179 books directly related to the Middle Ages 📚

All 179 Middle Ages books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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?

One of the great thrills of researching medieval history is getting the chance to handle original documents up close, as I have had the good fortune to do a few times. Christophe de Hamel is a palaeographer, a manuscripts expert who has travelled the world to examine some of the most precious handwritten works that still survive. As his title hints, De Hamel treats these artefacts as personalities, and his no-nonsense decipherment of priceless treasures is like listening in on a wise and witty conversation.

From the list:

The Best books to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

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Book cover of Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850-1520

Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850-1520

By Christopher Dyer

Why this book?

For me, this isn’t a book that I read cover to cover; it is a book that I very frequently refer to when I want information. This is my go-to book when I want to check how much a labourer was paid, and what that money would buy, for example. It is an economic history and, as such, helps you to understand the fundamentals of how medieval society worked and was put together. So you can find out not only about the life of an aristocrat, but about the life of a peasant, free or unfree, and about life in…

From the list:

The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World

Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World

By Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Why this book?

In the “traders vs. raiders” approach to Viking history, women stay home and look after the farm while the men go off on adventures. Three books published in the 1990s by Judith Jesch and Jenny Jochens brought the lives of these women out of the shadows, showing how vital their role was.

In Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World, Jóhanna Kristín Friðriksdóttir brings these early studies up to date. With her mastery of detail from the Icelandic sagas, Friðriksdóttir follows an ordinary Viking woman from birth to death. She tells stories of women who are bold and successful,…

From the list:

The best books on Vikings, their humor, and their world

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Book cover of The Long Ships

The Long Ships

By Frans G. Bengtsson, Michael Meyer

Why this book?

Something of a forgotten classic, this used to be the most widely read novel in Sweden. Though not strictly a book about English history, the story describes the impact of the raids of the Northmen on England through the eyes of our protagonist, Red Orm, and details his adventures in Moorish Spain, Ireland, Sweden, and the Byzantine Empire. This is a classic tale of exploration and discovery that also manages to present us with a very believable view of the late 10th-century world, especially that of Anglo-Saxon England during the reign of Ethelred the Unready. If you enjoy high adventure…

From the list:

The best books on early English history

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Book cover of Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, 800-1230

Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, 800-1230

By Sara McDougall

Why this book?

For much of Western history, birth out of wedlock has been a serious barrier to inheritance and succession. It is often assumed that this attitude arrived alongside Christianity: yet, McDougall explains that the medieval world actually cared very little about the circumstances of one’s birth until the thirteenth century. What historians have consistently misinterpreted as concern for legitimate birth was instead dogged insistence that a legitimate marriage existed only when husband and wife were of equivalent status. This is particularly relevant when it comes to an heir’s “throneworthiness.” It was not sufficient for a king to be the son of…

From the list:

The best books about women in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

By Caroline Walker Bynum

Why this book?

This choice might surprise you: it’s a famous book in medieval studies circles but not the sort of thing a historian of philosophy would usually pick up. But its exploration of the role of the body in writings by female medieval authors is foundational for understanding what is sometimes called “affective mysticism.” That topic expands our sense of what medieval philosophy could be. Other scholars whose work is worth checking out on this topic include Amy Hollywood and Christina Van Dyke.

From the list:

The best books that take a fresh approach to medieval philosophy

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Book cover of Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis

Why this book?

A time-traveling historian is stranded in the fourteenth century when an epidemic breaks out in her own time. A bittersweet, depressing, wonderful, character-driven book that shows the individual costs of plagues better than just about any other novel I’ve ever read- and I’ve read a lot of them. Deservedly won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

From the list:

The best sci-fi/fantasy novels about plagues and pandemics

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Book cover of Medieval York 600-1540

Medieval York 600-1540

By D. M. Palliser

Why this book?

If you want even earlier information than 1068, Palliser begins with Roman York, Eboracum, moves through Scandinavian York, Jorvik, and then joins up with the city as it grows in the middle ages. The introduction discusses why a city grew in this particular spot, the strategic, geologic, and geographic advantage of the Vale of York.

This is the perfect complement to Rees Jones’s book, with more emphasis on the political and military history than hers and extending past the Black Death into the large degree of independent rule gained in two charters granted by King Richard II, then on to…

From the list:

The best books about medieval York

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Book cover of Medieval Merchants: York, Beverley and Hull in the Later Middle Ages

Medieval Merchants: York, Beverley and Hull in the Later Middle Ages

By Jenny Kermode

Why this book?

Kermode focuses on the dynamics of northern urban society in the three major towns along the corridor on the lowland plain by the River Ouse—York, Beverley, and Hull. Merchants from the three towns joined partnerships and intermarried, creating dynasties, the most prominent mingling with the gentry and royal households of the region, and served in parliament as MP’s. The merchants tend to be wealthier than their craftsmen neighbors.

Chapters cover politics, the nuts, and bolts of their trade, how they accrued wealth, and how they used that wealth. Appendix B, Some Merchant Biographies, reads like the society pages, offering tantalizing…

From the list:

The best books about medieval York

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Book cover of Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100-1300

Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100-1300

By Heath Dillard

Why this book?

Heath Dillard uses a very special source, the Castilian municipal codes known as the fueros, to tell us about the lives of ordinary women in Castile in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These municipal codes were given to settler communities during the Christian conquest of southern Iberia, and so reveal the value and roles of all community members: married women and girls, Muslim and Jewish women, widows, and outsiders like prostitutes, concubines, and sorceresses. This book was published just before I began my graduate study and became my constant companion once I settled on Iberian women’s history.
From the list:

The best foundational books on medieval women’s history

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Book cover of The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Medieval West

The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Medieval West

By Clarissa W. Atkinson

Why this book?

Another companion on my journey to becoming a medievalist, The Oldest Vocation is one of the earliest works of medieval scholarship to take the history of motherhood seriously. Atkinson showed us how mothering was a calling in the medieval world, whether it was a physical experience or a spiritual one. I think this was the first book I ever bought the moment it was available!
From the list:

The best foundational books on medieval women’s history

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Book cover of Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: The King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages

Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: The King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages

By Pauline Stafford

Why this book?

Last, but certainly not least, Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers was a book that helped formed the field of queenship studies, now a booming industry. Stafford teaches us how to think about the meaning of queenship, the sources and limits of the queen’s power, and the evolution of her office; she tells the stories of a number of remarkable early medieval women along the way in what is now England, France, and Germany. Deeply influential for me as I sought ways to think about queenship in later periods, this book remains widely available, accessible, and influential.
From the list:

The best foundational books on medieval women’s history

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Book cover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

By Haruki Murakami

Why this book?

A deeply engrossing story, where characters are transported back into time from contemporary Japan to zoos in Manchuria on the eve of Japan’s 1945 defeat. Although the narrative is disjointed, its characters are haunting, and the work is unforgettable. A mesmerizing tale by the greatest living novelist of Japan today.

From the list:

The best books from Medieval European history to contemporary Japanese literature

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Book cover of Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History

Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History

By Carlo M. Cipolla, Christopher Woodall

Why this book?

Cipolla, a brilliant author, shows in this study how economic history and economic concepts can be used to study the past even when they did not exist at the time. Cipolla engagingly explains how economic concepts, even when unrecognized, can be useful tools of analysis. In order to demonstrate this principle, for example, he memorably explains how the clothes used to prevent plague in medieval Europe were effective for reasons totally different than contemporaries realized. Mistaken understandings could still lead to effective actions.  

From the list:

The best books from Medieval European history to contemporary Japanese literature

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Book cover of The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy

The Illuminated Alphabet: An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy

By Timothy Noad, Patricia Seligman

Why this book?

