The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
by Ian Mortimer
Published in October 2011
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
I had very low expectations for this book because it is written in the style of a tourist guidebook for time travelers. I thought that the history would be simple, and the writing pedantic and condescending. Also, this is a book for novices to the Middle Ages who have little or no background to the period, not amateur historians. Nevertheless, I had heard good things about this book, so I decided to read it anyways.
Boy was I wrong. This book is an amazing started guide to the late Middle Ages, and is suitable for both initiates as well as adepts of medieval history.
The book is written in the style of a guide for time travelers, and is mostly in the second person. Despite this, it was very well written. The time travel aspects aren’t the main focus of the book, and the style was well used to draw contrasts to the modern world. I think that the format added to, rather than subtracted from, the history. Similar attempts I have read at making “time traveller’s guides” turned out really badly, so I suggest not letting bad experiences with those temper your will to read this book.
The information conveyed primarily centers around daily life in the 14th century. Chapters cover different topics ranging from travel, to food, to telling the time, to manners. It is fairly extensive, and gives a good idea of what daily life in the late Middle Ages would be like.
The historiography is also very good. Many popular history books such as “How the Irish Saved Civilization” or the endless stream of “Hitler books” have terrible historiography. They do not cite sources, don’t mention archeology, and mix conjecture with data. This book has very good historiography considering its broad appeal. It covers a specific period from 1300 until 1400, so doesn’t mix information from different eras. It also does a good job at hinting to the reader where the information comes from (which, like most books covering the period, mostly comes from Chaucer).
I especially liked the chapter about the markets. I had simply no idea what kind of goods and services would be available in a medieval market. Ignorantly, I clung onto the RPG-esque idea that I could have gone to a flea market to buy foods and armor. Instead, I would have been able to buy ingredients such as spices, or armor materials such as leather. I found learning about how supply chains worked in the 14th century to be very interesting.
I recommend this book as a starter for anyone who isn’t familiar with the period, but wants to dive into the history.
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