Anyone even marginally interested in the middle ages should read Jean Gimpel. His seminal work is 'The Mediaeval Machine', unfortunately out of print and no longer freely (or cheaply) available. - my own copy is almost worn out with re-reading. His central thesis is that religious ambition combined with labour shortage to force mediaeval man into the mechanisation of anything and everything that could be mechanised. This was not a classical phenomenon, and was well in place before the renaissance. The mediaeval period was the first machine age, based on the volume-production of iron. This in turn facilitated the erection of structures of a nature unknown in the classical world. The 'Cathedral Builders' is a kind of source-book for 'The Pillars of the Earth', and shows how highly complex structures could be completed by relatively simple technical means. I first read it many years ago; this was a present for someone who I hope might be interested by this counter-intuitive thesis.
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