on 22 April 2013
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.