Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook For Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, Ian Mortimer

From Chapter 1: It is the cathedral that you will see first. As you journey along the road you come to a break in the trees and there it is, massive and magnificent, cresting the hilltop in the morning sun. Despite the wooden scaffolding at its west end, the long eighty-foot-high pointed lead roof and the flying buttresses and colossal towers is simply the wonder of the region. It is hundreds of times bigger than every other building around it and dwarfs the stone walls surrounding the city. The hundreds of houses appear tiny, all at chaotic angles, and of different shades and hues, as if they were so many stones at the bottom of a stream flowing around the great boulder of the cathedral. The thirty churches- though their low stumpy towers stand out from the mass of roofs- seem humble by comparison.

The title of this one is pretty self explanatory. The book is that; a guide to a virtual time traveler in 14th century England. Ian Mortimer explains in his introduction that rather than looking on history as something that happened, he will tell it as something that's happening, as if you were in the time period, breathing the sights (and often unpleasant smells). In this book, he discusses many aspects of what life was like for the various classes during the period, and also the various structures and laws in place. It is all very well to read a dry history book, but something like this is my favorite kind of nonfiction-history. He takes you there himself. There also 16 pages of color paintings from the time to illustrate various elements of life, and various charts and statistics, though some weren't that interesting.

This was quite a fascinating book, and the period itself is very complicated. On the one hand, there are lavish meals at lords' houses, and beautiful cities, but on the other hand, in other parts of the cities, there are just cesspools of debris and garbage, and harsh laws and punishments. And of course, the Black Death- the plague. Mortimer really breaths life into the period; I could almost imagine myself there. Some of the sections were more interesting than others (for example, I wasn't so interested in the one on clothing), some of my favorites being those on the people, the laws, entertainment, and the food. But all of them were written very well. A lot of things were introduced in this century, such as buttons, pockets, and differentiated shoes. And of course, from the beginning to the end of the 14th century, much changed. I was also struck by the mention of the "misericord" on pages 186-187, a dining room outside of the refectory where monks can eat the meat of four-legged animals (which is against the rules, but they found a loophole.) If you will remember, this term is used in Grave Mercy, which is set in the 15th century, to describe a weapon used by Ismae that can kill a person with one scratch. I'm not sure how these two uses related, but it was interesting.

I got this one from Touchstone (a division of Simon & Schuster), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone who's looking for a new take on interpreting and telling history, or particularly interested in the medieval era.

Read The Time Traveler's Guide to the 14th Century:
  • if you like history
  • if you are interested in the 14th century (medieval era)
292 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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