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The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century Hardcover – December 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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"An amazingly detailed social history...From wages to wardrobes, [Mortimer] reconstructs what everyone from all walks of life did on an everyday basis and speculates about what they were thinking while they were doing it. A gem for history buffs as well as travelers." -- BOOKLIST
"[Mortimer] sets out to re-enchant the fourteenth century, taking us by the hand through a landscape furnished with jousting knights, revolting peasants, and beautiful ladies in wimples. It is Monty Python and the Holy Grail with footnotes and, my goodness, it is fun." -- KATHRYN HUGHES, THE GUARDIAN
"After The Canterbury Tales this has to be the most entertaining book ever written about the Middle Ages." -- SUE ARNOLD, THE GUARDIAN
"Perhaps the most enjoyable history book I've read all year." -- PROFESSOR STEPHEN HOWE, THE INDEPENDENT
"The resulting portrait of the era is as lively as it is informative. His work of speculative social history is eminently entertaining but this doesn't detract from the serious and thorough research involved." -- ANGEL GURRÍA-QUINTANA, FINANCIAL TIMES
Top Customer Reviews
The book covers virtually every aspect of life and death in Fourteenth century England, from the highest royalty to the lowest peasant (peasants, Mortimer explains, did not call themselves "peasants", but instead would have conceived themselves as members of some subset of society as "rustici" -- countrymen -- or "villani" -- villeins). Social hierarchies, food, clothing, housing, law and order, medicine, travel ... Mortimer seemingly touches upon and describes every aspect of life. He deliberately limits himself to a single century as "medieval" actually covers too extensive a slice of time for accurate summary and even so the author frequently addresses changing behavior over the course of that single century.
A vast amount of information is conveyed in an engaging, lively style. In the very first chapter Mortimer emphasizes his approach to social history by submerging the reader in an ocean of sensory imaginings, descrbing sights and sounds and especially smells of a visit to a medieval English city. And repeatedly thereafter the author reinforces this "you are there" experience. All in all, this is an excellent and highly vivid look at a past era.
There's a lot here I already knew, but a lot I didn't--for example, that pockets were introduced during this century, as were differentiated shoes (left foot versus right, in other words). It's details like this, that you wouldn't normally think are important, that really are important in daily life. At first, the present-tense writing threw me off; but, as Mortimer says in his introduction, once you begin understanding history as happening rather than as has happened, then you'll better understand the complexities of fourteenth-century life.
As the back of the book paraphrases LP Hartley, "the past is a foreign country, they did things differently there..." It's not that things were bad or wrong with the way that people lived six hundred years ago; it's just that people back then had different ways of seeing the world. Take, for example, the chapter on health and medical practices. It's not that medical physicians and surgeons (two different things, up until the 17th century) were ignorant in the sense that we mean it; it's just that they used different areas of knowledge to make a diagnosis and treat a patient. Doctors and surgeons in the fourteenth century probably had as much knowledge as doctors do today--they just used things such as astronomy, religion, and blind faith in their practice. I wish the author had focused a little more on religion and education, however.Read more ›
There were a few glaring omissions: maps!!! There should have been a general English one, as well as a map of London and other places mentioned, as well as drawings of the houses and such that he describes. There was also nothing about child rearing or discipline, schooling or apprentiship. I was very surprised to see that he left out midwives and herbalists from the section on medical practitioners. Otherwise, this is a very written book that I would recommend to others.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Close to 300 pages and not a word about religion?
Otherwise, ok, but these folks were seeped in religion you have to cover it, even if your intellectual self scorns... Read more
A wonderful book. My daughter used it for a school project. Her work stood head and shoulders above the rest because of the human feel she attained.Published 1 month ago by Matthew R. Picone
A rollicking fun ride through the Middle Ages! Fascinating, detailed, and incredibly entertaining.Published 1 month ago by Libros1956
A masterfully told story of life in medieval England. Wide breadth of topics give you a real sense of what it must have been like.Published 2 months ago by Mike
I enjoyed this book, I learned quite an bit. If you want to understand how people lived way back the, you should read this book.Published 2 months ago by Stephen W. Bouton
What a fascinating book! It is not only well written, it is descriptive enough that the reader can experience medieval England. It kept me completely interested.Published 2 months ago by Dixie Howell
I love this book! I want to imagine what it was like to be alive in Medieval England
and this book puts you right in the picture. Read more
This has the feel of a microhistory but spanning an entire century and throughout the classes, genders, and sentient beings of England. Read morePublished 3 months ago by David Dicicco