Reading about medieval illumination is one thing. But suppose you want to actually paint an illuminated letter for yourself? This book provides a do-it-yourself experience, showing you step-by-step how to reproduce alphabet letters from actual medieval manuscripts. Each project includes tips on painting techniques, a list of the tools and paints you will need, then walks you through the process with detailed photographic examples for each step. Choose from Celtic, Romanesque, Gothic styles, and more. This book is a feast for the eyes, even if you have no artistic ambitions for yourself. Simply leaf through it and imagine the world…

From the list:

The best books on medieval illumination

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Book cover of Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages

Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages

By Damien Boquet, Piroska Nagy, Robert Shaw

Why this book?

All who are convinced that the Middle Ages was a barbaric period in which emotions were on the whole angry and violent will quickly change their mind as soon as they pick up this book. It shows that, far from being a stagnant interlude between the richly emotional worlds of classical antiquity and our own age, the period we call the Middle Ages was in constant emotional ferment, drawing above all on the implications of Christ’s passion and what it meant for human sensibilities.

From the list:

The best books in the history of emotions

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Book cover of Medieval Wall Paintings in English & Welsh Churches

Medieval Wall Paintings in English & Welsh Churches

By Roger Rosewell

Why this book?

Today surviving medieval church wall paintings are a bit of a rarity in England, but during the Middle Ages every church, almost without exception, would have been an absolute riot of colour, with saints, angels, and demons battling their way across the walls. What Rosewell's book does is allow you to understand not just what you are seeing, but how and why they were made in the first place. It explains the way in which the pigments were made, who painted them, and even who paid for them. It also contains an absolutely fantastic selection of images, that bring to…

From the list:

The best books on medieval churches

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Book cover of Seeking Salvation: Commemorating the Dead in the Late-Medieval English Parish

Seeking Salvation: Commemorating the Dead in the Late-Medieval English Parish

By Sally Badham

Why this book?

Definitely not as grim as the title might suggest. All churches are crammed full of memorials to the dead, and many dozens of books have been written that focus upon the people who lie in these tombs, or beneath the elegant grave slabs. However, sometimes little attention has been given to these memorials themselves, and the craftspeople who made them. This book is the culmination of a lifetime's research and will fascinate anyone who has an interest in church decoration - or dead people.

From the list:

The best books on medieval churches

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Book cover of Norfolk Rood Screens

Norfolk Rood Screens

By Paul Hurst, Jeremy Haselock

Why this book?

Surviving medieval painted rood screens are one of the wonders of England's churches. Each one artwork in its own right. In this magnificently illustrated work, the authors highlight twenty-four of the finest surviving examples, showing them in all their glorious detail. It may not be a groundbreaking work, but it is most certainly an inspiring one. If you ever thought the Middle Ages were drab and colourless, then this book will undoubtedly change your mind. A visual feast.

This book is currently out of print.


From the list:

The best books on medieval churches

Book cover of The Making of the Middle Ages

The Making of the Middle Ages

By R.W. Southern

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The Best books to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

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Book cover of The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

By Chris Wickham

Why this book?

Another synthesis of the ‘Dark Ages’ Europe, this one from the Penguin History series. An easy, but thorough read, painting a broad canvas from Ireland to Byzantium, and from the last days of Rome to the last days of Anglo-Saxon England, shines the light on the centuries that, while still seen as shrouded in the darkness of violence and barbarism, are in fact the true cradle of the European civilization as we know it today.

From the list:

The best books on Barbarian Europe

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Book cover of The Cookbook that Changed the World: The Origins of Modern Cuisine

The Cookbook that Changed the World: The Origins of Modern Cuisine

By T. Sarah Peterson

Why this book?

This book is about the early modern cooking revolution. Basing her investigation on a ground-breaking recipe book from 1651, Peterson examines the fundamental shift in European food tastes from the medieval preference for fragrant, heavily spiced dishes that combined sweet and savoury to the salt-acid followed by sweet that forms the basis of modern European cookery. This book was not written for an academic audience, so although it is well-informed it is not a demanding read for non-experts. The book contains a few recipes that are worth trying, and as a whole it’s a colourful and compelling story.

From the list:

The best books on food and drink in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of Culinary Recipes of Medieval England

Culinary Recipes of Medieval England

By Constance Hieatt

Why this book?

Constance Hieatt, who died in 2011 before this book came out, was probably the most important historian of medieval English food and cookery. She discovered many recipes in manuscripts that would otherwise have gone unnoticed and edited and commented on a huge body of evidence for English medieval cookery. This book is the culmination of a career’s worth of identifying recipes and reconstructing them for modern readers. Its value lies in providing answers to practical questions about medieval cookery with examples and references from the sources. Professor Hieatt was particularly interested in making medieval recipes available for modern cooks, and…

From the list:

The best books on food and drink in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages

The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages

By Robert Bartlett

Why this book?

In 1307 the pope charged three commissioners to decide whether the survival of a Welshman hanged for murder some years previously had or had not been a miracle. Bartlett’s masterly and compulsively readable microhistory draws from their report a brilliantly illuminated miniature (less than 200 pages) of an entire world, from the family life of the highest nobility to the grisly details of hanging and what they symbolised, and of the struggle for power in many forms, from the marches of Wales to central Italy.

From the list:

The best books on the real Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Norman Empire

The Norman Empire

By John Le Patourel

Why this book?

Like Marc Bloch’s book, this helped me to grasp how to take an international perspective on the history of the central Middle Ages. In this case, its central theme was that we must think about Normandy and England as politically, socially, and economically joined together after 1066. It has inspired a lot that I have written and my teaching to students. See my The Normans and Empire for personal reflections.

From the list:

The best books for exploring important aspects of Medieval History

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Book cover of Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy

By Karen Cushman

Why this book?

What was life like for a young woman in medieval times? Cushman brings the life and challenges of a feisty, aware young woman to life through the words of her diary. Readers will empathize with Catherine and cheer her strength at a time when young women had few rights, few opportunities, and limited resources. Cushman weaves her knowledge of the era seamlessly into this book of fiction.
From the list:

The best books that bring real events and real kids alive for readers

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Book cover of Journey for a Princess

Journey for a Princess

By Margaret Leighton

Why this book?

I first read this book a dozen times in junior high, borrowed it on interlibrary loan several times in adulthood, and eventually bought a second-hand copy. Leighton's 1960 book was rather eye-opening after a steady diet of girl power books, as it features a princess who doesn't take up a sword or rebel against society. And yet, I absolutely adored Elstrid, thrilling as she learned to navigate the complexities of her medieval world. This is by far the most historical and political book on this list, based on real people. The only drawback to this book is that the princess…

From the list:

The best books for feeling like you scrubbed floors in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of A Column of Fire

A Column of Fire

By Ken Follett

Why this book?

Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth changed the way I think about cathedrals, and the latest book in the series is an excellent example of how to build on a successful series, yet create a book which stands alone. A Column of Fire moves on to the complex world of the Elizabethan court. Queen Elizabeth’s secret agents lurk everywhere, and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants leads to continued plotting against the Queen. 

From the list:

The best historical fiction books about the Elizabethans

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Book cover of The Cross of Lead

The Cross of Lead

By Avi

Why this book?

Crispin is a young serf in Medieval England--an orphan despised by everyone for reasons he does not understand. Though I never had problems as dire as Crispin faced, I frequently felt mistreated as a child, and like him, the forest was my comfort and refuge. Like him, I had a lively curiosity about the lives of others and many times learned important lessons through observation. I shared Crispin's tendency to hero worship those who befriended me, and like him, I generally chose my role models well.
From the list:

The best coming-of-age books for almost any age

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Book cover of The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice

By Karen Cushman

Why this book?

