on 26 October 2008
I think that I can safely speak for many of us in the historical community (both writers and readers) when I say that we are - in the nicest way of course - rather nosy. That is, we want to know all about people from different times: what they looked like; what they did; how they did it. For instance, have you ever wondered whether people in the fourteenth century wore nightdresses or what the well off used to wipe their behinds with (I have!)? How about their pastimes, sense of humour or the difficulties of travelling?
Ian Mortimer's latest book: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century certainly satisfies that craving for knowledge of the minutiae of daily life in the Middle Ages. The book is lovingly researched and well written with a light sprinkling of humour that makes it very easy to read. The style in itself is very original for a non-fiction historical book, using a `guidebook' approach that is a million miles away from the stuffiness of many `academic' books. Yet, happily, the book does not suffer from a lack of sincerity or historical integrity in any way.
The topics cover a broad range of subjects for the `traveller' from what the landscape will look like to what to wear, where to stay when travelling, and how to address different kinds of people that you will meet along the way. And then, of course, when they invite you to eat with them, you will know what food to expect. And then, of course, there is always the danger of falling ill. The Time Traveller's Guide is once again at hand to tell you not only what may be wrong with you (hopefully not the plague, or leprosy!) and what medicine is available to help cure it.
This book, then, is a wonderful read. To be fair, I could not find fault either with the style or the information it offered (much to my frustration - as I always like to find at least a little criticism to balance things). To anyone who loves this period it will open up new doors to understanding the social history of the time. For writers of Medieval fiction, it is a valuable sourcebook - full of the little details that we need to make our stories come alive.
So yes, I heartily recommend this book as worth every penny
on 2 January 2009
Having read 'The Perfect King' and become interested in the 14th Century (previously my passion was the Tudor Age)I decided to expand my knowledge of the period by picking out this book purely by chance. It is absolutely rivetting and I completed it in just 2 days. There are so many books on the period, most as dry as dust, but the world comes alive through Mortimer's pen. I do not feel it was 'dumbing down' in any way by writing this as a 'guide book' - quite the contrary. The world truly came alive from page one, and my attention was hooked. Mortimer reaches across the centuries into the hearts and minds of people not so very different from ourselves. We learn about their working lives and their leisure. We find out what they eat and what they wear. We can almost feel the horror of parents as they can only stand and watch their whole families being wiped out by plague. The greatest writers of the period are mentioned, not just Chaucer but other authors such as the Gawain poet, writing such poignant verses with emotions that feel just as relevant today. Not only is it a rivetting read, it is truly a handbook to be read in conjuction with other history books of the period. The past is not something long-dead and buried, but has a life all its own and is why we are who we are. A very easy, fascinating read.
on 2 November 2008
At school I hated history mainly because it was learning boring dates and events.
This book changes all of that; it tells me what I wanted to know in an easy to read and extremely enjoyable way.
What will I see in a 14th Century street, who will I see, what des it smell like, what will I eat, how do I address people I meet? All of this and more is covered in this excellent book. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of the period such as the city, the town, the village etc. Very clear and very informative; ideal for casual interest, school pupils, university history reading and so on.
I won't go into the details because that would simply spoil things for you so I suggest you get this book and be transported back some 700 years.
It simply brings history to life.
What if you were travelling back in time to the fourteenth century? It would be a more foreign place than, say, France is to an Englishman today. Where would you stay, what would you eat, how would you greet a stranger, how would you survive for a day or even prosper? The point is that we can consider the past as all being gone, past, irretrievable, so how far back you go only differs in degree, not type. That is Mortimer's thesis. And a good one it is too. So, you'll be needing a guidebook. Well, this is that guidebook. It covers most of the salient points, including how to stay on the right side of the law, what to wear, how not to get swindled, how to share a joke with a local, etc. But I think its most profound legacy is the fact that every judgement we make about the past is RELATIVE and says more about US than it does about the people and era we're judging. Just think how dirty, violent and immoral we'll seem to someone reading a history about us 600 years from now. It's worth taking off one's academic hat for a moment and putting on one's human hat when reading about the past. This book is easily worth five stars. Nice cover. Nice illustrations.
on 24 December 2008
A very different & engaging history book almost like a Rough guide to the 14th century. It puts you there in a most realistic way and is spellbinding in its fascinating detail even to someone like myself who reads a lot of history. I can only think of one minor criticism. A carefully illustrated version with illustrations to support the text e.g. on the appearance of clinker ships, hostelleries, apparel etc would make it superbly useful for students of history. The reproductions in it are historically relevant and valuable but still not as graphic and understandable as a good drawing or modern illustration. With these inserted, even at a higher sticker price, I believe this would become truly a best seller for all types of readers in Europe & North America at least and a book to be treasured. Full marks to Mr. Mortimer!!
on 11 November 2008
There are already many studies of the Black Death, The Peasants' Revolt and detailed scholarly works on this period of history but this book is quite original and should appeal to a wide readership. The use of the present tense works so well and helps to conjure up a graphic picture of the times. The author draws on a great deal of other studies and develops it into a vibrant overview of what it might have been like to live in this century. I loved it!
