Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Mysteries of the Middle Ages

Thomas Cahill takes some grief for his Hinges of History books being "pop history" and giving only entertaining overviews. But that's why I read them! It's been 25 years since I've taken a history course and I've never been any kind of historian. So I read Cahill's books now and again to remind me of what little I may once have known and what I would like to learn more about.

Which I why I turned to Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. Like the other "Hinges" books I've read, this one was entertaining and packed a lot between the covers.

After introductory chapters explaining how Greek Alexandria and the transformation from Rome to Italy set the stage for the Medieval cultural developments he examines, Cahill concentrates on the High Middle Ages "from the beginning of the twelfth-century renaissance to the coming of the Black Death in 1347."

Instead of a straightforward chronology of monarchs and wars, he focuses on a few key people and how they were exemplars for particular developments. He includes chapters on Hildegard of Bingen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Abelard and Héloïse, St. Francis of Assisi, Giotto, and Dante Alighieri to make his case for why this period was a turning point towards modern notions of feminism, science, and art.

The book flies along with accessible renderings of these people's stories and Cahill's lucid and compelling arguments in support of his thesis. There are many color prints of the art Cahill discusses, beautiful illustrations, and interesting sidebars with extra information. Cahill's commentary on contemporary events sometimes feels clunky and out of place, but overall, Mysteries of the Middle Ages is a terrific introduction to a fascinating period of European history.


If you would like your review of this or any of Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History Books listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it


Mysteries of the Middle Ages counts for one of my books for the Mt. TBR and Off the Shelf Challenges and the Non-Fiction, Non-Memoirs Challenge hosted by My Book Retreat.

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