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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century Paperback – 24 Apr 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books Inc.; Reissue edition (24 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345349571
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345349576
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 4.3 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 475,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Codiacum, supposedly derived from Codex, codicis, meaning a tree trunk stripped of its branches such as those the Gauls used to build their palisades. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By john_newstead@bigfoot.com on 15 Oct 2001
Format: Paperback
Barbara Tuchman transports the reader from the present world to fourteenth century France where we witness the contradictions, the decline and ultimately the self-destruction of the age of chivalry. We travel on a journey, via the life of a unique French nobleman, to world characterised by conflict and fear. In a world of political ambition, terror, inequality, and exploitation we learn of the great events of the age including the schism of Rome, the great plague, the crusades and the wars with England and other states. Barely surviving was the lowly peasant despite exploitation by state, church, landowner and mercenary alike. A historical tour de force.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 July 2001
Format: Paperback
How interesting can a history of the 14th century be? Extremely!
Barbara Tuchman has an easy reading style which transports the reader into life in 14th century life in England and France. Her vehicle of choice, Enguarrand VI, makes the book palatable and dispenses with the usual "hohum way of writing an historical tome."
The reader is taken on a voyage through this period and is exposed to the trauma which was the normal life for the peasant, and the obscenity, which was the excesses of nobles and kings alike.
A highly recommended book for someone daunted by the thought of reading an historical account. This truly makes easy and excellent reading for all. We are educated by stealth such is the manner in which Tuchman entiwnes us in her story.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "g_monkey" on 18 Dec 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book made me interested in history. The book is part biography part textbook. It follows the life of the Comte de Courcy a french noble more important than the king of france. And that is why I loved this book, it opened up the whole fascinating political structure of the medieval world. The story of de Courcy reveals how the European states of the 14th Century were nothing more than loose connections of nobles. The Duke of Bordeaux for example was more likley to invite the English to invade than defend France for which he cared nothing. Tuchman writes a story like an author yet includes facts and statistics to give us more than a flavour of the period. But as she herself points out these facts and statistics are often contradictory. This may be one of the few books you ever read that may inform you but never patronise you. Tuchman requires no previous knowledge of the subject, she never asks the reader to understand a concept or evaluate a theory which she hasn't already fully explained. That doesn't mean she has nothing to offer the experienced, her own theories are insightful and honest.
I suppose Longtitude made history books fashionable to read but Tuchman managed to combine a history book and a novel into a monumental book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By richierich on 29 Jun 2013
Format: Hardcover
An attention keeping account of life and death in Europe in the 1300s. Tuchman has chosen a leading French noble (Enguerrand de Coucy) of the time to draw some strings together but it doesn't always work. For example at one point during the French upheaval she simply says that Coucy was not there. She also underplays the importance of King Edward the Third and Henry the Fifth. A good read but published 35 years ago it is now not up to date with modern findings of evidence and analysis. Enjoyable reading but not a patch on Jonathan Sumptions 3 (soon to be four) volume account of the Hundred Years War.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ricolas on 10 Sep 2003
Format: Hardcover
Having never studied history, or read about it in any great detail, upon being recommended this book by a friend I was somewhat unsure what to expect. After some pre-amble with the author defining how she has approached her subject, it rapidly becomes a gripping read, dense with information, narrative and episodic stories from the age, but never overwhelmingly academic in approach.
Through this book I went on not only to read more about the age, but also to look at the writings from the period - Tuchman brought me to Chaucer, and for that I will be forever grateful!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 18 April 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderfully readable and engrossing book on the period that marked us more deeply - as the source of so many of our touchstone images and ideas - than just about any other. We, or at least I, imagine dungeons, cold, early death, blind faith, and the knightly order of repression and the search for glory. Tuchman questions these stereotypes and myths by holding them to intelligent scrutiny.

Tuchman chose 14C, when the feudal order was at last breaking down, after nearly 500 years of relative stability as a politico-economic system, if tumultuous in terms of conquest and war. I have wanted for years to find an account of this second dark ages, when the fabulous expansion of the Gothic era ended in plague, famine, war, and the beginnings of popular revolt. Tuchman chooses an aristocrat, Coucy, as the vehicle for this story, and the choice is a perfect fit. She also follows the great writers of the time, including Chaucer and Petrarch, in fascinating detail.

Coucy was the embodiment of the late Chivalric ideal: rich, prudent, decidedly less cruel than his forebears, militarily brilliant and a fine diplomat. Rather than rush into military engagement with relish and rashness as his contemporaries tended to do for glory, he actually analyzed the situation and chose his moment. He leads an exemplary life of service, though dies in shame as a prisoner in the hands of the Turks and without an heir. It is an incredible life, though we get to know little of his character and personal thoughts due to gaps in the documentary record.

The age that Tuchman portrays is one in which everything that could have gone wrong, did. The plague kills up to 50% of the European population in several waves, which loosed the peasants from the land as labor costs rose with higher demand.
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