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A “marvelous history”* of medieval Europe, from the bubonic plague and the Papal Schism to the Hundred Years’ War, by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Guns of August
 
*Lawrence Wright, author of The End of October, in The Wall Street Journal
 
The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering age of crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry; on the other, a world plunged into chaos and spiritual agony. In this revelatory work, Barbara W. Tuchman examines not only the great rhythms of history but the grain and texture of domestic life: what childhood was like; what marriage meant; how money, taxes, and war dominated the lives of serf, noble, and clergy alike. Granting her subjects their loyalties, treacheries, and guilty passions, Tuchman re-creates the lives of proud cardinals, university scholars, grocers and clerks, saints and mystics, lawyers and mercenaries, and, dominating all, the knight—in all his valor and “furious follies,” a “terrible worm in an iron cocoon.”
 
Praise for A Distant Mirror
 
“Beautifully written, careful and thorough in its scholarship . . . What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was. . . . No one has ever done this better.” The New York Review of Books
 
“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.” The Wall Street Journal
 
“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.” —Commentary

Amazon.com Review

In this sweeping historical narrative, Barbara Tuchman writes of the cataclysmic 14th century, when the energies of medieval Europe were devoted to fighting internecine wars and warding off the plague. Some medieval thinkers viewed these disasters as divine punishment for mortal wrongs; others, more practically, viewed them as opportunities to accumulate wealth and power. One of the latter, whose life informs much of Tuchman''s book, was the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy, who enjoyed the opulence and elegance of the courtly tradition while ruthlessly exploiting the peasants under his thrall. Tuchman looks into such events as the Hundred Years War, the collapse of the medieval church, and the rise of various heresies, pogroms, and other events that caused medieval Europeans to wonder what they had done to deserve such horrors.

Review

“Beautifully written, careful and thorough in its scholarship . . . What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was. . . . No one has ever done this better.” The New York Review of Books
 
“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.” The Wall Street Journal
 
“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.” —Commentary

From the Publisher

Anyone who has read THE GUNS OF AUGUST or STILWELL AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA, knows that Barbara Tuchman was one of the most gifted American writers of this century. Her subject was history, but her profiles of great men and great events are drawn with such power that reading Tuchman becomes a riveting experience

In A DISTANT MIRROR, Barbara Tuchman illuminates the Dark Ages. Her description of medieval daily life, the role of the church, the influence of the Great Plagues, and the social and political conventions that make this period of history so engrossing, are carefully woven into an integrated narrative that sweeps the reader along.

I am a particular devotee of medieval and pre Renaissance music, so Barbara Tuchman''s brilliant analysis of this period has special meaning for me - and I hope for many others.

George Davidson, Director of Production, The Ballantine Publishing Group

From the Inside Flap

"Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . A great book, in a great historical tradition." Commentary

The 14th century gives us back two contradictory images: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a dark time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world plunged into a chaos of war, fear and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived.

From the Back Cover

"Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . A great book, in a great historical tradition." Commentary
The 14th century gives us back two contradictory images: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a dark time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world plunged into a chaos of war, fear and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived.

About the Author

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912–1989) achieved prominence as a historian with The Zimmermann Telegram and international fame with The Guns of August—a huge bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her other works include Bible and Sword, The Proud Tower, Stilwell and the American Experience in China (for which Tuchman was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize), Notes from China, A Distant Mirror, Practicing History, The March of Folly, and The First Salute.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

“I Am the Sire de Coucy”: The Dynasty

Formidable and grand on a hilltop in Picardy, the five-towered castle of Coucy dominated the approach to Paris from the north, but whether as guardian or as challenger of the monarchy in the capital was an open question. Thrusting up from the castle’s center, a gigantic cylinder rose to twice the height of the four corner towers. This was the donjon or central citadel, the largest in Europe, the mightiest of its kind ever built in the Middle Ages or thereafter. Ninety feet in diameter, 180 feet high, capable of housing a thousand men in a siege, it dwarfed and protected the castle at its base, the clustered roofs of the town, the bell tower of the church, and the thirty turrets of the massive wall enclosing the whole complex on the hill. Travelers coming from any direction could see this colossus of baronial power from miles away and, on approaching it, feel the awe of the traveler in infidel lands at first sight of the pyramids.

