The best books about medieval society

4 authors have picked their favorite books about medieval society and why they recommend each book.

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God's Crucible

By David Levering Lewis,

Book cover of God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

The perfect book, beautifully written, for anyone who wants to understand Spain and Al-Andalus in the context of medieval European history. Most of us are taught the history of Medieval Europe to the strange exclusion of the brilliant culture of Al-Andalus, but it remains the case that the whole history of Europe cannot be understood without knowing the contributions of the convivencia across a very wide spectrum of subjects—commerce, mathematics, agriculture, philosophy, and medicine, to name a few. 

God's Crucible

By David Levering Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked God's Crucible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Resonating as profoundly today as when it was first published to widespread critical acclaim a decade ago, God's Crucible is a bold portrait of Islamic Spain and the birth of modern Europe from one of our greatest historians. David Levering Lewis's narrative, filled with accounts of some of the most epic battles in world history, reveals how cosmopolitan, Muslim al-Andalus flourished-a beacon of cooperation and tolerance-while proto-Europe floundered in opposition to Islam, making virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, religious intolerance, perpetual war and slavery. This masterful history begins with the fall of the Persian and Roman empires, followed by the…

Who am I?

I am a writer who lived in the city of Granada for almost four years, in the uncanny barrio of the Albayzin. The daily blessings of life there are powerful and cumulative, and I wrote a book in honor of such luminosity; and I wrote it, as well, because most of us have been lied to about Spanish history. But the truth, like the poetry of Garcia Lorca, cannot be suppressed. In my sojourn in Spain, and in my visits over the years, I have found Granada to be a treasure-house of stories and poetry; and in flamenco singing, the home of one of the most powerful art-forms of music in the world.


I wrote...

Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God

By Steven Nightingale,

Book cover of Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God

What is my book about?

Granada is one of the iconic cities of the world. It stands for the culture of Al-Andalus, composed of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, who lived together in the legendary convivencia of the Spanish Middle Ages. Al-Andalus was one of the most brilliant cultures in Mediterranean history and set in place the foundations of the European Renaissance. 

The history of Granada is one of utopian ecstasy, vicious tragedy, mystical exaltation, and creations of durable beauty. It is a story of spiritual longing and artful dreams, with a bracing mixture of practical science, world-changing philosophy, and unforgettable music. It is a teaching story, where we can learn something about the best way forward in our own tumultuous epoch.

Book cover of Daily Life in the Middle Ages

Intriguing, little-known facts make this book another way to travel into the past, showcasing everything from eating, cooking, clothing, housing, and relaxing. It provides fascinating details of what everyday life was really like in the Middle Ages, facts that can’t be gleaned simply by watching movies or television programs.

Daily Life in the Middle Ages

By Paul B. Newman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daily Life in the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although life in the Middle Ages was not as comfortable and safe as it is for most people in industrialized countries today, the term "Dark Ages" is highly misleading. The era was not so primitive and crude as depictions in film and literature would suggest. Even during the worst years of the centuries immediately following the fall of Rome, the legacy of that civilization survived.

This book covers diet, cooking, housing, building, clothing, hygiene, games and other pastimes, fighting and healing in medieval times. The reader will find numerous misperceptions corrected. The book also includes a comprehensive bibliography and a…

Who am I?

I’ve always loved reading time travel stories and gobbled up most of what I could find. Over the past few years, I decided that I wanted to try writing one for myself. After reading the books I’ve recommended along with others (including some having to do with the physics of time), I finally took up the challenge and wrote the Waters of Time series which combines my love of the Middle Ages, romance, and time travel all into one.


I wrote...

Come Back to Me

By Jody Hedlund,

Book cover of Come Back to Me

What is my book about?

Research scientist Marian Creighton and her father share one goal—to find a remedy that can help cure her sister Ellen of a deadly genetic disease that already stole their mother away. However, she is skeptical of her father’s methods. She feels his long-time fixation with ancient Holy water and its healing properties are both crazy and a waste of time.

But when Marian’s father falls into a coma after drinking a vial of Holy water, she is determined to test his theories for herself. However, she soon realizes that she is not the only one interested in his research. A break-in and a kidnapping convince her that she must take the plunge and follow her father back to the Middle Ages in order to save both her father and her sister. 

