The best books on the Middle Ages 📚

Browse the best books on the Middle Ages as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Feudal Society

Feudal Society

By Marc Bloch

Why this book?

An English translation of a book published in French in 1940 (La société féodale). One of the truly great books on medieval society, it brought the richness and diversity of the Middle Ages alive for me in ways that have stayed with me throughout my career as a scholar and author. It also introduced me to History as written in France, again something that has always inspired me.

From the list:

The best books for exploring important aspects of Medieval History

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Book cover of The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

By María Rosa Menocal

Why this book?

This vivid portrait of multicultural tolerance in late-medieval Spain reads like an adventure story and is just as hard to put down. No wonder it has won so many prizes! The book has been controversial from the get-go, since it suggests that the three Abrahamic religions lived together more peacefully under Muslim rule than at any later time. Some critics have said that Menocal paints too rosy a picture, but actually she is careful to show that medieval Spain was not an unblemished success. What really bothers the critics is her demonstration that violent struggles between religious groups are not…

From the list:

The best books about religion, learning, love, and science in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses

Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses

By Helen Castor

Why this book?

This book tells the story of the wars of the Roses through the lens of one family – the Pastons. This family left an extraordinary archive of letters, and it included many fascinating characters, especially women. The Paston women fought off sieges on their houses, wrote Valentine letters to their husbands, ran off with servants, and managed complicated household finances. As a family, the Pastons were social climbers, who tried to get on at court and to improve their position. Through them, we hear about high politics, but also about the domestic life and loves of the gentry in the…

From the list:

The best books on medieval life

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

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

By Jack Hartnell

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History

Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History

By Barbara A. Hanawalt

Why this book?

I learnt so much from this book when I was writing my biography of Chaucer. It is hard to find out information about childhood in history, and yet it is impossible to try to understand a society if we don’t know how children were brought up, what games they played, how they were educated, what adolescence was like. This book tells us about all those things. You can find out about how children learnt to read, what happened to orphans, the opportunities for pre-marital sex. Looking at a wide range of historical records and literary texts, Hanawalt pieces together a…

From the list:

The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

By Christopher De Hamel

Why this book?

Christopher de Hamel, a renowned expert on illuminated manuscripts, takes us on a tour of magnificent libraries and “interviews” some of their treasures—ones so valuable and so fragile that they are almost completely inaccessible to the public. Many are also big: he gives a priceless description of the Codex Amiatinus, now in Florence, as “the weight of a fully grown female Great Dane.” His approach is both magisterial and chattily intimate. As the covers of the manuscripts creak open—and as de Hamel describes even the scent of the parchment—we get glimpses into long-lost worlds of scribes, monks, and scholars from…
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The best books about books

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