Seized by grandeur, the builders had carried out the scale of the donjon in interior features of more than mortal size: risers of steps were fifteen to sixteen inches, window seats three and a half feet from the ground, as if for use by a race of titans. Stone lintels measuring two cubic yards were no less heroic. For more than four hundred years the dynasty reflected by these arrangements had exhibited the same quality of excess. Ambitious, dangerous, not infrequently ferocious, the Coucys had planted themselves on a promontory of land which was formed by nature for command. Their hilltop controlled passage through the valley of the Ailette to the greater valley of the Oise. From here they had challenged kings, despoiled the Church, departed for and died on crusades, been condemned and excommunicated for crimes, progressively enlarged their domain, married royalty, and nurtured a pride that took for its battle cry, “Coucy à la merveille!” Holding one of the four great baronies of France, they scorned territorial titles and adopted their motto of simple arrogance,

Roi ne suis,

Ne prince ne duc ne comte aussi;

Je suis le sire de Coucy.

(Not king nor prince,

Duke nor count am I;

I am the lord of Coucy.)

Begun in 1223, the castle was a product of the same architectural explosion that raised the great cathedrals whose impulse, too, sprang from northern France. Four of the greatest were under construction, at the same time as the castle—at Laon, Reims, Amiens, and Beauvais, within fifty miles of Coucy. While it took anywhere from 50 to 150 years to finish building a cathedral, the vast works of Coucy with donjon, towers, ramparts, and subterranean network were completed, under the single compelling will of Enguerrand de Coucy III, in the astonishing space of seven years.

The castle compound enclosed a space of more than two acres. Its four corner towers, each 90 feet high and 65 in diameter, and its three outer sides were built flush with the edge of the hill, forming the ramparts. The only entrance to the compound was a fortified gate on the inner side next to the donjon, protected by guard towers, moat, and portcullis. The gate opened onto the place d’armes, a walled space of about six acres, containing stables and other service buildings, tiltyard, and pasture for the knights’ horses. Beyond this, where the hill widened out like the tail of a fish, lay the town of perhaps a hundred houses and a square-towered church. Three fortified gates in the outer wall encircling the hilltop commanded access to the outside world. On the south side facing Soissons, the hill fell away in a steep, easily defensible slope; on the north facing Laon, where the hill merged with the plateau, a great moat made an added barrier.

Within walls eighteen to thirty feet thick, a spiral staircase connected the three stories of the donjon. An open hole or “eye” in the roof, repeated in the vaulted ceiling of each level, added a little extra light and air to the gloom, and enabled arms and provisions to be hoisted from floor to floor without the necessity of climbing the stairs. By the same means, orders could be given vocally to the entire garrison at one time. As many as 1,200 to 1,500 men-at-arms could assemble to hear what was said from the middle level. The donjon had kitchens, said an awed contemporary, “worthy of Nero,” and a rainwater fishpond on the roof. It had a well, bread ovens, cellars, storerooms, huge fireplaces with chimneys on each floor, and latrines. Vaulted underground passageways led to every part of the castle, to the open court, and to secret exits outside the ramparts, through which a besieged garrison could be provisioned. From the top of the donjon an observer could see the whole region as far as the forest of Compiègne thirty miles away, making Coucy proof against surprise. In design and execution the fortress was the most nearly perfect military structure of medieval Europe, and in size the most audacious.