This book was a Newberry Award winner and it’s easy to see why. It is hard not to love Alyce and root for her as she grapples with the difficulty of learning midwifery under the not to tender tutelage of Jane the Midwife. The story is at times funny, poignant and fascinating. I was moved by the courage and persistence Alyce shows. This book transported me to another era and left me wanting more. 

From the list:

The best books for kids who love a medieval quest

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Book cover of Fortune Like the Moon (Hawkenlye Mysteries)

Fortune Like the Moon (Hawkenlye Mysteries)

By Alys Clare

Why this book?

Because my character Janna seeks refuge in an abbey while on her quest to find her father, I found it interesting and instructive to read about Abbess Helewise and life at Hawkenlye Abbey in more detail. I also enjoyed trying to second-guess whodunit as the Abbess and her helpmate, lord of the manor, Josse d’Acquin, solve the many crimes that come their way. And I was intrigued by the supernatural elements introduced by Alys Clare, with the abbey being situated so close to the ancient forest in the Great Weald, and how the two worlds often intertwine. 

From the list:

The best medieval murders and mysteries in fiction

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Book cover of Lion of Ireland

Lion of Ireland

By Morgan Llywelyn

Why this book?

This was one of my earliest experiences with historical fantasy and started my love affair with the genre—both as a reader and a writer. Its rich storytelling plays in the gaps of what we know about Brian Boru, the most renowned king of medieval Ireland. I love how the story is grounded in historical setting and context (without overwhelming us with detail) and woven with the legendary magic of the place and time. What especially draws me in is the depiction of strong, complicated, female characters so often overshadowed in history but brought to life, front and center, in Llwelyn’s…

From the list:

The best historical fiction with touches of love and magic

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Book cover of Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England

Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England

By Raluca Radulescu, Alison Truelove

Why this book?

I found this study of gentry culture, with essays on political influence, education, social networks, religious activities, and the display of ‘gentility,’ a useful guide to a social class that was evolving in the period of my research. It also helped me understand why Dame Alice was so successful in running her own household and did not remarry – she was secure in the knowledge that she could exercise power and influence as an independent woman. Many of the other books I read about medieval households focused on the aristocracy, their sumptuous lifestyles, lavish entertainment, ostentatious festivities, opulent recreations, and…
From the list:

The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of The Walking Drum

The Walking Drum

By Louis L'Amour

Why this book?

Louis L’Amour is the only western writer I will read. The Walking Drum is one of my top five. It has taught me a lot of history, of cultures besides my own and of my ancestors, and inspired a lot of scenes in my own writing. His book cultivated this desire to know more, read more, and to fall deep into the story. And led to my search for books that were similar.

From the list:

The best books that captured my ADD personality

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Book cover of The Dragon and the George

The Dragon and the George

By Gordon R. Dickson

Why this book?

This is the first portal fantasy I remember reading where the people going through the portal were ordinary, believable adults. I first read it when I was in college, and the graduate student protagonists were facing challenges that I knew were coming up for me, which made them all the more appealing. The non-human “outsider” perspective thrust upon Jim Eckert when he suddenly finds himself in a dragon’s body also appealed to me far more than those portal fantasies where the protagonists are automatically hailed as heroes and saviors.  

From the list:

The best—because they’re unusual—portal fantasy books

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Book cover of Autumntide of the Middle Ages

Autumntide of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Diane Webb

Why this book?

What goes up must come down: the Dutch polymath Huizinga describes the gradual breakdown of a civilization that had presided over Europe for five hundred years (the book was for years known as The Waning of the Middle Ages). Huizinga, like Southern, had lived through the Second World War and seen civilizations fall apart. His poetic take on the histrionics of late-medieval life has not always convinced scholars, but readers like me have rightly been entranced. The newest translation is a beautiful coffee-table book, making gorgeous use of Huizinga’s immersion in the artistic and architectural world he evokes so memorably.

From the list:

The Best books to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

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Book cover of The Errant Knight

The Errant Knight

By Ann Tompert, Doug Keith

Why this book?

This beautifully illustrated book gently teaches that an act of kindness is always returned ten-fold. While my youngest child may not understand the biggest lesson in this book until he reads it to his own children, he did understand that helping others is always a good deed, and that sometimes we have to delay fulfilling our own wants and put others before ourselves. I read this book to my children over and over again, not only because we loved knights and tales of medieval times, but because the book has so much heart and soul in it, that it begs…

From the list:

The best picture books that teach great life lessons without being preachy

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Book cover of Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485

Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485

By John Julius Norwich

Why this book?

Shakespeare’s magnificent history plays have been described as “a feast of Henrys and Richards.” Who were those kings in real life? This book tells their true stories, and compares those stories to what Shakespeare wrote about them. Turns out he stuck pretty close to history!

From the list:

The best books that help us understand Shakespeare and his times

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Book cover of Kristin Lavransdatter

Kristin Lavransdatter

By Sigrid Undsett

Why this book?

This is an older book, and as such the tone and style of it might be a chore to some of the more modern readers – but Undsett is a Nobel Prize winner in Literature for a reason, and for me, the rich historical setting of the Norway of Middle Ages and Kristin herself, the eponymous heroine of the novel, are more than enough. I first read this book when I was very young and it had a deep impact on me even then – and I’ve returned for occasional re-reads in the years that followed that first encounter, finding…
From the list:

The best books with an unforgettable woman

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Book cover of Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection

Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection

By Katherine Park

Why this book?

In spite of the impressive intellectual and scientific achievements of the Renaissance era, doctors and anatomists still had a very limited understanding of “women’s secrets,” that is, how the female body functioned. This era saw an increasing number of human dissections for medical study, but the vast majority of medical specimens were male, leading to an imbalance of knowledge.

In this captivating book, Park focuses on dissections of female bodies and the development of knowledge about the titular “secrets of women.” By expanding her study beyond university dissections to include those done in religious and domestic settings, she finds not…

From the list:

The best books on Renaissance Italy

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Book cover of The Illuminated Manuscript

The Illuminated Manuscript

By Janet Backhouse

Why this book?

Any time you pick up a book with Illuminated Manuscript anywhere in the title, you know you’re in for a visual feast. If you’re just starting out with this unique medieval art form, this book is an excellent introduction. It’s not too long, so it won’t overwhelm you. This book provided the foundation for my first steps into researching medieval illumination for my historical romantic novel. What is illumination? Why were books illuminated and what types of books were considered worthy of illumination? Who were some of the most famous medieval illuminators? (Perhaps my heroine’s father had studied with one.)…

From the list:

The best books on medieval illumination

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Book cover of Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life

Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life

By Roger S. Wieck

Why this book?

One cannot dismiss the importance of religion during the Middle Ages. It was intertwined with nearly every aspect of people’s lives, so it was natural that medieval illuminators like my heroine and her father would spend a tremendous amount of their time and talent on creating artwork for religious books. The Book of Hours was one of the most important sources of religious teaching and inspiration during the Middle Ages and indispensable to that inspiration and teaching were the exquisite illuminations that filled their pages.

Time Sanctified places the Book of Hours in its medieval social and religious context and…

From the list:

The best books on medieval illumination

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Book cover of The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting

The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting

By Daniel V. Thompson

Why this book?

