Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book Review: Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror

I thought I'd get the ball rolling with a book review. I originally wrote it in July of 2006 for Amazon.com (review link), and have since posted it to LibraryThing (review link). Since this isn't its first posting, I'll post it here as a quote.

Tuchman's book presents a thourough, redable account of the fourteenth century and its major events (the Black Death and the start of the Hundred Years' War, for starters). While a few of the details of medieval life included in the book have inevitably been superceded by more recent research, this is more than made up for by the book's many strong points.

Tuchman's prose is clear and far from textbook-like, but without seeming to make a point of it, and her decision to follow the life of one of the more important participants in many of the century's numerous wars/battles/etc. unifies the narration much more than would be possible otherwise. She also draws enough comparisons to more recent history (many from the two World Wars) to explain how and why events unfolded.

Given the book's length (it took me several weeks to read, despite reading over lunch and a good-sized commute) I can't really recommend it to someone who really wants to know about particular events of the 1300s. Many good books have been written about both the Hundred Years' War and Black Death. But if you're looking for a history of the century as a whole, rather than just the plague or the war, this is a good book.

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