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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History) [Paperback]

by Thomas Cahill
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 4, 2008 0385495560 978-0385495561 Reprint
From the bestselling author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, a fascinating look at how medieval thinkers created the origins of modern intellectual movements.

After the long period of decline known as the Dark Ages, medieval Europe experienced a rebirth of scholarship, art, literature, philosophy, and science and began to develop a vision of Western society that remains at the heart of Western civilization today, from the entry of women into professions that had long been closed to them to the early investigations into alchemy that would form the basis of experimental science. On visits to the great cities of Europe-monumental Rome; the intellectually explosive Paris of Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas; the hotbed of scientific study that was Oxford; and the incomparable Florence of Dante and Giotto-acclaimed historian Thomas Cahill brilliantly captures the spirit of experimentation, the colorful pageantry, and the passionate pursuit of knowledge that built the foundations for the modern world.

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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History) + Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World (Hinges of History) + Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Hinges of History)
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Editorial Reviews


“Intoxicating. . . . Cahill's command of rich historical detail makes medieval cities and their colorful characters come to alive.”
The Los Angeles Times

“Cahill offers a fascinating portrayal of the intellectual richness that foreshadows the coming Renaissance. . . . [He] deftly focuses on key locations and major figures that form the foundations of Renaissance and Modern thought in feminism, science, and art.”
Rocky Mountain News

“[Cahill] succeeds roundly in bringing his own gift of enticing readers to the study of the past, describing the development and definition of the medieval worldview, as well as he has ever done.”
New York Daily News

About the Author

Thomas Cahill's appealing approach to distant history has won the attention of millions of readers in North America and beyond. Cahill is the author of four previous volumes in the Hinges of History series: How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. They have been bestsellers, not only in the United States but also in countries ranging from Italy to Brazil. He and his wife, Susan, also a writer, divide their time between New York and Rome.

Product Details

  • Series: Hinges of History (Book 5)
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495561
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, is the bestselling author of the Hinges of History series.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rose by any other name is still a rose March 13, 2008
This is a well-written, beautifully illustrated book. The treatment of the footnotes is unusual and eminently readable; they are on the same page, rather than being relegated to the end of the book, and not in the usual 6 or 7 pt fine print of a scholarly treatise. The author obviously knows his subject matter, but his writing is more conversational than pedagogical. However, buyer beware. If you've read the hardcover "Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe," don't buy this so-called reprint edition. They've simply changed the subtitle to "And the Beginning of the Modern World." It's not the additional volume on the making of the modern world promised on page iii of the hardcover edition.
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66 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best when it sticks to the middle ages May 3, 2008
This is a well written book that illustrates some of the major advances toward a more modern world that occurred during the middle ages. This is largely accomplished through a detailed examination of several key people (and one could surely quibble with these selections, although they are pretty reasonable to me): Hildegarde of Bingen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Francis of Assisi, Peter Abelard, Henry II (Plantagenet), Roger Bacon, Dante, Giotto, and a handful of others.

One issue that bothered me somewhat: the focus or purpose of this book is not real clear. The author, Thomas Cahill, begins by mentioning that the Middle Ages are, against the claims of some, the beginnings of modernity and has often been unappreciated for its contributions. However, at the end, he notes that (Page 313) "The story this book has had to tell is the story of the (often overlooked and belittled) Catholic contribution to Western civilization." And then, if one reads the book, he is often quite critical of the Catholic hierarchy. Thus, I am not sure that there is a consistent thematic spine to the book. That is hardly critical, but I sometimes asked myself what the purpose of this book might be.

That said, this is a handsomely produced work. There is a nice technique for including footnotes on the pages where a reference is made; there are very nice reproductions of the art of the day, maps, and so on; there is plenty of space between the lines and this renders reading much easier. From time to time there are summary charts (e.g., key dates on timelines).

For those (including me) who may a little about some of the key players but not much about others, this is a delight. I enjoy the music of Hildegarde of Bingen, but I scarcely had a sense of her role in the history of the times.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixture of facts and opinions April 12, 2008
Mysteries of the Middle Ages is the third book in a series of seven on European history.

Thomas Cahill's thesis is that the Middle Ages were not the intellectual desert that many people think them to be. He suggests that they were a period of fertile development in the areas of science, philosophy and the arts. Rather than trying to give a broad overview of the period, he introduces us to a number of the main characters who lived in the period. The book is a history of the Church and faith more than the countries, but it is through the gradually shifting nature of that faith that the world changes.