It’s hard to express the depths of my excitement when I discovered this book. This title allowed me to take research for my novel’s heroine to a whole new level. Should she use parchment or vellum, what was the difference, and when should she use one over the other? (Did you know the most sumptuous parchments were died purple? I didn’t until I read this book!) What was the difference between natural and artificial pigments as understood by medieval artists? And how did they create all those brilliant reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and more in their paintings? How did…

From the list:

The best books on medieval illumination

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Book cover of The Autumn of the Middle Ages

The Autumn of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Rodney J. Payton, Ulrich Mammitzsch

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books that look at medieval Europe as a whole

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Book cover of Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages

Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages

By André Vauchez, Jean Birrell

Why this book?

One of the most exciting areas of research and publication in medieval history over the last few generations has been the cult of the saints. A landmark was Peter Brown’s slim but fundamental The Cult of the Saints (1981), an effervescent essay on the origins of the veneration of saints in the Late Antique period. In the same year a very different book appeared, the French original of Vauchez’s enormous and comprehensive study of Christian saints in Latin (western) Christendom, the heart of which was an analysis of the 71 people who were proposed for papal canonization in the period…

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The best books that look at medieval Europe as a whole

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Book cover of Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe 900-1300

Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe 900-1300

By Susan Reynolds

Why this book?

Susan Reynolds was renowned for speaking her mind, never rudely but always forthrightly. If she considered that a generally accepted view or term was wrong or misleading or ill-defined, she said so. In a later work of hers, Fiefs and Vassals, she questioned the very value of the term “feudalism” when analyzing the Middle Ages. In Kingdoms and Communities, a rather less polemical work, she argued for the importance of self-organizing lay communities (parishes, guilds, even “the community of the realm”) as contrasted with the traditional focus on kings and the Church. Susan was in the line of…

From the list:

The best books that look at medieval Europe as a whole

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Book cover of A Rural Economy in Transition: Asia Minor from Late Antiquity Into the Early Middle Ages

A Rural Economy in Transition: Asia Minor from Late Antiquity Into the Early Middle Ages

By Adam Izdebski

Why this book?

This is a wonderful illustration of how to do integrated, holistic history that takes into account every aspect of the way a society works and evolves. Combining archaeology with landscape history, social, political, and economic history, Izdebski’s book is also a handbook on how to do environmental history, with detailed and informative methodological considerations on the problems that come with it. It is quite technical in places, but really sets out very clearly how historians who want to incorporate palaeoscientific data into their discussion should be doing it.

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The best books on premodern societies, climate, and environment

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Book cover of The Good Wife of Bath

The Good Wife of Bath

By Karen Brooks

Why this book?

14th century England was another period I knew little about, and this wonderfully researched story made it real to me. With authentic and witty dialogue, a setting where sheep farming and weaving are predominant as means to make a living, and women are the property of their husbands, I was transported into Eleanor’s world and deeply invested in her fate. The true-to-life setting and emotional subtleties made it an immersive and enjoyable read.

From the list:

The best historical fiction books that will make you feel like you are there

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Book cover of The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts

The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts

By Edward Grant

Why this book?

Edward Grant’s book begins, as mine does, with the medieval rediscovery of Aristotle’s works, but he focuses more intensively than I do on the impact of the new learning on scientific education and discovery. Writing clearly and gracefully, Grant demonstrates that a real scientific revolution began three hundred years before the “Scientific Revolution” of the sixteenth century. Along the way, he has some fascinating things to say about the curriculum of medieval universities and life among the first generation of European scientists. A valuable and enjoyable read.    

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

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Book cover of The Wolf Hunt: A Novel of the Crusades

The Wolf Hunt: A Novel of the Crusades

By Gillian Bradshaw

Why this book?

Gillian Bradshaw is one of the best historical fiction writers I know of, and everyone else should know of her too. The Wolf Hunt is based on Bisclavret, one of the Lais of Marie de France, and fairly drips with historical detail (please use a coaster). The fantasy element is the major plot point, but the magic that allows for it is so subtle and low-key that I nearly forgot to classify the book as historical fantasy. This is a grown-up Catherine, Called Birdy in its ability to evoke a medieval mind and setting, minus the humor, plus more romance.…

From the list:

The best books for feeling like you scrubbed floors in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of Daily Life in the Middle Ages

Daily Life in the Middle Ages

By Paul B. Newman

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books for time-traveling back to the past

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Book cover of The Ebony Tower

The Ebony Tower

By John Fowles

Why this book?

Another story that's impossible to forget – actually this is a novella in a collection of stories with this name. Again, about a lost house in a forest in France, an artist, a young man in love, and the two young women who bewitch him in turns. John Fowles is an English writer from the 1960s, whose work I loved when young and still do. He was much influenced by Alain-Fournier.

From the list:

The best books set in France with themes to match

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Book cover of Women, Art, and Society

Women, Art, and Society

By Whitney Chadwick

Why this book?

As an undergrad, I was blessed to have two professors who changed the course of my life: Angela Davis and Whitney Chadwick. Both of these professors discussed the intersectionality of gender, race, and class. Women, Art, and Society was published in 1990, and in 2020, the sixth edition was released. Although women artists’ representation in art history pedagogy has improved since 1990, the art world in general still favors men over women, making Chadwick’s book a relevant read. It provides a historical and critical look at women artists from the Middle Ages to the present, covering a range of media…

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The best books about women artists: overviews and individual lives

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Book cover of The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England

The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England

By Barbara A. Hanawalt

Why this book?

I love this book  Hanawalt’s research is intriguing – using manorial court rolls, coroners’ reports, and wills she reveals the lives of ordinary folk and opened the doors for me to peasant homes in the later Middle Ages. I thoroughly enjoyed her description of everyday life from childhood to old age, the household economy, blood ties, wealth, homesteads, and surrogate parents and children. I discovered that family concerns were not so very different then to ours today and was reminded that the past is not a foreign country where they did things differently. It’s both scholarly and readable, a…

From the list:

The best books about medieval pilgrimage and why you wouldn’t have wanted to travel with Margery Kempe

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Book cover of Pilgrimage in Medieval England

Pilgrimage in Medieval England

By Diana Webb

Why this book?

If you want to know the reality of medieval pilgrimage, read this book. I learnt a lot from it and got a real feel for this group of people. Webb describes the multiple reasons for going on pilgrimage, as a penance, fulfilling a vow, looking for a cure or a blessing, or just having a good time. She introduces us to a wider variety of individuals than Chaucer’s famous pilgrims and describes the most important shrines in England, like Walsingham and the St Thomas shrine in Canterbury, as well as numerous small shrines with local cults where country folk went…

From the list:

The best books about medieval pilgrimage and why you wouldn’t have wanted to travel with Margery Kempe

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Book cover of The Last of the Templars

The Last of the Templars

By William Watson

Why this book?

I blame Dan Brown, but mention the Templars and you are usually met with a glazed look, as if you’re about to share your favourite conspiracy theory. William Watson’s book is a class, if not a universe, apart from Brown and co. It is an almost unbearably vivid re-creation of the world of the crusader kingdoms, and the corruption at the heart of Europe that first sustained and then destroyed their knightly protectors. In spare, unshowy prose, Watson demonstrates the darker side of the Middle Ages, in all its forbidding glory.

From the list:

The Best books to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

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Book cover of Henry - Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy

Henry - Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy

By Tony Riches

Why this book?

Henry VII holds a special place in my heart, and I was hooked on Tony’s book immediately. It was so refreshing to read a historical novel on my favorite monarch. Tony truly brought Henry to life. Henry’s love not only for country but for his beloved wife was so beautifully described. I intend to read the rest of the trilogy!

From the list:

The best books on the middle ages for those with an odd fascination for filth and torture

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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 Chaucer: A European Life

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner

Why this book?

