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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History) Paperback – March 4, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0385495561 ISBN-10: 0385495560 Edition: Reprint

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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: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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

Providing great reading copy of this fantastic book!
I have read most of Thomas Cahill's books, and one issue I have always had that the titles did not quite get explained in the books.
A Reader
This is a well-written, beautifully illustrated book.
B. Simmons

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 87 people found the following review helpful By B. Simmons on March 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on April 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on December 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
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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