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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century [Paperback]

Barbara W. Tuchman
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Nov 1995
A Distant Mirror, a masterly evocation of the extraordinary world of western Europe between 1300 and 1450, has been acclaimed as Barbara Tuchman's finest achievement. She brings the insights of a modern historian to bear on the decades of Chaucer and Boccacio, the time of the Hundred Years War and the Black Death, of the great fame of Dante, of extravagant civilization and bizarre superstition, of pilgrimage and of plague.

Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Papermac; New edition edition (24 Nov 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0333644700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333644706
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.7 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 166,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
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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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful, rich and absorbing 16 Dec 2006
This is a wonderful, rich and absorbing read, covering all aspects of the 14th century in great detail. I read this deliberately fairly slowly, in order to savour it. The focus on Coucy at times seems slightly forced and means, from the point of view of the English reader, that there is relatively little coverage of English history (e.g. only about 7 pages on the Peasants' Revolt). But Coucy does bridge France and England through his marriage to one of Edward III's daughters and, as he also campaigned in Italy, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia Minor, his choice as a focus is understandable from the point of view of covering a broad sweep of location.

Only a few minor points of real criticism: the maps were wrongly placed within my edition and there could have been a few more. The book could also have done with a chronology and probably genealogical tables of the French royal family in particular.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather disappointed
The book was described as Good but arrived with a split so that up to page 400 has detached from the spine, which has another tear in it, making it awkward to read and will... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Trevor Shaw
4.0 out of 5 stars A Distant Mirror
Needed hard concentration but had to keep on to the end. Fascinating history and an "eye opener" on the lives of the people of that time. Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. Bradshaw
3.0 out of 5 stars A Distant Mirror (Slightly Distorted)
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... Read more
Published 12 months ago by richierich
5.0 out of 5 stars History Revealed
It's a few years since I read this. I have read quite a few historical books since and this is. The most interesting and informative!
Published on 10 Mar 2012 by Wjcox
4.0 out of 5 stars A piece of History
Very exciting to receive an old hardback book in good condition, very quickly, at a low price.
The first quarter of the book has copious notes written in pencil in the margin... Read more
Published on 20 Oct 2011 by Graham
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT AS BAD AS ALL THAT
Barbara Tuchman was an American historian who wrote about several different periods. She was not a specialist and not a medievalist, though she was a fine historian (see... Read more
Published on 23 Sep 2011 by Stephen Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written account of a fascinating period of history.
Barabara Tuchman uses the life of the French nobleman Enguarrand VI to explore the 14th century. In doing so she covers amongst other things, the Black Death, the start of the... Read more
Published on 21 April 2011 by steve b
5.0 out of 5 stars A Horrific Century
Barbara Tuchmann's review of the 14th Century in Europe was first published over 30 years ago but it is still much more readable than most books on the subject. Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2011 by Ron Ball
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant overview of 14th century Europe
I have read other books on 14th century Europe in the past, but none which bring the century alive in all it's glory, depravity and horror like this book. Read more
Published on 17 Sep 2010 by K. Maxwell
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all time top ten books
I have quite a wide range of book interests - history, thrillers, sci-fi, comedy - but this book ranks in my all time top ten books, probably in the top five. Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2007 by Mr. Elliot P. Renton
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