One governing concept shaped a castle: not residence, but defense. As fortress, it was an emblem of medieval life as dominating as the cross. In the Romance of the Rose, that vast compendium of everything but romance, the castle enclosing the Rose is the central structure, which must be besieged and penetrated to reach the goal of sexual desire. In real life, all its arrangements testified to the fact of violence, the expectation of attack, which had carved the history of the Middle Ages. The castle’s predecessor, the Roman villa, had been unfortified, depending on Roman law and the Roman legions for its ramparts. After the Empire’s collapse, the medieval society that emerged was a set of disjointed and clashing parts subject to no central or effective secular authority. Only the Church offered an organizing principle, which was the reason for its success, for society cannot bear anarchy.

Out of the turbulence, central secular authority began slowly to cohere in the monarchy, but as soon as the new power became effective it came into conflict with the Church on the one hand and the barons on the other. Simultaneously the bourgeois of the towns were developing their own order and selling their support to barons, bishops, or kings in return for charters of liberties as free “communes.” By providing the freedom for the development of commerce, the charters marked the rise of the urban Third Estate. Political balance among the competing groups was unstable because the king had no permanent armed force at his command. He had to rely on the feudal obligation of his vassals to perform limited military service, later supplemented by paid service. Rule was still personal, deriving from the fief of land and oath of homage. Not citizen to state but vassal to lord was the bond that underlay political structure. The state was still struggling to be born.

By virtue of its location in the center of Picardy, the domain of Coucy, as the crown acknowledged, was “one of the keys of the kingdom.” Reaching almost to Flanders in the north and to the Channel and borders of Normandy on the west, Picardy was the main avenue of northern France. Its rivers led both southward to the Seine and westward to the Channel. Its fertile soil made it the primary agricultural region of France, with pasture and fields of grain, clumps of forest, and a comfortable sprinkling of villages. Clearing, the first act of civilization, had started with the Romans. At the opening of the 14th century Picardy supported about 250,000 households or a population of more than a million, making it the only province of France, other than Toulouse in the south, to have been more populous in medieval times than in modern. Its temper was vigorous and independent, its towns the earliest to win charters as communes.

In the shadowed region between legend and history, the domain of Coucy was originally a fief of the Church supposedly bestowed on St. Remi, first Bishop of Reims, by Clovis, first Christian King of the Franks, in about the year 500. After his conversion to Christianity by St. Remi, King Clovis gave the territory of Coucy to the new bishopric of Reims, grounding the Church in the things of Caesar, as the Emperor Constantine had traditionally grounded the Church of Rome. By Constantine’s gift, Christianity was both officially established and fatally compromised. As William Langland wrote,

When the kindness of Constantine gave Holy Church endowments

In lands and leases, lordships and servants,

The Romans heard an angel cry on high above them,

“This day dos ecclesiae has drunk venom

And all who have Peter’s power are poisoned forever.”

That conflict between the reach for the divine and the lure of earthly things was to be the central problem of the Middle Ages. The claim of the Church to spiritual leadership could never be made wholly credible to all its communicants when it was founded in material wealth. The more riches the Church amassed, the more visible and disturbing became the flaw; nor could it ever be resolved, but continued to renew doubt and dissent in every century.

In the earliest Latin documents, Coucy was called Codiciacum or Codiacum, supposedly derived from Codex, codicis, meaning a tree trunk stripped of its branches such as those the Gauls used to build their palisades. For four centuries through the Dark Ages the place remained in shadow. In 910–20 Hervé, Archbishop of Reims, built the first primitive castle and chapel on the hill, surrounded by a wall as defense against Norsemen invading the valley of the Oise. Settlers from the village below, taking refuge within the Bishop’s walls, founded the upper town, which came to be known as Coucy-le-Château, as distinguished from Coucy-la-Ville below. In those fierce times the territory was a constant bone of conflict among barons, archbishops, and kings, all equally bellicose. Defense against invaders—Moors in the south, Norsemen in the north—had bred a class of hard-bitten warriors who fought among themselves as willingly and savagely as against outsiders. In 975 Oderic, Archbishop of Reims, ceded the fief to a personage called the Comte d’Eudes, who became the first lord of Coucy. Nothing is known of this individual except his name, but once established on the hilltop, he produced in his descendants a strain of extraordinary strength and fury.