I love this book despite feeling frustrated by the excessive detail. Turner brings Chaucer’s cosmopolitan world and diverse literary works to life by focusing on places and spaces significant to him. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Households, where Chaucer was sent to serve in his adolescence, like many of his contemporaries, as page-boy, valet, entertainer, general factotum. I also learnt about his international travels, as a diplomat, prisoner of war, member of Parliament, and the sadness of his unfulfilled private life.

The last two chapters recount Chaucer’s final year living in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, his sudden death,…

From the list:

The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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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…

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The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses

By John Gillingham

Why this book?

Prof Gillingham was my first PhD supervisor. (I got through a couple or more!) I have always tried to emulate not only the clarity of his writing but also his dry touches of humour and his eminent common sense; not for him the clever-silliness of many academics. All these virtues are on display here in this highly readable account of The Wars of the Roses, in which a complex conflict is rendered enjoyably accessible.
From the list:

The best books on medieval warfare (if you love knights and castles)

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Book cover of The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes

The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes

By Michel Pastoureau, Jody Gladding

Why this book?

The French historian Michel Pastoureau is the master of finding topics you never knew could have a history. His research spans from the history of blue to the history of the bear, and everything he writes makes you see the world with new eyes. One of my favorites is this slim volume about the history of stripes. Pastoureau explains why stripes were associated with the devil in the Middle Ages, why sailors and swimmers took to stripes, and why cultural preferences have shifted from horizontal stripes to vertical stripes and back again. He convincingly shows that the history of the…

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The best books on everyday things we take for granted

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Book cover of The World of the Crusades

The World of the Crusades

By Christopher Tyerman

Why this book?

This is the perfect book for someone seriously interested in the crusades and looking for a reference with tips on additional sources.

Tyreman’s almost 500-page work is a treasure for readers looking for greater detail than Madden and France offer. Meticulously researched and documented, it is also enriched with a chronology, lists of rulers, and a glossary. In addition to a chronological treatment of the crusades, including the crusades in Western Europe and against fellow Christians, it provides short essays on a variety of aspects of the crusades — things like castles, interpreters, Jews, women, food and drink, medicine, manuscripts…

From the list:

The best books on the Crusades and Crusader States

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Book cover of Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066–1485

Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066–1485

By John Gillingham

Why this book?

This is a fantastic introduction to what was going on in the British Isles during the medieval period. The scholarship is up-to-the-minute, the writing is witty and engaging, and it is teeming with original ideas. It’s not a political history, plodding predictably from one reign to the next, but a sweeping overview, covering diverse topics such as the decline of slavery, the rise of parliament, kingship and queenship, religion, education, leisure, crime, and chivalry.

From the list:

The best books on medieval Britain

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Book cover of Queenship in Medieval Europe

Queenship in Medieval Europe

By Theresa Earenfight

Why this book?

Theresa Earenfight is a renowned queenship scholar whose ideas about queens and queenship inspired me when I was a graduate student and continue to excite me today. This is a book that I recommend to my own students as the perfect place to start with medieval queenship. Earenfight’s book moves chronologically across the Middle Ages, drawing together examples of queens from all across Europe to illustrate key ideas about queenship and demonstrate how different women exercised the queen’s office. An engaging read which is underpinned by years of research and deep expertise in the field.

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The best books on queens and queenship

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Book cover of The Confessions

The Confessions

By Saint Augustine, Maria Boulding

Why this book?

Saint Augustine's autobiography is, simply, one of the most remarkable and influential books ever written. To start with, it is a terrific tale. Augustine's evolution from a restless, pear-pilfering child, to an ambitious and tempestuous teen, and then a thoughtful and searching adult desperate to find his way (and foil his mother's plans for him) is one almost any reader can relate to. Moreover, in the process of examining his own halting progress toward faith, Augustine more or less invented a new form of "selfhood." For anyone interested in medieval Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations, or European thought, it all starts with…
From the list:

The best books on medieval religious history

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Book cover of The Letters of Abelard and Heloise

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise

By Peter Abelard, Héloïse, Betty Radice

Why this book?

The letters collected in this slim paperback collectively tell one of the most dramatic and moving stories of the entire Middle Ages. Letter 1, directed toward a (perhaps fictional) friend, is a spiritual autobiography, consciously modelled on Augustine's Confessions, in which the great philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard recounts his doomed love affair with his brilliant seventeen-year-old pupil Heloise.  This affair resulted in Abelard's violent castration at the instigation of her outraged uncle.  In Letter 1, written years later, Abelard explains how his suffering gradually led him towards God. Eight more letters, exchanged between Abelard and Heloise years after…
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The best books on medieval religious history

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Book cover of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

By Melissa Mohr

Why this book?

This American title is at the more academic end of books on swearing and oaths. Mohr shows how obscenity evolves over time. Words now considered indecent were acceptable in the Middle Ages while careless invocations of God and Jesus were taboo (that’s not to say they weren’t used). The very title of the book neatly illustrates a difference between US and British culture, with the asterisk being used to soften potential offence in the States. By contrast in the UK, the word usually appears naked and unashamed on the cover (as in Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life So Far).
From the list:

The best books on swear words

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Book cover of Blood Red Horse

Blood Red Horse

By K.M. Grant

Why this book?

Though this book is historical fiction rather than fantasy, and I generally am a fantasy fan, K. M. Grant does wonders in this book. It takes place in King Richard’s crusades and, though the book spans several years, you never feel rushed or disconnected from the characters. It does not pick sides but rather has characters on both sides who come together, not in war, but in their love for a small blood-red stallion. As a huge history fan and an equestrian, this book combines medieval times and a knowledge of horses with a talent of weaving stories. It is…

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The best books of action driven young adult fiction

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Book cover of Medieval Women

Medieval Women

By Eileen Power

Why this book?

Eileen Power was a pioneer in Women’s History and this was the first book I read when I went back to university. It’s an inspiring collection of essays on medieval ideas of women, working women in town and country, education, and nunneries. If you’re planning to write a book about women in the Middle Ages, start your research here.

Power refers to many diverse contemporary texts such as The Goodman of Paris and works by Chaucer and Christine de Pisan, which enabled me (or, which will enable you) to portray authentic detail in my own book. The essay on nunneries,…

From the list:

The best books about medieval pilgrimage and why you wouldn’t have wanted to travel with Margery Kempe

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Book cover of The House on the Strand

The House on the Strand

By Daphne du Maurier

Why this book?

As a teenager, I glutted on the novels of Daphne du Maurier, and revelled in their Gothic thrills and the hints of darker compulsions and ambiguity which I did not fully comprehend. On re-reading a few not so long ago, I discovered that Rebecca was toppled from my personal number one spot by The House on the Strand. A time-travel story written long before it was voguish, it manages to achieve the delicate balance between the traditional, (albeit far-fetched) romantic love story and the more troubling question about perception and identity. This is not a peaceful novel as it…

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The best books to soothe and console after a love affair, divorce or Covid

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Book cover of War in the Middle Ages

War in the Middle Ages

By Philippe Contamine

Why this book?

This book was my “bible” during my days as an MA student of medieval warfare. Contamine convinced me that medieval warfare was truly at the heart of medieval society and thus deserving of dedicated study and research. While densely packed with facts and figures that can be daunting in their quantity, it is full of fascinating revelations, such as the bugler on the battlefield who died from over-exertion!
From the list:

The best books on medieval warfare (if you love knights and castles)

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Book cover of Under the Hog: A Novel of Richard III

Under the Hog: A Novel of Richard III

By Patrick Carleton

Why this book?