Medieval Bodies

By Jack Hartnell,

Book cover of Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages

Jack Hartnell anatomises the Middle Ages in a very real sense: the book is divided up into parts of the body. It is a brilliant and innovative approach, allowing him to bring together the history of medicine, artistic objects, political thought, cartography, metaphor, and the medieval imagination, among other things. Importantly, he looks far beyond Western Europe, so the book also includes Jewish and Islamic approaches to the body, explores the Byzantine world, and analyses objects and ideas from, for instance, North Africa and the Middle East. The book focuses on the Mediterranean world in its broadest sense, ranging widely across sources and disciplines but staying rooted in the question of how medieval people thought about and experienced their bodies. As you might expect from an art historian, he has lavishly illustrated the book, and it gives readers a great sense of the beauty and weirdness of the art and…

Medieval Bodies

By Jack Hartnell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Medieval Bodies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just like us, medieval men and women worried about growing old, got blisters and indigestion, fell in love, and had children. And yet their lives were full of miraculous and richly metaphorical experiences radically different from our own, unfolding in a world where deadly wounds might be healed overnight by divine intervention, or where the heart of a king, plucked from his corpse, could be held aloft as a powerful symbol of political rule.

In this richly illustrated and unusual history, Jack Hartnell uncovers the fascinating ways in which people thought about, explored, and experienced their physical selves in the…


Who am I?

Marion Turner is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University where she teaches medieval literature. Her critically-acclaimed biography of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer was picked as a Book of the Year by the Times, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman, and the TLS, and has been hailed as ‘an absolute triumph,’ and a ‘masterpiece.’ It won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the English Association Beatrice White Prize, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize.


I wrote...

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner,

Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

What is my book about?

An acclaimed biography that recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son became one of the most celebrated of all English writers. Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the circulation of his writings, Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination. From the wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence, the book recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan.

The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny

By Richard W. Kaeuper (editor), Elspeth Kennedy (editor),

Book cover of The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation

Often said to have been in decline in the later middle ages, this treatise, by a French knight, written for King John II’s Company of the Star, shows that chivalry, although under great pressure, remained a hugely powerful ethos which continued to shape aristocratic life in the fourteenth century. The work details the trials and travails of a life in arms and the ‘worth’ of various military enterprises. Rather poignantly, Charny died at the battle of Poitiers (1356) while bearing the Oriflamme, the French banner.

The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny

By Richard W. Kaeuper (editor), Elspeth Kennedy (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Book of Chivalry is the most pragmatic of all surviving chivalric manuals. Written at the height of the Hundred Years War, it includes the essential commonplaces of knighthood in the mid-fourteenth century and gives a close-up view of what one knight in particular absorbed of the medieval world of ideas around him, what he rejected or ignored, and what he added from his experience in camp, court, and campaign.
Geoffroi de Charny was one of the quintessential figures of his age, with honors and praise bestowed upon him from both sides of the English Channel. He prepared the Book…


Who am I?

I was drawn into the study of medieval history through an interest in chivalry and this led to a PhD and various publications on the career and household of Edward the Black Prince (1330-76). He lived through the heart of what’s become known as the late medieval crisis: a period which many contemporaries thought was a prelude to the apocalypse. I’ve been teaching and writing about this period for more than 20 years now and remain fascinated by the contrasts between creativity and utter devastation that characterise the later middle ages.


I wrote...

The Hundred Years War: A People's History

By David Green,

Book cover of The Hundred Years War: A People's History

What is my book about?

The Hundred Years War (1337–1453) dominated life in England and France for well over a century. It became the defining feature of existence for generations. David Green focuses on the ways the war affected different groups, including knights, clerics, women, peasants, soldiers, peacemakers, and kings. He also explores how the war changed government in England and France and reshaped peoples’ perceptions of themselves and of their national character.

