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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 27 Jan, 2010 10:11 am    Post subject: Best Introductory Book to Medieval History         Reply with quote

If you had to recommend an introductory book for a non-specialist reader who knows very little about the Middle Ages, which one would you recommend? More importantly, since there are a lot of other books on the subject out there, why do you prefer the title you've recommended? What makes it stand out from the rest?

In terms of time frame, I'm interested in books that span roughly from the late Roman Empire (circa the 4th century) to 1500, although books that do not precisely fall into this time frame will be considered depending upon their merit.
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Dan Sellars





Joined: 10 Jun 2008

Posts: 23

PostPosted: Wed 27 Jan, 2010 10:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't know about favorite at the moment it is probably " A distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Distant_Mirror), as it really goes into detail on the period of the hundred years war, so it is not general, but it does cover my current main area of interest. It is a massive tome that focuses on the life of a french noble and his times.

At the moment I am reading "A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages" By Martyn Whittock (http://medievalhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/a_brief_history_of_life_in_the_middle_ages), which is a good social history of the medieval period in England.
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David Sutton




Location: Bolton, UK
Joined: 06 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed 27 Jan, 2010 12:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A book that I think would be perfect as an introduction to the medieval era is The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century By Ian Mortimer. I actually bought this book as a present for a friend because he wasn't well up on the middle ages.

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Travelers-Guide-Me...amp;sr=1-1

Because it takes the novel approach of a 'guide' rather than a history I think it makes it a more accessible read for someone who is not familiar with reading history as such. It does an excellent job of bringing the period to life 'warts and all'. Showing not only the darker side of the medieval world, but also all the colour of the period, sweeping away many popular myths in the process. I also found it quite a surprising and amusing book at times too and it kept my interest throughout, never boring.

It does have a fairly narrow focus on 14th Century England, but many of its themes are broadly applicable to the wider period. It certainly sparked a greater interest in me to read more about medieval society etc.

'Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all'

'To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing'

Hypatia of Alexandria, c400AD
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Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
Joined: 23 Aug 2006

Posts: 289

PostPosted: Wed 27 Jan, 2010 3:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'll second "The Time-traveller's guide...". It's an excellent book.

In the same vein is "Daily Life in Chaucer's England" by Jeffrey Singman. It's not quite as detailed as "The Time Traveller's..." and is slightly more 're-enactor oriented', but it does cover a huge range of topics from food, through making clothing, the holy days of the year, sports and past-times, etc. From memory I believe it even has the Lord's Prayer in Latin and Middle English!

The research in the book is pretty well up-to-date, too. I could find no gaping flaws in the information presented.

It's normally the book I give to people who want to learn the everyday history of the fourteenth century.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 27 Jan, 2010 6:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Guys,

I appreciate the suggestions, but I need books that are broader than these. I'm inquiring for a fellow student who is doing a course on Women in Medieval History, and she doesn't have background knowledge of the period. While these books would undoubtedly help, she needs to have some understanding of the broader contexts too- a 14th century book doesn't help her very much with the Merovingians and Carolingians, for instance. Also, perhaps it wasn't clear in my initial post: while she's a non-specialist without a lot of knowledge on the subject, academic books are fine too, and appropriate, given that she's in an academic course. They just need to be introductory academic books.
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Scott Hrouda




Location: Minnesota, USA
Joined: 17 Nov 2006
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PostPosted: Wed 27 Jan, 2010 7:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Women in the Middle Ages by Marty Williams and Anne Echols (0-910129-34-7)

Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon (1-56731-250-0)

Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies (0-06-092046-7)

and strangely enough ...

Women in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies (0-06-092304-0)

<edit, ISBN numbers added>

...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped. - Sir Bedevere
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 29 Jan, 2010 9:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Scott Hrouda wrote:
Women in the Middle Ages by Marty Williams and Anne Echols (0-910129-34-7)

Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon (1-56731-250-0)

Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies (0-06-092046-7)

and strangely enough ...

Women in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies (0-06-092304-0)

<edit, ISBN numbers added>


Hey thanks Scott, but I'm actually looking for general medieval history books. The problem she's facing is that the course is specifically around medieval women, but she lacks background knowledge of the period in general.
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Steven H




Location: Boston
Joined: 10 May 2006

Posts: 545

PostPosted: Fri 29 Jan, 2010 11:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you're looking for a very broad overview then I'd just start with Wikipedia. Any World History textbook will contain a similar amount of info and errors but Wiki costs nothing.

I just can't think of any source I've seen with the kind of breadth you seem to want besides an encyclopedia or a World History textbook.

Cheers,
Steven

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
Joined: 08 Dec 2004

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PostPosted: Fri 29 Jan, 2010 1:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
I appreciate the suggestions, but I need books that are broader than these. .


Mediaeval Europe, 400-1500 by Konigsberger.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mediaeval-Europe-400-...gy_b_img_a

It is the best general work I've seen. Not too in-depth and easy to read. Ideal for high school or a first-year college student.
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