Academic books too dry? Primary sources too intimidating? Find a copy of Under the Hog, a historical novel set in the War of the Roses in 15th century England that is perhaps the best historical novel ever — certainly the best written by a pseudonymous author! It gives a variety of close-up views of medieval combat, politics, and culture, and is a favorite among folks who think that king Richard III of England (yes, the evil hunchback of Shakespeare’s depiction) got a reputational raw deal from the Bard. 

From the list:

The best books about medieval warfare globally

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Book cover of Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

By Catherine Hanley

Why this book?

There is no better place to start this list than with Empress Matilda, England’s first reigning queen. Matilda, who vied for the English throne against her cousin, King Stephen, has always been a personal favourite of mine. She came tantalisingly close, in 1141, to securing her coronation and recognition of her rule. I was therefore very excited to read Catherine Hanley’s expertly written biography. I love the detail given on Matilda’s actions, with Hanley’s research impeccably detailed. This is one of the most valuable accounts of the life of an early English monarch.

From the list:

The best books on England’s medieval queens

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Book cover of Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

By Tracy Borman

Why this book?

While I take issue with the book’s subtitle (the Anglo-Saxons had queens!), this first full-length biography of Matilda, the wife of William I, is not to be missed. Matilda of Flanders, who served as regent of both Normandy and England was a hugely important figure in the later history of English queenship, providing a model by which the wives of her descendants attempted to live. Tracy Borman takes what little information survives on Matilda to weave a compelling and captivating narrative, fleshing out the life of a woman who has hitherto remained in the shadows.

From the list:

The best books on England’s medieval queens

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Book cover of The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages

The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages

By Terence Scully

Why this book?

This is the best overall book on cooking, kitchens, and recipes in the Middle Ages. It is a compendium on everything to do with cookery as a practical art and the theory behind medieval ideas of health and nutrition. Scully argues convincingly that medieval cooks and cookery were more sophisticated and technical than we might think. The book is highly readable as well as being authoritative and comprehensive, and uses extensive passages from the writings of medieval cookery authors. 

From the list:

The best books on food and drink in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Cloister: A Novel

The Cloister: A Novel

By James Carroll

Why this book?

The Cloister: A Novel by James Carroll (Anchor, 2019) is a gripping, magical novel that dramatizes the connections between the medieval and modern worlds. Father James Kavanaugh meets Rachel Vedette at the Cloisters, the famous museum and gallery in upper Manhattan dedicated to the art of the Middle Ages. He is a parish priest with doubts and worries; she is a Holocaust survivor; and their relationship brilliantly conjures up the forbidden love affair between the medieval philosopher and “rock star,” Peter Abelard, and Heloise, an immensely talented nun. James Carroll, a former priest, is also the author of Constantine’s Sword…

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition

Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition

By Sir Anthony Kenny

Why this book?

Readers seriously interested in the continuing influence of Aristotle on Western and global thinking will find the short book of Sir Anthony Kenney’s essays both useful and enjoyable. The author, a well-known authority on the history of Western philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, writes with panache on a wide variety of topics relevant to Aristotelian thought and modern intellectual and social life.      

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Monodies and on the Relics of Saints: The Autobiography and a Manifesto of a French Monk from Thetime of the Crusades

Monodies and on the Relics of Saints: The Autobiography and a Manifesto of a French Monk from Thetime of the Crusades

By Guibert Of Nogent, Joseph McAlhany

Why this book?

The same transformation is vividly described, along with the enormities of archetypically immoral barons and revolting peasants, the murder of a scandalous bishop, and much else, in the memoirs of an abbot from northern France at a time of violent social upheaval and intense personal rivalries, often played out on the stage of religious piety. This is one of the liveliest and most revealing of the many sources translated from this period, excellently introduced by Jay Rubenstein.   

From the list:

The best books on the real Middle Ages

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Book cover of Matrix

Matrix

By Lauren Groff

Why this book?

Matrix pulled me in immediately. I loved the realness of the setting: the mud and the cold and the food and the smells. Life in the middle ages wasn’t easy, and Groff’s novel doesn’t try to romanticize that. I also loved the protagonist, a woman who gradually builds a position of power for herself. Groff explores sexuality and desire, community and meaning, religion and power on a scale that is both personal and profound.

From the list:

The best books that reimagine the Middle Ages

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Book cover of Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat

Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat

By Donald W. Engels

Why this book?

This book is full of amazing, surprising, and sometimes heartbreaking stories of how the status of cats changed during the Middle Ages. I learned a ton from this book. Even if you think you know everything about cats, you’re bound to be surprised by many of the stories here. A must-read for cat lovers and history buffs.

From the list:

The best books for serious thinkers about cats and dogs

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Book cover of The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

By Ian Mortimer

Why this book?

Ian’s book was spot on. Everything you imagine the middle ages to be is brought to life through this brilliant and sometimes amusing read. Ian dives into the dreadful living conditions of the time and gives you an uncanny look at the middle ages. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in how people lived during the middle ages!

From the list:

The best books on the middle ages for those with an odd fascination for filth and torture

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Book cover of Waterfall

Waterfall

By Lisa T. Bergren

Why this book?

Waterfall takes a 21st-century girl, Gabriella, and mysteriously places her in medieval Italy. Gabi’s journey is unexpected and exciting! While the title might be misleading, you won’t be disappointed when you’re introduced to this teenage girl who’s grown up with archeologist parents learning how to wield a sword. Finding herself in the fourteenth century, Gabi literally lands in the middle of a battle, she meets a knight-prince, and her summer has only begun.

From the list:

The best teen adventure novels for an escape

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Book cover of Home: A Short History of an Idea

Home: A Short History of an Idea

By Witold Rybczynski

Why this book?

Home discusses the complex series of factors that have generated the house as we understand it today. The chapters can be read independently as discussions on, for example, the evolution of comfort or the organisation of the different spaces. However, the book also builds into a fascinating argument for revisiting some of the pre-modern ideas of communal living, shared spaces, and live-work relationships. 

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The best books on the future of the interior

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Book cover of Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante

Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante

By George W. Dameron

Why this book?

To know medieval Florence, you have to have a sense of the enormous role the Church played in people’s lives. Here, Dameron concentrates on the 50-year period 1265-1321 (Dante’s lifetime), during which Florence went from something of a backwater to one of the wealthiest and most influential cities in all of Europe. Separation of church and state was simply not a thing back then; the concept would have bewildered medieval Florentines. All aspects of the city, from the legal system to charity efforts, were affected by religious institutions. This knowledgeable account will give you a rich, full picture of that…

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The best books on medieval Florence

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Book cover of Northern Crusades, the Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525

Northern Crusades, the Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525

By Eric Christiansen

Why this book?

This wide-ranging, erudite, and witty account remains the most enjoyable survey of the era. His explanations of complex ideas and events cut through many of the difficulties involved in understanding a very different time and different places than our own. I especiallly liked the way he could  tie the crusades in the Baltic to what was happening elsewhere in Europe and in the Holy Land, and to show how contemporaries wrestled with difficult, even contradictory, ideas.

From the list:

The best books on medieval Baltic history

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Book cover of The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

By Carlo Ginzburg, John Tedeschi

Why this book?

I love books that dig into how strange people were in the Middle Ages. They weren’t more or less like people today only with different clothes and feudalism, any more so than people in the US are just like Indonesians but with a different language and toilet paper. No book I have read brings this home better than Ginzburg’s history. Layer by layer, he peels back the mental world of Menocchio, a sixteenth-century Italian miller who believed that the world began as a cheese-like mass in which angels appeared, like maggots emerging from rotting meat. This book literally changed my…

From the list:

The best books to get inside the heads of medieval men and women

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Book cover of The Song of Roland

The Song of Roland

By Michel Rabagliati

Why this book?

