviews. Write a Review.

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