A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

Fourteenth century France seems to encapsulate medieval Europe in all its grandeur and folly. The Middle Ages seem to have been a time when everybody believed in Christianity and nobody practiced it. Likewise, they seem to have been a time when men were most warlike yet waged war with the greatest incompetence. After reading this extraordinary volume I retain my amateur historian’s opinion that the Middle Ages represent the nadir of Western civilization. They were an age characterized by high ideals…Christianity, chivalry, noblesse oblige, and the duties of royal sovereignty…that no one took seriously. In spite of the Middle Ages’ claim to have been the Age of Faith, men at this time were all too obviously what they have always been. This was a highly engaging work surveying the adventures and villainies of medieval men, but it was not an inspiring work on the achievements of civilization.

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