No list of Quebecois graphic novels would be complete without an entry from Michel Rabagliati’s excellent Paul series, which is a beloved publishing phenomenon in the province. In all honesty, you can’t go wrong with any of his books, each volume in Rabagliati’s semi-autobiographical series offers a discrete tale of a different moment in his alter-ego Paul’s life, from light childhood adventures through very intense stories of middle age, so you can easily pick up any of them and go from there. This emotionally rich stand-alone volume (the basis of the 2015 film Paul à Québec) explores the life…

From the list:

The best graphic novels from Quebec (no matter what your taste)

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Book cover of Margery Kempe: A Mixed Life

Margery Kempe: A Mixed Life

By Anthony Bale

Why this book?

I find it difficult to have any admiration for Margery Kempe since I don’t believe she was a mystic – she was frequently quarrelsome, meddling, vain and judgmental, and those who travelled on pilgrimage with her often wanted to get as far away from her as possible. Bale, however, has sympathy for this troubled soul and explores her life through the text of her book, focusing on the places she visited, her friends and enemies, objects she admired, and her intense feelings which were on a dramatic spectrum from despair to bliss. After reading A Mixed Life I still don’t…

From the list:

The best books about medieval pilgrimage and why you wouldn’t have wanted to travel with Margery Kempe

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Book cover of History Year by Year: The History of the World, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age

History Year by Year: The History of the World, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age

By DK Smithsonian

Why this book?

Bite-sized bits of world knowledge are a great way to explore the world from the comfort of your own living room (or car or classroom). Visuals and a timeline help kids navigate history, discoveries, wars, revolutions, and inventions. This is the type of book kids can pick up and put down anytime. It also adds to general knowledge and builds great ideas for family trivia night!

From the list:

The best explore the world books for children

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Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

By John Marenbon

Why this book?

This is an engaging and wide-ranging survey of the topic written by one of the leading scholars of philosophy in medieval Latin Christendom. Marenbon actually wrote some earlier general introductions which were also very good. But I recommend this one because he casts a broader net, by looking at medieval philosophy not only in Christian Europe but in the Islamic world too.

From the list:

The best books that take a fresh approach to medieval philosophy

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Book cover of The Physician

The Physician

By Noah Gordon

Why this book?

The Physician was one of the most exceptional books I have read on the middle ages. I love historical fiction, and I was sucked into this book from page one. Noah takes us through the life of Rob J, a young boy who teams up with a barber-surgeon during the 11th century. For someone who is well-schooled on this time in history, I can honestly say that this book was on point with every historical fact. Please read this book. You won’t be sorry.

From the list:

The best books on the middle ages for those with an odd fascination for filth and torture

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Book cover of A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah

A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah

By Noam Zion, David Dishon

Why this book?

I love this Haggadah and have used it for many of my family seders (especially with there are both adults and children. I especially like the offering of stories, readings, as well as commentaries, and activities that have fueled my dynamic seders with storytelling and discussion, dramatics, and singing. The many illustrations drawn from medieval and modern artists serve as visual commentaries that evoke discussion. One example that allows for discussion is an artistic portrayal of the Four Children in a variety of Haggadahs that helps to encourage comparison and debate. This Haggadah is inclusive, pluralistic, and includes transliterations and…

From the list:

The best Haggadahs for a meaningful and participatory Passover Seder

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Book cover of The Time Of The Dark

The Time Of The Dark

By Barbara Hambly

Why this book?

This is the first book of the three-book Darwath Series. A powerful wizard, in an attempt to save his world, winds up pulling a couple of people over from Earth. The relationships and the struggles, along with the wry humor, make this book great. All of Hambly’s fantasy books that I’ve read have worlds where magic does not come easy, and I always appreciate the price that magic users have to pay. This series of hers has a frighteningly good tale—that ending!

From the list:

The best books that transport select people from Earth to other realms

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Book cover of History of the English Church and People

History of the English Church and People

By Bede

Why this book?

As close as we come to a first-hand account of events in the first part of the early medieval period. Writing in the early 8th century, Bede was able to interview some of the people who had witnessed events he describes. Bede was undoubtedly writing from the Christian perspective and he was certainly biased in favour of his native Northumbria, but his words are like a window into the past and how people (or at least the clergy) thought.

From the list:

The best books on the world of Anglo-Saxon Britain

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Book cover of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

By Anne Savage

Why this book?

This book covers the entirety of the history of the Anglo-Saxons in their own words. Like Bede’s History, it suffers from bias, depending on the scribe writing each section and what kingdom they inhabited, but it is a fascinating year-by-year account of the rise and fall of kings and clergy, and of the battles and natural phenomena faced by the people of early medieval Britain.

From the list:

The best books on the world of Anglo-Saxon Britain

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Book cover of The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon

By Marion Zimmer Bradley

Why this book?

What an audacious book – a retelling of the King Arthur legend from the women’s point of view. Part history, part fantasy, this book rang true to me in its portrayal of the power of the divine feminine. The female characters own their sexuality and the strength inherent to being a woman. I loved getting deliciously lost in Bradley’s imagination of the mystical skills of our ancient mothers. To this day, I wonder if she might have been writing about reality, not fantasy, and it is our present generation that has lost touch with our astonishing female powers.

From the list:

The best books to make you love being a woman

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Book cover of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine

By Alison Weir

Why this book?

History rarely gives a prominent place to women, and this is perhaps particularly true of medieval history. To have left such a huge mark, Eleanor must have been a truly extraordinary woman. It is the combination of her formidable nature with the equally formidable Henry II that makes her marriage to the great Plantagenet ruler such a remarkable story. Alison Weir’s book is a treasure, full of interesting anecdotes that bring the star-studded cast of Eleanor, Henry, and their sons Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John to life.

This book is an outstanding introduction to a fascinating period of English history,…

From the list:

The best books that changed my view of history

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Book cover of The Faroe Islanders’ Saga

The Faroe Islanders’ Saga

By Anonymous, George Johnston

Why this book?

North of Britain, the Vikings encountered the uninhabited Sheep Isles, or the Faroes, before they went on to discover their better-known settlement of Iceland. Connections remained close, and in the 13th century, an unknown Icelandic author wrote this swashbuckling tale of the wealthy merchants and farmers who lived in these small and craggy islands in the Viking Age, their inter-island rivalries, and their tricky relationships with the rulers of their Norwegian homeland.

From the list:

The best medieval books about Viking Islands

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Book cover of Guta Saga: The History of the Gotlanders

Guta Saga: The History of the Gotlanders

By Christine Peel

Why this book?

According to this medieval tale, the Baltic island of Gotland was once so enchanted that it sank into the sea during the day and rose up again at night. From these mythical origins, this short saga, written in the special dialect of the island, tells how Gotland became populated, how some of them went east to Russia and Byzantium, how they exchanged their heathen idols for the Christian religion, and their relationship with the King of Sweden. It’s a rare literary insight into the Vikings’ eastern settlements and adventures.

From the list:

The best medieval books about Viking Islands

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Book cover of Kathmandu

Kathmandu

By Thomas Bell

Why this book?

Planning on a trip to Kathmandu? Curious about what makes one of the world’s most fascinating cities tick? Thomas Bell’s 2016 account is the perfect and most concise introduction to the history, culture, religiosity, and recent changes of the capital on the roof of the world. Bell confidently unravels the intricate interplay of caste, tradition, and rigid hierarchy on the one hand, and modernization, tearing into a city that was virtually isolated until 1950 like a bullet train, on the other. Perhaps it’s time for a Nepali writer to publish a panoramic nonfiction view of one of the world’s most…

From the list:

The best books on Nepal and the roof of the world

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Book cover of The Tale of the Heike

The Tale of the Heike

By Royall Tyler

Why this book?