The dynasty’s first recorded act of significance, religious rather than bellicose, was the founding by Aubry de Coucy in 1059 of the Benedictine Abbey of Nogent at the foot of the hill. Such a gesture, on a larger scale than the usual donation for perpetual prayers, was meant both to display the importance of the donor and to buy merit to assure his salvation. Whether or not the initial endowment was meager, as the monastery’s rancorous Abbot Guibert complained in the next century, the abbey flourished and, supported by a flow of funds from successive Coucys, outlived them all.

Aubry’s successor, Enguerrand I, was a man of many scandals, obsessed by lust for women, according to Abbot Guibert (himself a victim of repressed sexuality, as revealed in his Confessions). Seized by a passion for Sybil, wife of a lord of Lorraine, Enguerrand succeeded, with the aid of a compliant Bishop of Laon who was his first cousin, in divorcing his first wife, Adèle de Marie, on charges of adultery. Afterward he married Sybil with the sanction of the Church while her husband was absent at war and while the lady herself was pregnant as the result of still a third liaison. She was said to be of dissolute morals.

Out of this vicious family situation came that “raging wolf” (in the words of another famous abbot, Suger of St. Denis), the most notorious and savage of the Coucys, Thomas de Marie, son of the repudiated Adèle. Bitterly hating the father who had cast his paternity in doubt, Thomas grew up to take part in the ceaseless war originally launched against Enguerrand I by the discarded husband of Sybil. These private wars were fought by the knights with furious gusto and a single strategy, which consisted in trying to ruin the enemy by killing or maiming as many of his peasants and destroying as many crops, vineyards, tools, barns, and other possessions as possible, thereby reducing his sources of revenue. As a result, the chief victim of the belligerents was their respective peasantry. Abbot Guibert claimed that in the “mad war” of Enguerrand against the Lorrainer, captured men had their eyes put out and feet cut off with results that could still be seen in the district in his time. The private wars were the curse of Europe which the crusades, it has been thought, were subconsciously invented to relieve by providing a vent for aggression.

When the great summons of 1095 came to take the cross and save the Holy Sepulcher on the First Crusade, both Enguerrand I and his son Thomas joined the march, carrying their feud to Jerusalem and back with mutual hate undiminished. From an exploit during the crusade the Coucy coat-of-arms derived, although whether the protagonist was Enguerrand or Thomas is disputed. One or the other with five companions, on being surprised by a party of Moslems when out of armor, took off his scarlet cloak trimmed with vair (squirrel fur), tore it into six pieces to make banners for recognition, and thus equipped, so the story goes, fell upon the Moslems and annihilated them. In commemoration a shield was adopted bearing the device of six horizontal bands, pointed, of red on white, or in heraldic terms, “Barry of six, vair and gules” (gules meaning red).

As his mother’s heir to the territories of Marie and La Fère, Thomas added them to the Coucy domain to which he succeeded in 1116. Untamed, he pursued a career of enmity and brigandage, directed in varying combinations against Church, town, and King, “the Devil aiding him,” according to Abbot Suger. He seized manors from convents, tortured prisoners (reportedly hanging men up by their testicles until these tore off from the weight of the body), personally cut the throats of thirty rebellious bourgeois, transformed his castles into “a nest of dragons and a cave of thieves,” and was excommunicated by the Church, which ungirdled him—in absentia—of the knightly belt and ordered the anathema to be read against him every Sunday in every parish in Picardy. King Louis VI assembled a force for war upon Thomas and succeeded in divesting him of stolen lands and castles. In the end, Thomas was not proof against that hope of salvation and fear of hell which brought the Church so many rich legacies through the centuries. He left a generous bequest to the Abbey of Nogent, founded another abbey at Prémontré nearby, and died in bed in 1130. He had been married three times. Abbot Guibert thought him “the wickedest man of his generation.”