The book illuminates the realities of battle and the conditions of those compelled to live in occupied territory; the roles played by clergy and their shifting loyalties to king and pope. Peopled with vivid and well-known characters—Henry V, Joan of Arc, Philippe the Good of Burgundy, Edward the Black Prince, John the Blind of Bohemia—as well as a host of ordinary individuals who were drawn into the struggle, this book reveals not only the Hundred Years War’s impact on warfare, institutions, and nations, but also its true human cost.

The Autumn of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Rodney J. Payton (translator), Ulrich Mammitzsch (translator)

Book cover of The Autumn of the Middle Ages

Huizinga’s book was first published more than 100 years ago, in 1919, but it retains its value as a sparkling and original evocation of the world of late medieval Europe: its values, its thought, its violence, and – one of its great strengths - its visual arts. This last is not surprising, since the author’s main focus is on the Netherlands and northern France, where oil painting, the realistic portrait, and the landscape began in European art. The book has been translated into English more than once, with significantly different titles: in 1924 as The Waning of the Middle Ages, then – 72 years later! - as The Autumn of the Middle Ages. In 2020 there appeared yet another version - Autumntide of the Middle Ages. The book is ever young.

The Autumn of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Rodney J. Payton (translator), Ulrich Mammitzsch (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Autumn of the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a portrait of life, thought and art in 14th- and 15th-century France and the Netherlands. Regarded as an historical classic by many scholars, it has also been criticized and incorrectly translated. This edition corrects changes made by other translators to the original Dutch text of 1919. For Huizinga, the 14th and 15th centuries marked not the birth of a dramatically new era in history - the Renaissance - but the fullest, ripest phase of medieval life and thought. However, his work was criticized at home and in Europe for being "old-fashioned" and "too literary". Franz Hopman adapted, reduced,…

Who am I?

I have had an interest in the Middle Ages as long as I can remember. In boyhood, this took the form of model knights, trips to castles, and a huge body of writing about an imaginary medieval country called Rulasia. Later it was disciplined by the study of the real medieval world, in particular by finding an ideal subject for my doctoral dissertation in Gerald of Wales, a prolific and cantankerous twelfth-century cleric, whose writings on Ireland and Wales, on saints and miracles, and on the Angevin kings (Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and John), were the ultimate inspiration for my own books on medieval colonialism, the cult of the saints and medieval dynasties.


I wrote...

Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe

By Robert Bartlett,

Book cover of Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe

What is my book about?

Throughout medieval Europe, for hundreds of years, monarchy was the way that politics worked in most countries. This meant power was in the hands of a family - a dynasty; that politics was family politics; and political life was shaped by the births, marriages, and deaths of the ruling family. How did the dynastic system cope with female rule, or pretenders to the throne? How did dynasties use names, the numbering of rulers, and the visual display of heraldry to express their identity? And why did some royal families survive and thrive, while others did not?

This history of dynastic power in Latin Christendom and Byzantium explores the role played by family dynamics and family consciousness in the politics of the royal and imperial dynasties.

Book cover of The Making of the Middle Ages

This was the first book to open my eyes to the strangeness and sophistication of medieval life. To an English reader, its focus on the European Middle Ages is revelatory, as is its concentration on writers and travellers rather than kings and knights. At the time he wrote the book, the brilliant Richard Southern was hospitalized with tuberculosis. The book seems to be a distillation of a lifelong passion, which, fortunately, he was able to pursue for another four decades.

The Making of the Middle Ages

By R.W. Southern,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Making of the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A distinguished Oxford historian presents an absorbing study of the main personalities and the influences that molded the history of Western Europe from the late tenth to the early thirteenth century, describing the chief forms of social, political, and religious organization.
"A book of rare value."-Sidney Painter, American Historical Review

Who am I?

I've been fascinated by medieval history ever since I played hide and seek around Welsh castles as a boy. At university – a medieval invention, of course – I was able to sit at the feet of some of the finest historians of the Middle Ages, experts like Maurice Keen and Patrick Wormald. As a writer, I have tackled medieval subjects like Alfred the Great and Richard III, as well as the history of English rebellion. I have come to realise that the Middle Ages could be cruel and violent, just like our own time, but that they were also a time of extraordinary achievements that form the foundations of the world we live in.


I wrote...

Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

By David Horspool,

Book cover of Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

What is my book about?

