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The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (Second Revised Edition) (Vol. 2) (Story of the World) Paperback – April 16, 2007
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“This may well be the best multi-age read aloud narrative of world history yet to have been written.”
- Homeschooling in Japan
About the Author
Susan Wise Bauer is a writer, educator, and historian. Her previous books include the Writing With Ease, Writing With Skill, and Story of the World series from Well-Trained Mind Press, as well as The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, Rethinking School, The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, and the History of the World series, all from W. W. W. Norton. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William & Mary in Virginia, as well as an M.A. in seventeenth-century literature and a Master of Divinity in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature. For fifteen years, she taught literature and composition at the College of William and Mary.
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Cathedrals ("The medieval cathedrals of Europe--there are over a hundred of them--are the greatest accomplishments of humanity in the whole theatre of art." P. Johnson, Art: A New History [New York: HarperCollins, 2003]; p. 153): they were the center of both secular and religious life in the Middle Ages.
An explanation of how the monks in Ireland kept Western Civilization alive and re-introduced it to the continent.
The Rule of Benedict (a foundational document for Western civilization, right up there with the Magna Carta, that has influenced everything from constitutional government to corporate organization.)
Scholasticism & Humanism (yes, it began in the Middle Ages): Thomas Aquinas and his Summa Theologica, marrying Greek rationalism and Christian theology, which has made Western Civilization the unique creation it is, arguably the most successful and influential civilization the world has seen to date. Aquinas developed, among other things, the concept of natural law and God-given rights. The line from Aquinas to Jefferson is profoundly important.
Guilds (the valuing of labor, the attendant social mobility that came with guilds, including the beginnings of a middle class)
The founding of universities by the Church
The establishment of hospitals by the Church
The cessation of slavery in Western Europe because of Christianity
In sum, the book does not report the pre-eminent role and the great contributions of the Church in creating what we have come to know as Western Civilization. Consider what Kenneth Clark writes:
" ... [T]hree or four times in history man has made a leap forward that would have been unthinkable under ordinary evolutionary conditions. One such time was about the year 3000 BC, when quite suddenly civilization appeared, not only in Egypt and Mesopotamia but in the Indus valley; another was in the late sixth century BC, when there was not only the miracle of Ionia and Greece--philosophy, science, art, poetry, all reaching a point that wasn't reached again for 2000 years--but also in Indian spiritual enlightenment that has perhaps never been equaled. Another was around the year 1100. It seems to have affected the whole world; but its strongest and most dramatic effect was in Western Europe--where it was most needed. In every branch of life--action, philosophy, organization, technology--there was an extraordinary outpouring of energy, an intensification of existence. ... These changes imply a new social and intellectual background. They imply wealth, stability, technical skill and, above all, the confidence necessary to push through a long-term project. How had all this suddenly appeared in Western Europe? Of course there are many answers, but one is overwhelmingly more important than the others: the triumph of the Church. It could be argued that western civilization was basically the creation of the Church." (K. Clark, Civilisation [New York, 1969], pages 33-35)
That story is missing from Bauer's account of the Middle Ages.
a. They did not invent chocolate(though they did use it).
b. "And usually this moat was filled with heavy logs that allowed horses and carts...." The Aztecs had neither horses nor carts. This is a serious error.
c. I realize that condensation is necessary, but only mentioning corns, squash, tomatoes and beans (and chocolate) is not accurate.Amaranth, chia, and certainly chilles were among the significant plants the Aztecs grew.
2. Teotihuacan (and all South American polities other than the Incas) are not even named. The renown of Teotihuacan is great enough to require a place in this volume.
3. Eastern Roman Empire. While it is given significant coverage in a chapter of its own, in an earlier chapter, the impression is given that the Roman Empire per se was destroyed (actually, the text specifically says the Western Roman Empire, but a casual reader will probably miss the distinction since the Eastern Roman Empire is not mentioned again after the explanation of the split.
4. Rome. In 410 "barbarians sacked Rome and carried away all of its treasures. Nothing was left but the Roman roads and bridges." this is a misrepresentation of Alaric's sacking of Rome. Most of the buildings were left unburned, some valuable religious treasures were left untouched. "And slowly, even those [i.e., the roads and bridges] began to crumble away into dust." This poetic rendering is misleading, considering that some viaducts, roads and bridges of the Roman era are still, with repairs and changes, in use today. It was really in the mid-sixth century, during the Gothic Wars that Rome lost his last shine.
5. Africa. While it is important to point out that the Sahara is not the be-all and end-all of Africa, to call it a "small" part is inaccurate. The only Medieval African cultures mentioned are in western Africa. Doesn't Great Zimbabwe deserve mention?
6. Genghis Khan: Contrary to the book, there is no evidence that his body was buried in China, and there is good reason to believe that that is almost impossible.
7. Kublai Khan. "Korea...was defeated at once." In fact, the conquest took about a quarter century -- far longer than the rapid conquests the Mongols made elsewhere.
8. I think the peasant revolts merit mention, though this is a judgment call.
9. Climate change is even more neglected than the role of the Church in European history.
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But other than that I liked the book