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Top reviews from the United States

Delamaine
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Dry
Reviewed in the United States on January 6, 2019
I have been trying to plow through this for the last few weeks, and can only read a few pages at a time before my eyes glaze over. English and French history is my key period, though I''ve mostly focused on the Wars of the Roses and subsequent events up to Napoleon. So I... See more
I have been trying to plow through this for the last few weeks, and can only read a few pages at a time before my eyes glaze over. English and French history is my key period, though I''ve mostly focused on the Wars of the Roses and subsequent events up to Napoleon. So I thought this would be an interesting peek at an era I''m not too familiar with. However, I''m a little past halfway, and all of a sudden the author throws in big sections written in present tense, which is jarring; the section on the plague basically just repeats itself over and over, giving statistics and names of villages that were defunct after the plague...I can remember trying to read this when it was first published but didn''t really have a memory of it - so I started it again, and failed. I officially gave up this morning and am going to go read something else, more invigorating.
96 people found this helpful
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Wm Skye
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Genius of Barbara Tuchman
Reviewed in the United States on September 25, 2017
The genius of Barbara Tuchman is her ability to bring the past into an immediacy requiring the reader''s attention, and to make the concerns of people past relevant to people living today. "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" reanimates Sire de Coucy, the... See more
The genius of Barbara Tuchman is her ability to bring the past into an immediacy requiring the reader''s attention, and to make the concerns of people past relevant to people living today. "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" reanimates Sire de Coucy, the Bourbon kings, and makes palpable the desire of the English crown for territory in France. Following the great plague years, class struggles, still part of us today, are written about with an enlightened approach that makes the reader understand both the perspective of people living in those distant times with the perspective of today, and how much has changed, and, how little, too.
51 people found this helpful
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John Frazier
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Detailed Look at Medieval Society
Reviewed in the United States on March 29, 2019
First, having read this book when it was first published many years ago, this was a re-read. While I consider Barbara Tuchman an excellent popular historian, there are flaws. Foremost, there is no recognition that Byzantine institutions and inventions were shaping French... See more
First, having read this book when it was first published many years ago, this was a re-read. While I consider Barbara Tuchman an excellent popular historian, there are flaws. Foremost, there is no recognition that Byzantine institutions and inventions were shaping French society during the Middle Ages. They very profoundly were. This will confuse the reader and create a false narrative in their minds. It is a first rate examination of lifestyle in those times.
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M. A Newman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Headlong into Confusion
Reviewed in the United States on July 7, 2017
This book is another Barbara Tuchman tour de force, displaying the rich pageant of 14th century France amid the tumult of plague, war, and political destabilization. 14th century France managed to combine possibly the worst of all possible outcomes. After the... See more
This book is another Barbara Tuchman tour de force, displaying the rich pageant of 14th century France amid the tumult of plague, war, and political destabilization.

14th century France managed to combine possibly the worst of all possible outcomes. After the political and military triumphs of Philip the Fair (IV) in the early years of the century, a lengthy period of dynastic uncertainty continued throughout the period, with only the reign of Charles V to demonstrate rare competence in government.

France, probably more than any other, was a prisoner of chivalry as the Middle Ages waned. This meant that knightly valor overwhelmed simple good sense as demonstrated again and again and again during four spectacular military disasters, Crecy, Poitiers, Nicopolis and Agincourt. In each case the French were overwhelmed by the failure of their own tactics and an inability to understand the need to sacrifice glory, the knight''s prerogative for the expediency of developing formations and tactics that could respond to superior English long bows and superior Turkish tactics. The Hundred Years lasted as long as it did due an insistence of the French nobility on fighting as its enemy preferred it to fight, rather than in a way likely to ensure victory.

Tuchman uses the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy as the prism to view the century''s disasters. His father died at Crecy, he died after Nicopolis in Turkish hands. In between he married a daughter of Edward III, served the realm in diplomatic and military capacities and survived the plague that decimated Europe.

It is appropriate for Tuchman to use a member of the nobility as her "every man" as this is the class that had the greatest impact on French and English history during this period. This impact was not necessarily a positive one, with rebellions and treason being more routine than bathing. Moral guidelines are generally absent with the Catholic Church torn by the spectacle of two, sometimes three, popes during the great schism. While the Kings were sometimes mad, the nobility was generally bad.