The extraordinary rediscovery of Richard III’s body in a Leicester car park reignited interest in the last of the Plantagenets. David Horspool’s book steers a tricky course between those who would like to recast Richard as a hero and those who believe Shakespeare’s black legend. Horspool brings the Wars of the Roses to life, as well as tracing the afterlife of Britain’s most controversial monarch.

Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

By Richard Platt, Stephen Biesty (illustrator),

Book cover of Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

This book describes and shows what life was like in a 14th-century castle. If you have ever wondered how hundreds of people lived and worked in a castle then this is the book. The mind-boggling detail in the illustrations keeps me poring over them for ages. Each page reveals a cut-away of the castle interior from turrets to dungeons! All the books in this series are incredible in their detail and knowledge.

Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

By Richard Platt, Stephen Biesty (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

History comes alive in this incredible children's illustrated book about castles. Slicing through different areas of a medieval fortress, extraordinary views reveal the people busy inside, and preparing for battle as an enemy army approaches.

Packed with facts, you'll find out what it takes to build a massive 14th-century castle, dress a knight in armour, or prepare a feast fit for a king or queen. From the drawbridge to the dungeon, Cross-sections Castle swarms with the people who keep the castle ticking over - the workers, craftsmen, and servants. And, as you pore over every page, look out for the…


Who am I?

Being a children’s illustrator and writer, I have built up a well-loved collection of childen’s books over the years. They must have great drawings and imaginative concepts. They are books I can come back to again and again. The books I have chosen are ones where you can lose yourself in their intricate detailed worlds and forget about day-to-day troubles for a while. These books can also help reluctant readers by enticing them into a visual world first and then into appreciating the written word. 


I wrote...

Annie's Chair

By Deborah Niland,

Book cover of Annie's Chair

What is my book about?

First published in 2005 this picture book has been consistently popular, mainly due to the common theme of sharing and how compromise can be the best workable solution for everyone. Young children can have a tough time sharing and they can be passionate about certain possessions. This story covers the frustrations and obstinacy involved when battling it out. Who will win?

This book has won the Children's Book of the Year - Early Childhood, several Children's Choice Awards, and the Speech Pathology Australia, Best Book for Language Development for Young Children.

Medieval Iberia, Second Edition

By Olivia Remie Constable (editor),

Book cover of Medieval Iberia, Second Edition: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources

I have used this collection of translated primary sources for over a decade to teach students. It covers the whole period of medieval Spain, from the arrival of Muslim conquerors in 711 to the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and allows one to confront for themselves the paradoxes of coexistence, collaboration, and violence that characterized this place and period. A thoughtful introduction precedes each document.

Medieval Iberia, Second Edition

By Olivia Remie Constable (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Medieval Iberia, Second Edition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For some historians, medieval Iberian society was one marked by peaceful coexistence and cross-cultural fertilization; others have sketched a harsher picture of Muslims and Christians engaged in an ongoing contest for political, religious, and economic advantage culminating in the fall of Muslim Granada and the expulsion of the Jews in the late fifteenth century. The reality that emerges in Medieval Iberia is more nuanced than either of these scenarios can comprehend. Now in an expanded, second edition, this monumental collection offers unparalleled access to the multicultural complexity of the lands that would become modern Portugal and Spain.
The documents collected…


Who am I?

Hussein Fancy is a Professor of History at Yale University where he teaches medieval history with a particular focus on medieval Spain and North Africa. His research, writing, and teaching focus on the entwined histories of not only Jews, Christians, and Muslims but also Latin and Arabic in the Middle Ages. He has traveled and lived extensively in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Mercenary Mediterranean: Sovereignty, Religion, and Violence in the Medieval Crown of Aragon

By Hussein Fancy,

Book cover of The Mercenary Mediterranean: Sovereignty, Religion, and Violence in the Medieval Crown of Aragon

What is my book about?

A multiple award-winning book, The Mercenary Mediterranean tells the history of a motley group of Muslim soldiers from North Africa who joined the armies and became the personal protectors of the Christian kings of the Crown of Aragon in the Middle Ages. Grounded in extensive research in Latin, Arabic, and Spanish archival documents, Hussein Fancy unravels the complex dynamics of the relationship between these foreign Muslim soldiers and Christian kings. In doing so, he challenges our understanding of not only the distant past but also the present. 