The book begins with a quick overview of the Greek and Roman civilization. As strange as it may seem to start there, it becomes clear that much of the Middle Ages are the re-discovery of Greek philosophy and science, but with a different twist to it.

During the course of the book we meet a sequestered nun who, by the end of her long life is going on speaking tours of Europe; another woman who lives her own life as ruler; and a gentle man who renounces all wealth and power. We are introduced to a villain who has a great effect on all three of the above, and many other characters who are all unique in the way they view the world they live in.

While I found the stories fascinating, I found Cahill's diversions into commentary on the modern day less interesting. He interjects his opinions of our modern day in a way that more often distracts than adds to the book. The entire closing chapter is in this vein. That said, I found the way the author tells the story usually carried me past the infrequent rants. I would still recommend this amusing and readable book to anyone who wishes an introduction to this misunderstood period of our history.

Armchair Interviews says: When Cahill is telling stories he is terrific, when he is ranting, less so.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, entertaining intellectual history December 16, 2009
I was stunned by the wide range of ratings that this book has received from general-interest readers. It stands in stark contrast to the overwhelmingly positive ratings from reviewers. I'll comment on what happened (in my opinion) at the end of this review.

I think the book offers tremendous insights into the development of European culture and intellectual and religious life during the Middle Ages. It begins with Europe's roots in ancient Greece and Rome, but rather than taking the easy way out by listing a bunch of wars and and proto-European nation-states, the author looks at the intellectual threads that emerged and the thinkers who created them. He shows how Greece's intellectual ideas and Rome's more practical way of thinking (and passion for life) formed early Christianity, and then led to the split between the Orthodox Church and the Holy Roman Empire-style church.

Then he takes a deeper look at how that HRE-style of religion was changed by extraordinarily brave and thoughtful people over the course of more than 300 years: people such as Gregory the Great, Hildegard of Bingen, Heloise, Eleanor of Acquitaine, Francis of Assisi, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, and Giotto. He shows how each of these people contributed to changing their world...and our world.

And when I say "show," I mean show. I can't think of a book of history that's better illustrated than this volume. My greatest frustration with history books comes when I'm reading an exciting description of a battle formation, a costume, a town, or whatever, and there's no picture. In fact, there's almost never a picture. This book, by contrast, has all the right pictures -- paintings, mosaics, maps, cathedrals, etc.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World
The book is in excellent condition and the price was reasonable. I'm very pleased with the purchase and recommend having good books to read and own by purchasing them used.
Published 1 month ago by Barbara Von Ahsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
A well-written jaunt through important events in the Middle Ages. Good reading, pretty good scholarship, beautifully presented. A good book.
Published 1 month ago by patricia f.
4.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Cahill "Hinges" is a great series
I've read all of Cahill's "Hinges of History" books. Personally I really enjoy his writing. Some don't, so I can't say whether you will enjoy the book or not. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mike Mitchell
2.0 out of 5 stars one sided vision
Mr. Cahill's analysis is not terribly interesting, simply because it is so one sided. Everything that comes out of Roman Catholicism is great, all other religions or forms of... Read more
Published 3 months ago by g. John Marmet
5.0 out of 5 stars What a book. What a storyteller.
This is why I leaned to read. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll clean your glasses. It's Thomas Cahill at his best.
Published 3 months ago by John
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really as exciting as I hoped.
The title of the book being reviewed is Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the beginning of the Modern World. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Blayne
1.0 out of 5 stars garbage in pretty packaging
This is nothing more than anti Catholic invective with attractive typeset.and pretty pictures! The fact that Cahill may identify himself as a Catholic or former Catholic does not... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Joseph P. Tevington
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Dark About These Ages
Both the content and the presentation are a delight and an education. This should be required reading for teachers and students, but that might spoil the fun.
Published 7 months ago by C. A. Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars it is annoying to me a twit like Cahill should insult the great man...
interesting book, about an interesting place, with interesting people. very enjoyable book to read with a big exception. Read more
Published 9 months ago by nearlyimperfect
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Presentation, but no Mysteries
Thomas Cahill is an academic best known for his "Hinges of History" series. I read the four previous books in the series and written reviews about two of them: "How the Irish Saved... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Asher Gabbay
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