I am always suspicious of history books with a gimmick, quite often the gimmick dominates and the history lesson gets lost. So it was with caution I picked up this book. I need not have worried, the history is centre stage and the gimmick merely serves as an interesting entrance into the Medieval world.
The book is essentially a travel guide. If we were able to travel back and wander around Medieval England, what would we see? What is the political and social structure, the sights and sounds of the era? Where would you sleep, what would you eat? What is there to do and see? It's a format that really allows the writer to do a decent job of bringing the era to life on the page, and gives us easy access into the world of our ancestors.
By describing a society rather than a life or series of events, which is what most history books focus on, there is a wide breadth of information hereand lots that is not usually found in even the most comprehensive of histories. The era is brought to life and in the mind's eye we ca really see, hear and smell the world being described.
As well as being a decent history lesson, it is eminently readable and a thoroughly entertaining book. Highly recommended.
on 1 July 2012
What I liked most about Ian Mortimer's book was his last chapter, Envoi. In this one chapter he suggests a "new" way at looking at history, "experiencing" history rather than just reading about it and by so doing, appreciating history and our changing selves. How can we know who we are now if we don't know from where and who we've come? It's a nice change from the general moralizing that historians of today tend to do. However, "The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England" is quite dense and full of facts of medieval social life. It is not a quick read, really, and not just a travel guide. If you are just looking for a fun read, this isn't it. But here you will learn a lot about the medieval world, much of which I think most of us were unaware. I would have like to read more about family life and this book tends to focus on society and its structure, but it's worth a read. I give it only three stars, however, because it drags a little, especially in the chapters on the landscape, where to stay, and the law. But it is definitely a good place to start if you are looking to begin studying this period.
on 30 April 2009
Dr Mortimer hit upon something of a winning formula when he decided to present an account of 14th century in the form of a Travel Guide. It allows for true to life, down to earth and realistic depictions of people places and things which seem to be `in the now'. The `turn this way and you will see' style narration could get a little annoying after a while, but generally the book provides a vivid, fascinating and enjoyable depiction of the period through the eyes of the people of the time.
For anyone looking for a lively introduction to the period this is certainly it. The only things lacking in my view was a glossary which would be helpful for people reading the book who had little or no prior knowledge of the period. I cannot begin to describe how useful this book is if you are interested in social history. It gives vivid and realistic glimpses into the lives of different people from every area of society. From knights and nobles, to humble villains and labourers.
Currency, law, travel, entertianment, social conventions, fashion even sanitatary conditions.It is all here, everything a traveller needs to know, and perhaps a little they don't.
The use of technical or period phrases which many people may be unfamiliar with and no explanation of their definition or what they referred to can make it seem as though the author might simply have forgotten that his audience are not all historians, and so might not know what he is taking about. Some maps might also have been in order.
One of the major issues I had with this book was the way that Mortimer sometimes allowed his own opinions and beliefs to colour the narrative, and perhaps to an extent that they might influence those of the readers.
Of course, it is scarcely possible for any historian or writer to be totally objective a removed all the time, but is an account of 14th century entertainment or changing tastes in fashion punctuated by Mortimer's apparent hostility towards what the author perceives as religious and moral `prudishness' really necessary?
At times, Mortimer comes across as downright arrogant and condescending when he asserts that only old, fat and/or or religious people would express disapproval of certain things.
In the historical context the final designation seems almost meaningless as almost everyone was `religious' to varying degrees at this time- and the logical implication appears to be that either that religious people were in the minority- which likely was not the case, or that the majority of the population of England would not have approved to tight fitting or revealing fashions, and flirtatious dances which Mortimer himself claims was not the case either.
This pervasive prejudice does little to enhance the reader's understanding of the era, and adds little to the book. It is possible to get past this and to enjoy and learn something from the book nonetheless but this may be something of an issue.
on 7 June 2009
I find history fascinating. Not perhaps the high ranking kings, soldiers and politicians, there place in history is well covered, but about how the everyday folk lived. These are our ancestors, and their lives, with its trials and tribulations, have led us to where we are as a society; this place we call the present.
What Ian Mortimer does with great skill is to take a look at our past from a very different standpoint. Rather than the somewhat stuffy analysis of a series of dates events and texts, and thus drawing conclusions, he tries to take the reader with him on a journey through 14th Century, and offers some of the sights and smells of what was a very violent and turbulent period. This is a very human book, and what I feel it does so well is to covey that our ancestors were people, who had thought and feelings, hopes and fears and offers the reader a small glimpse of what things may have been like. This book should be a must for anyone looking to study the past, either academically or for private interest. It is very well written; Ian Mortimer seems to possess a skill with words that draws me through the book like a novel, yet when the book is set down, I felt that I was a little more enlightened.
Five star's and worth every one!