Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth CenturyThe Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My interest in history is in the everyday. Random facts and dates and politics may tell me what shaped the world we have today, but I want to know what people were doing while all that went on. This book, then, was right up my alley. And it was in my 2014 TBR Challenge because otherwise, I was never going to get around to reading it.

The book is, as the title says, a guidebook for anyone wanting to visit England in the 1300's. It discusses customs, fashions, crime, justice, economic classes, conditions living in cities, food, travel, people's homes, and, briefly, the Black Death. It's the first history book I've read about the time period that doesn't dismiss research suggesting the Black Death was viral. But there are entire books devoted to that particular puzzle. In this, it's little more than a footnote, except to note how its effect on lifestyles and the population.

The book is absolutely packed with information. It covers any aspect a person visiting from our time period needs to know so they don't stick out. It presents the populace not as clueless rubes, but as people living their lives and worthy of respect despite their lowbrow humor.

Unfortunately, the Time Traveler's Guide isn't terribly readable. It's excellent as a resource to consult to get a good idea of the flavor of the time, but, as a cover-to-cover read, it's rather dry. That exhaustive research and thorough information doesn't take long to get tiresome. It's like that person at a party you were sorry to ask about their area of expertise when they're still going on about it an hour later.

Overall, this is a valuable resource for anyone who needs to get the flavor of everyday life during the time period. I recommend keeping it on hand to consult as needed, rather than reading all the way through at once. I'm going to keep it on hand, but I'm not going to read it as I did this time around again.


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