Thursday, August 07, 2008

Books: Mysteries of the Middle Ages


I've never been a big reader of history books, since it's very difficult for a layman to tell who is giving you their best efforts and who is (ahem) fudging the truth. I picked up "Mysteries of the Middle Ages," by Thomas Cahill. Cahill has achieved fame with his popular account, "How the Irish Saved Civilization," which was on the bestseller lists awhile back. I figured he'd be as good a start as any.

To my surprise, the tone of "Mysteries of the Middle Ages" is breathtakingly casual, almost like my college buddy was explaining medieval history and not my college professor. I understand Cahill is trying to popularize this stuff, but you know you're in uncharted territory when he comments "Take that, b----" about a letter written 900 years ago. More Xbox Live than a history classroom.

There are some great photos, and some of the biographical narratives (especially Eleanor of Aquitaine) are fairly colorful. There isn't much of a consistent thesis, though, and the book wallows in the classical period in the introduction before getting to the nitty-gritty. I'd suggest borrowing from the library rather than purchasing.

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