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Inventing the Middle Ages Paperback – February 26, 1993

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Editorial Reviews


"Astoundingly readable ... Extraordinarily powerful" -- -- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Brilliant ... No other book published this year is more witty and challenging." -- -- Houston Chronicle

"Grandly conceived and brilliantly executed ... it is the best book about historians I have read in years..." -- -- Gordon Craig, Professor Emeritus of History, Stanford University

About the Author

Norman F. Cantor was Emeritus Professor of History, Sociology, and Comparative Literature at New York University. His many books include In the Wake of the Plague, Inventing the Middle Ages, and The Civilization of the Middle Ages, the most widely read narrative of the Middle Ages in the English language. He died in 2004.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (February 26, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688123023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688123024
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Mark D Burgh on March 9, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you were a history major like me at the University of Delaware in the late 70's, you discovered that your love of the subject is soon yanked away and replaced by something called historiography. This is dismaying, because instead of reading history, you are sent to the library to look up historians. You have to write long papers about who said what and why, which makes you drink Schmidt's beer to excess. You start writing bad poems, because you can't stand to read poorly-written analyses of other people's writing. If you wanted to do that, you could have been an English major.
I only wish this book had been out in 1978. Cantor writes well, has encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, has a sense of humor (which some people are mistaking for bitterness) and is not afraid to take a stand. His chapter on the Oxford Fantastists is excellent, informative, and something anyone interested in our current culture ought to read, since Tolkein and Lewis did much to form it.
Cantor's book is really creative non-fiction; the use of novelistic techniques in a non-fiction narrative, which to me, makes the book more readable, interesting, and more accurate. If you've spent no time around universities, then you can't understand how their internal politics shape thought and education, which Cantor shows perfectly well here.
I suppose some people bought this book expecting a history of the Middle Ages; shame on them for not reading the title, or looking inside the book. Cantor's Civilazation of the Middle Ages is a good place to start if you're looking for that. If you want to read about the historians who formed the current view of those strange times (less strange than our own) this is a good place to start.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Entertaining historiography should be an oxymoron but this book is an exception. Cantor's point of departure is the fact that historical understanding of the Middle Ages is essentially a 20th century phenomenon. According to Cantor, and this is creditable, very little written on this topic prior to 1900 is useful. In this book, Cantor is concerned with exposing the connections between 20th century concerns and ideas and study of Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. This is not a systematic historiography. Cantor reviews the lives and works of a substantial number of prominent scholars on a case by case basis and doesn't attempt to develop any general scheme or description of the evolution of scholarship in this area. Cantor shows how the personal and ideological preoccupations of these scholars colored or directed their work. The pioneering German students of medieval kingship, Schramm and Kantorowicz, were members of the radical right who detested the Weimar Republic. Their longing for a charismatic leader who would restore German hegemony was reflected in their groundbreaking biographies of important German emperors. Their wishes for a modern charismatic leader were granted, but in a form they came to regret. Cantor does not view these scholars and the other individuals he discusses as simply imposing reflections of their contemporary preoccupations on the past. Rather, the contemporary preoccupations often lead to important insights. The great student of medieval monastic life, David Knowles, was himself a monk with significant personal conflicts over his vocation and strained relationships with his ecclesiastical superiors. These conflicts appear to have equipped Knowles with a unique ability to penetrate the psychology of medieval religous life.Read more ›
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73 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on September 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a Catholic growing up in the predominantly WASP world of 1950s American South, I was taught that the era in which my church played a major role in European History was called the "Dark Ages" -- and that it was marked with ignorance, filth, idolatry, and barbarity that was only overcome with the rise of rational thought, commercialism, and neoclassicism. A few years ago, I set out to learn the truth--to study the period now known as the Middle Ages.
Medievalist scholars pretty much agree the Middle Ages include the thousand or so years following the fall of Rome (c.500 A.D.) to the revival of rationalism, Roman law, bureaucracies, and neoclassical art known as the Italian Renaissance. In his book, Norman Cantor distills the work of many leading scholars in Europe and America writing during the latter part of the 19th Century and through the 20th. He organizes their work into various schools of thought including legalists, propagandists, revolutionaries, fantasists, formalists, outriders and others.
He says the task these scholars undertook was to conceptually and operationally define or "invent" the Middle Ages by addressing several questions: What sources lead to the rise and dominance of Western society; How did a legal system that still exists today emerge (i.e. in the Commonwealth of Virginia and other U.S.
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