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Customer Review

28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A nice idea, but...., 16 Jan. 2008
This review is from: The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Paperback)
If you're looking for a history of culture and civilisation in Spain 711-1492, the period when Spain was partly or mostly under Islamic rule, this isn't it. Still less does it give an overall political framework. It's not meant to.
Professor Menocal has set herself the task of enlightening us about the cultural diversity, and artistic, architectural and intellectual excellence of the era, based as it was on a remarkable level of religious tolerance. Her regret at the loss of this religious toleration is the underlying point of the book. She writes as if expecting this picture of Islamic Spain to come as a revelation to her readers, which surely underestimates the historical awareness of the sort of person who is likely to pick up the book or click on it on this website.
She takes an episodic approach, analysing selected but mostly unlinked people and incidents which provide evidence either for her evocation of the period, or for her explanation of its decline in the face of rising religious intolerance. I was surprised that she did not make more of the effect of the Crusades in the latter context - stirring up religious militancy on all sides.
There's no doubt that she effectively expresses her passion for her theme, and her examples do initially make the point about this era in Spanish history. The problem is that the approach produces a degree of incoherence which makes the book increasingly woolly as it goes on and creates a need for her to keep repeating the basic message in order to remind us of it.
It's a nice idea - to get away from the traditional narrative of the history of the country and the standard recitation of the culture, but it ends up being rather unsatisfying. Because of the episodic nature and lack of background information, the general reader will struggle to set many of the people and incidents referred to into a known context. The expert in the period (which I'm not - just a retired history teacher) may find it all a bit shallow and obvious.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Apr 2013, 22:54:33 BST
I'd like to know which book I ought to be reading which does provide an historical and cultural overview of the period, say 700-1450, so that any recommendations you felt able to make would be most welcome.
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