This is a marvelous book which I forgot just how good it was, having last picked it up in 1979. The 14th century is a place worth encountering through Tuchman''s prose.
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Patrick King
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The best medieval history book
Reviewed in the United States on September 26, 2019
One of the best history books I’ve ever read. Tuchman starts off, great historian that she was, pointing out how conflicting and exaggerating medieval sources can be, and even introduces “Tuchmans Law” (pronounced tuck-men) which basically states that bad news is repeated... See more
One of the best history books I’ve ever read. Tuchman starts off, great historian that she was, pointing out how conflicting and exaggerating medieval sources can be, and even introduces “Tuchmans Law” (pronounced tuck-men) which basically states that bad news is repeated and spread so much that it multiplies the seeming presence of bad things in life to the point you would think nothing good ever happens (just like watching the evening news). A Distant Mirror is actually a biography of a nobleman named Enguerrand de Coucy VII (pronounced On-geh-hon-de-koo-see). She briefly covers his ancestors as some of them absolutely butchered peasants and barons in their domain while some built the great castle of Coucy in Picardy, France. She spends the first several chapters setting the stage for Enguerrand’s life. The “little ice age” that kicked off the century with some mass starvation. Chivalry and romance, with the knights who were mostly hypocrites and brigands, and women who had minimal say in life. War, how it was all about “the fight” and “the glory”, not even about good strategy. Youth, and how children were basically just treated like little adults, meaning they didn’t have an idea of “childhood” like we have today where it’s a very special time of life, separate and distinct, and deserving special attention. Again, she points out contradictions from her research (“children are neglected and children are loved”). And of course, she covers a long and excellent chapter on the Black Death (which was originally her main goal for the book, but being the good historian that she was, she figured out it was more than the plague that ruined the 1300’s and so expanded the scope of her research)! Here are the Flagellants, whipping themselves through the streets, announcing Gods judgment through “the pestilence,” only to quickly blame the Jews for poisoning the wells and turning whole towns against them! Here are people hanging out next to the “privies” thinking they’ll avoid the plague that way. Tuchman is so accurate, she even points out that the statistic about 1/3 of the population dying from plague didn’t come from anyone actually counting the dead, it came from the book of Revelation! It was a way of life for intellectuals and scholars back then to use scripture and ancient literature to interpret events (doctors read Galen instead of just actually looking at what was wrong with their patients). And just when I thought I couldn’t get more enthralled, we actually begin the life of Enguerrand de Coucy VII. We are with him when he’s captured at the battle of Poitiers. With him when he’s taken hostage and shipped to England (likely in the same group with Geoffrey Chaucer!), when he marries the kings daughter, when he goes on a crusade...won’t spoil anything for you. There is the peasants revolt or “Jacquerie uprising.” There is John Wycliffe becoming buddies with, of all people, John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster) because they both want the state to be over the church, not the church over the state as it then was. Here is King Charles the VI of France being followed through the forest of Mans by a strange, ragged man saying, “Ride no further, noble King! Turn back! You are betrayed!” which leads him to have a psychotic snap upon exiting the forest, killing some of his own knights. And that’s just the beginning of his woes. Anyways...if you haven’t already read A Distant Mirror, I hope you will soon!
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Christopher J Finlayson
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Half brilliant, half unreadable
Reviewed in the United States on April 12, 2020
This is a tough review. I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book. The author deftly distills events and trends that shaped the 14th century. Distilling an entire century, particularly one so far removed from our present day, is a difficult challenge. Unfortunately, the... See more
This is a tough review. I greatly enjoyed the first half of the book. The author deftly distills events and trends that shaped the 14th century. Distilling an entire century, particularly one so far removed from our present day, is a difficult challenge. Unfortunately, the author’s choice to follow a single noble for the second half of the book is likely of more interest to historians than the average reader. The second half of the book follows this individual along a dizzying path that is hard very hard to follow, with little redeeming value.
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Gregory J. Owczarski
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
You Will Love This Book!
Reviewed in the United States on August 24, 2014
I''m not a history expert - just barely a history buff. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. An easy and very entertaining read, despite it''s length, that delves into the 14th century in great detail. I was finished long before I wanted to be. My only problem (and it... See more
I''m not a history expert - just barely a history buff. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. An easy and very entertaining read, despite it''s length, that delves into the 14th century in great detail. I was finished long before I wanted to be. My only problem (and it is my problem, not the author''s) is keeping track of the relationships between all the characters (but then again, I have trouble keeping track of my own extended family). Before reading this book, I would sometimes daydream about if I were a king in a similar era, the changes I would make to rid the land of excessive taxation, rampant corruption, unsanitary living, lack of general education, and other major issues. Turns out the governments of that time tried to solve the same issues but with little or no success -- I suppose I''m a bit naïve. I was surprised, too, on just what ''chivalry'' was during that period. Turns out that the noble ideals I had come to believed existed at that time were not reflected in action. I would highly recommend this wonderful book.
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Molly T.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Lessons from a distant mirror on time
Reviewed in the United States on October 1, 2020
Terrific chronicle of 14th century Europe by Barbara Tuchman. It''s a little frightening to look at the absurdities of that time and reflect that we haven''t necessarily learned a lot. We keep doing the same things over and over again. The human condition is hard to... See more
Terrific chronicle of 14th century Europe by Barbara Tuchman. It''s a little frightening to look at the absurdities of that time and reflect that we haven''t necessarily learned a lot. We keep doing the same things over and over again. The human condition is hard to explain. This is a not so veiled look at ourselves today with at least a modicum of improvement. They Hundred Years War and the impact of the Black Death are nicely explained. The reading can be a bit of a struggle at times. This is a tome, so be prepared for a long read, but it is rewarding. Tuchman''s book was dismissed by a lot of historians, but still received a national book honor. If you are a buff of WW II history, you might also try her book on Stilwell .
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Top reviews from other countries

