- Paperback: 357 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; 60th ed. edition (January 6, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060925817
- ISBN-13: 978-0060925819
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages 60th ed. Edition
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Historians, write Frances and Joseph Gies, have long tended to view the Middle Ages as a period of intellectual and scientific stagnation, a long era of backwardness, ignorance, and inertia. Many scholars of the Renaissance era, however, thought otherwise; the mathematician Jerome Cardan, for one, held that three medieval inventions--the magnetic compass, the printing press, and gunpowder--were of such significance that "the whole of antiquity has nothing equal to show."
In their lively history of medieval technology, the Gies team writes of such advances as the heavy plow, the Gothic flying buttress, linen undergarments, water pumps, and the lateen sail. During the medieval millennium, they suggest, a great technological and social revolution occurred "with the disappearance of mass slavery, the shift to water- and wind-power, the introduction of the open-field system of agriculture, and the importation, adaptation, or invention of an array of devices, from the wheelbarrow to double-entry bookkeeping." Many of those inventions or adaptations, brought into Europe from China and the Middle East, have scarcely been improved on today.
The medieval technological revolution, the authors conclude, came at a cost: much of Europe was deforested to make room for cropland and to fire kilns and furnaces, and mechanization made obsolete many handicraft skills. Yet, they add, the workers and inventors of the Middle Ages "all transformed the world, on balance very much to the world's advantage." --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
Moving chronologically through a millennium (500-1500 A.D.), the authors (who have written numerous books on medieval life, including Life in a Medieval City , LJ 2/1/70) show that the term "Dark Ages" is a misnomer by deftly tracing the period's "main technological elements, . . . their known or probable sources, and their principal impacts." In addition to the technological developments highlighted in the book's title, the authors cover such topics as the textile industry and shipbuilding/rigging, plus obligatory topics like printing, engineering, and gunpowder. Throughout, they nimbly weave medieval cultural history into the discussion. Informative, readable, enjoyable, and well written, this work is directed to general readers. Highly recommended for all collections.
- Michael D. Cramer, Virginia Polytechnic & State Univ. Libs . , Blacksburg
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I was led to this book by the argument over whether there ever was a "fall of Rome" of the sort described by Gibbon. Rodney Stark, for example, denies it in his "The Victory of Reason." Bryan Ward-Perkins, on the other hand, insists there really was a catastrophic collapse in the levels of population, literacy, and economic activity in the 5th Century Western Roman Empire. I am convinced by Ward-Perkin's evidence, yet I must agree with Stark that the Frankish "dark ages" were far more productive of inventions than was the entire world of classical civilization from 500BC to 500AD. The Franks invented (or at least perfected) the horse collar, the wheeled moldboard plow, three-field crop rotation, the stirrup, and the water wheel. The only original thing the Romans invented was concrete.
The Gies' provided me with a way of putting these seemingly paradoxical facts into a consistent whole. The structures of high culture which would support populous urban centers and a literate Senatorial Roman class disappeared after the 5th Century. But the abolition of slavery and the efforts among lower class farmers to survive the chaos of the 6th and 7th Centuries motivated them to produce an astonishing amount of technological inventions. The Romans had no need for waterwheels, for example, since they had an almost limitless supply of slaves. The 6th Century Franks had to be more clever than that.
This may explain the inventiveness of the Franks compared to the Romans. But what about the Muslims? The Muslims served more as transmitters of technology from East to West than as innovators in their own right. Why did they fall so far behind the West after their brilliant start during the 8th to 10th Centuries?
I am grateful to the Gies' for showing me the continuities of technological development through the entire Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. This has enriched my understanding of the discontinuities emphasized by Gibbon and Ward-Perkins. But much more needs to be done to explain the modern dominance of the West among world cultures. (Non-Western cultures have participated in this dominance only to the extent that they have successfully "Westernized.") Rodney Stark tried to explain this dominance of the West by reference to the alleged virtues of the Christian religion. I argued in my review of his book that his effort failed. But one needs a book like the "Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel" to even address these issues. That is why I am grateful to the Gies' for having created their book.
The only minus is that this is too much "dictionary"-like presentation about everything. The technology itself is so huge field that may be it would have been better to concentrate something more special, like architecture, clothing, food production etc...
At times the detail in the book can make it slow going, but over all it is well written and easier than many historical works to plough through.This book provides the most comprehensive look into European conditions and science from 500 - 1500 AD that I've seen. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in history.
For those who are not already expert in medieval technology, but are generally interested in either medieval history or technological history, this is a must-read.