Book cover of Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World

I often like to break away from in-depth academic historical reading and indulge in lighter yet informative work. This always leads me to Cahill’s history books. He always has a new take, such as ‘how the Irish saved civilization’ to this intriguing book, Mysteries of the Middle Ages. He skillfully portrays here how medieval thought foreshadowed the making of the Renaissance and the development of the modern scientific era. Cahill’s talent is in his easy-to-read excellent prose and intellectual richness. His books are also well-illustrated with beautiful pictures and artistic layout.  

Mysteries of the Middle Ages

By Thomas Cahill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mysteries of the Middle Ages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

History is my passion. I’m a graduate of medieval history from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and post-graduate of London University. Former high school history teacher, and previously held the post of assistant researcher at the Museum of the Diaspora, Tel Aviv. I was commissioned by the Council of Zambian Jewry to research and write the history of Northern Rhodesian/Zambian Jewry. I have lectured frequently on my subjects and have contributed diverse historical articles in newspapers and journals. I have published six books, fiction, and non-fiction.  


I wrote...

The Conspiracy against Mary Magdalene

By Frank Shapiro,

Book cover of The Conspiracy against Mary Magdalene

What is my book about?

This is a case demonstrating the bending of truth in history. Read how Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ closest companion, was metaphorically crucified! In one dramatic act of interpretation and condemnation the role model of Mary Magdalene was severed from the axis of Christianity. The Apostle of the Apostle was suddenly considered undesirable and dangerous. Yet, at the crucifixion while all Jesus’ disciples scattered in fear, Mary stayed by his side. Later, she was the driving spirit encouraging the followers to return to build the movement. It was Mary Magdalene who saved Christianity from becoming just another marginal sect. Mary Magdalene was certainly most fitting to be the first bishop of Rome. Yet as we know, no female pope waves at us from the Vatican window in St. Peter’s Square.

Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past

By Andrew Albin, Mary C. Erler, Thomas O'Donnell, Nicholas L. Paul, Nina Rowe

Book cover of Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past

I often use selections from Whose Middle Ages? in my medieval history courses, but this collection of short, insightful essays is a great resource for anyone interested in understanding what leading scholars think about invocations of the medieval past in contemporary culture. Touching on a wide range of topics, from Viking imagery in heavy metal music and Celtic crosses on white supremacist websites to controversies over Sharia law and papal heresy in the popular press, this volume serves as an ideal introduction to the use and abuse of the Middle Ages.   

Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past

By Andrew Albin, Mary C. Erler, Thomas O'Donnell, Nicholas L. Paul, Nina Rowe

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whose Middle Ages? is an interdisciplinary collection of short, accessible essays intended for the nonspecialist reader and ideal for teaching at an undergraduate level. Each of twenty-two essays takes up an area where digging for meaning in the medieval past has brought something distorted back into the present: in our popular entertainment; in our news, our politics, and our propaganda; and in subtler ways that inform how we think about our histories, our countries, and ourselves. Each author looks to a history that has refused to remain past and uses the tools of the academy to read and re-read familiar…


Who am I?

I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood fascination with the distant past was sparked by hours of leafing through The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World and countless viewings of the “Indiana Jones” movies. Today, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at Mercy College and an archaeologist specializing in the eastern Alpine region during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The author of three books and numerous scholarly articles, my research interests include ceramic technology, social identity, and the appropriation of the medieval past by modern ideologies.    


I wrote...

The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination

By K. Patrick Fazioli,

Book cover of The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination

What is my book about?

The Middle Ages—to paraphrase William Faulkner—are never dead. (In fact, they aren’t even past!) My book explores how the idea of the medieval has served as a funhouse mirror through which modernity sees itself, whether to celebrate our supposed triumph over barbarism and superstition or to lament the loss of a more innocent and rooted world. Drawing on history, archaeology, and anthropology, The Mirror of the Medieval not only traces how modern ideologies have appropriated the medieval past but also investigates shifts in technology, social identity, and religious belief from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages in the eastern Alpine region.  

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