mintymoor
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Too dry for this reader
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 29, 2020
Lots of facts, lots of names, lots of dates, but didn''t really give me a "feel" for the period or find the book engaging. I found it too long and dry (600 pages plus of tiny text). Had too much of a rambling textbook style for me, but may suit others as clearly lots of good...See more
Lots of facts, lots of names, lots of dates, but didn''t really give me a "feel" for the period or find the book engaging. I found it too long and dry (600 pages plus of tiny text). Had too much of a rambling textbook style for me, but may suit others as clearly lots of good reviews on here.
5 people found this helpful
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Ian Mckenzie
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Declutter
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 24, 2020
Bought as paperback a few years ago. Deteriorating eyesight and ongoing decluttering means a switch to kindle.An interesting read
4 people found this helpful
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john robertson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wonderful book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 13, 2018
A wonderful, beautiful book painting a brilliant and detailed picture of France and Europe in the disastrous 14th century. I would say this is one of the best and most enjoyable books of history I have ever read.
6 people found this helpful
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Mr. S. J. Isserlis
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Extraordinary insights
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 18, 2015
A fascinating study of an horrendous century and the wicked idiocy of the medieval mind and the role of the church and twisted ideas of chivalry. A real page turner too! This book might change your views about the benefits of having noble antecedents!
8 people found this helpful
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I. A. Peden
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent , sceptical history....worthy of David Hume himself!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 21, 2014
Read this years ago, still love it. Tuchman always qualifies every sweeping statement with an opposite example. This historical scepticism , mixed with considerable knowledge, provides the reader with a very believable and credible history of the 14th century. Excellent ,...See more
Read this years ago, still love it. Tuchman always qualifies every sweeping statement with an opposite example. This historical scepticism , mixed with considerable knowledge, provides the reader with a very believable and credible history of the 14th century. Excellent , sceptical history, worthy of David Hume himself.
9 people found this helpful
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