Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman

The Worlds Of Medieval Europe
Clifford R. Backman
Oxford University Press
Copyright: 2008
9780195335279

From the cover of the book:

Deftly written and beautifully illustrated, The Worlds of Medieval Europe, Second Edition, presents a distinctive and nuanced portrayal of a western world that was sharply divided between its northern and southern aspects. By integrating the histories of the Islamic and Byzantine worlds into the main narrative, author Clifford R. Backman offers an insightful, detailed, and often witty look at the continuum of interaction--social, cultural, intellectual, and commercial--that existed among all three societies.

Filled with relevant primary documents, this compelling volume surpasses traditional textbook representations of the Middle Ages by balancing the conventional focus on political affairs, especially those of northern Europe, with equally detailed attention to medieval society as it developed in the Mediterranean. In addition, Backman describes the ways in which the medieval Latin West attempted to understand the unified and rational structure of the human cosmos, which they believed existed beneath the observable diversity and disorder of the world. This effort to re-create a human ordering of "unity through diversity" provides an essential key to understanding medieval Europe and the ways in which it regarded and reacted to the worlds around it.

Thoroughly updated and redesigned, the second edition features an inviting and accessible layout and integrates captivating new illustrations--nearly twice as many as in the previous edition--to stimulate students' engagement with the material. Moreover, it offers a sophisticated analysis of gender, along with an intriguing examination of the tumultuous relationship between the Mediterranean and Islam.

An invaluable resource for both students and instructors, The Worlds of Medieval Europe, Second Edition, is ideal for undergraduate courses in medieval history, Western civilization, the history of Christianity, and Muslim-Christian relations. It also serves as an excellent supplement on the history of a specific country in the medieval period, the history of medieval art, or the history of the European economy.

If you're looking for a good background book on the Middle Ages, this is a good one, and it is surprisingly reasonably priced too, at least compared to some of the other books I have.

As with some of the other non-fiction books I've reviewed here lately, this one is also a textbook from the past semester's classes. That doesn't stop it from being interesting and readable though. Far from it. The author has quite the sense of humor!

All you have to do is read some of the footnotes to see that. Anecdotes, funny little comments, definitions and more all abound in the book. It's rare for a textbook to leave me snickering (especially when cramming at two in the morning for the final), but this one managed it several times.

There are individual chapters on the Roman World, Daily Life, the Carolingian Era, The Fourteenth Century, Religious Life and many more. Each chapter looks at either a specific time period, institution or concept in detail. There are also a number of maps for different eras, areas and themes placed throughout the book.

Each chapter has an extensive suggested reading list (usually about a page to a page and a half), broken down into primary sources, source anthologies and secondary sources, here termed "studies". Backman quotes extensively and thoroughly from the primary source texts to make his points clear, and the sources are all given in the Suggested Reading sections.

This is not at all a "dry" read, and it's definitely a book I'm keeping for reference purposes now that the class is done with. It certainly goes very well with the Rosenwein book Reading The Middle Ages Volume II, that I reviewed yesterday. In fact, both were textbooks for the same class.

Previously, I've felt that Tierney's book Western Europe In The Middle Ages was one of the best books on Medieval History that I'd read. Now, I have to say that The Worlds Of Medieval Europe is easily the equal or better of the older book. It's certainly the less expensive! Amazon is listing Tierney's book (trade paperback format) for $105.07!

Other medieval history books I've reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham
By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn
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