A masterpiece. Royall Tyler translates this tale, which had been recited orally by blind monks in the fourteenth century, into beautiful English; the rhythms of the language, its beauty, tragedy, and poetry become accessible to an English-speaking audience for the first time. One of the greatest accomplishments in translation and a must-read for all interested in medieval Japanese warfare and epic war tales.

From the list:

The best books from Medieval European history to contemporary Japanese literature

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Book cover of The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society

The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society

By Pierre François Souyri

Why this book?

A marvelously coherent and stimulating introduction to the turbulent politics and social and economic life of Japan between revolutionary changes in 1185 and the early sixteenth century, with much to say about cultural life as well. Souyri is as interested in the lives of peasants and traders as in that of shoguns and samurai.

From the list:

The best books on global history before the modern era

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Book cover of The First English Empire: Power and Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343

The First English Empire: Power and Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343

By R.R. Davies

Why this book?

When I arrived in Oxford in 1998 to begin my doctorate, I knew a bit about English medieval history, but almost nothing about the histories of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. That deficiency was corrected by Prof Rees Davies, at whose feet I was lucky enough to sit. Earlier that same year Rees had delivered the prestigious Ford lectures in Oxford, and they were published two years later as The First English Empire. Deeply learned, but also beautifully written, they are a powerful meditation on centuries when English power expanded aggressively into the rest of the British Isles, and the…

From the list:

The best books on medieval Britain

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Book cover of Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy

Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy

By Carl Watkins

Why this book?

The reign of King Stephen (1135–1154) was characterized by chaos and disorder, as he and his cousin Matilda fought over the succession to the English throne. This makes it a challenge to offer a coherent account, but Carl Watkins succeeds where others have failed in his short history of Stephen’s reign. The whole book, minus its academic endnotes, runs to under 90 pages, but it packs a considerable punch, thanks to Watkins’ elegant and enviable prose style. 

From the list:

The best books on medieval Britain

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Book cover of The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

By Beth Allison Barr

Why this book?

Beth Allison Barr is both a medieval historian and a Southern Baptist preacher’s wife.  Her mission with this book is to rock the foundation of the Southern Baptist Church’s dedication to complementarianism – the theological view that men and women have different but complementary roles within church and society. In theory, those roles are equal; in reality, women are relegated to a position as helpmate to their husbands and barred from teaching even children about the basics of their faith.

The SB Church argues that all of this is grounded in the Bible – but as a historian of medieval…

From the list:

The best books about women in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of Hard to Be a God

Hard to Be a God

By Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Olena Bormashenko

Why this book?

Can a society as mired in misery and oppression as ours be helped by a few well-intentioned “progressors” from another world? You land in secret, wielding godlike powers (remember Clarke’s Third Law: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic) and possessing a perfect understanding of sociology and historical dynamics, only to find how hard it is to be a god. What would you do?
From the list:

The best books that explore the human condition

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Book cover of Kin

Kin

By Snorri Kristjansson

Why this book?

It's probably not by accident that three of the five books on this list are by Icelandic authors, as so much of the history and mythology of that nation is tied up with its Viking heritage. This novel, while somewhat unevenly paced, is a vivid depiction of life in Medieval Iceland, where kinship and honor were the basis by which human society clung to an unforgiving landscape. Its thematic emphasis falls on entrapment and isolation, and it offers a gorgeous sense of a premodern Nordic landscape.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Viking mindset and relationship with the world

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Book cover of Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire C.1300-1520

Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire C.1300-1520

By P.J.P. Goldberg

Why this book?

A classic cited in every title on my list, Goldberg’s book provides a glimpse into the lives of women in the area, both rural and urban. The book grew out of the question, How far was marriage a necessity for medieval women? His focus is on women in the north, with its unique labor issues. To answer the question he examines the economy and how women participated in it, with an emphasis on the changes brought on by the decline in population after the Black Death in the later 14th century.

He covers tradeswomen, servants, prostitutes, farm laborers, with…

From the list:

The best books about medieval York

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Book cover of War, Politics and Finance in Late Medieval English Towns: Bristol, York and the Crown, 1350-1400

War, Politics and Finance in Late Medieval English Towns: Bristol, York and the Crown, 1350-1400

By Christian D. Liddy

Why this book?

Why would this 50 year period be so interesting in these two cities? In these years Bristol and York were second only to London in influence and growth within the realm, and as the rising merchant class accrued wealth they used it to make agreements with the crown—to their advantage, of course. With King Edward III it was all about his war with France; with his grandson and successor King Richard II it was about gaining charters that made them more independent of royal interference as well as negotiating their way between the political factions within the nobility.

Richard’s reign…

From the list:

The best books about medieval York

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Book cover of Stealing the Mystic Lamb

Stealing the Mystic Lamb

By Noah Charney

Why this book?

All should know more about the sublime work of Jan van Eyck, and his Ghent Altarpiece, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, one of the most masterful works of art ever conceived, was cherished by some, despised by others, and at times highlighted and hidden. Some parts of this work read like a thriller, particularly on somehow survived the end of WWII in an Austrian salt mine, while others read like a mystery, such as when one panel was stolen in 1934 and remains lost to this day.

From the list:

The best books from Medieval European history to contemporary Japanese literature

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Book cover of Flint Flushwork: A Medieval Masonry Art

Flint Flushwork: A Medieval Masonry Art

By Stephen Hart

Why this book?

Stephen Hart spent a lifetime travelling around English churches and was one of the most knowledgeable - and good-natured - individuals I ever had the pleasure to work with. One of his passions was for flushwork - the decorative flint work seen on many English churches, most especially in East Anglia. This book was published towards the end of his career and brings together many of his thoughts and ideas - as well as a fantastic selection of images.

From the list:

The best books on medieval churches

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Book cover of Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade

Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade

By John France

Why this book?

This book brought home to me just how much the victory of the crusaders on the First Crusade was an astonishing and unlikely military feat. John France shows how it was achieved stage by bloody stage, discussing strategy, tactics, leadership, battles, and sieges, while also focusing on the central role played by careful logistics. Throughout I was struck by the incredible tenacity of the crusaders and the terrible deprivations and losses that they had to endure. An absorbing and authoritative account of a truly epic campaign of loss and victory.
From the list:

The best books on medieval warfare (if you love knights and castles)

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Book cover of Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature

Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature

By O.J. Padel

Why this book?

Oliver Padel is a linguist specializing in early Welsh and Cornish and as such the ideal guide to Arthur’s presence in early Celtic literature. While acknowledging that the earliest datable instances come in the Historia Brittonum in 829-30, his view is that Arthur began as a figure of Celtic mythology and was only later converted into a pseudo-historical figure fixed in the past. In that sense, the early Arthur is the individual in the Historia Brittonum in the section called Mirabilia (Wonders), where he is used as a way of explaining landscape features and the names given to them, who…

From the list:

The best books about the origins of King Arthur

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Book cover of The Cambridge History of War: Volume 2, War and the Medieval World

The Cambridge History of War: Volume 2, War and the Medieval World

By David A. Graff

Why this book?

This is a superb example of what a multi-author compilation can achieve: wide coverage, specialist knowledge of a variety of topics and approaches, and thus fascinating details from around the world of medieval warfare. And what it lacks (in coherent overview and broad comparative approach) is supplied by my own book! I think of this as a good companion to my own more global, comparative, and theory-based account of medieval war and conflict.

From the list:

The best books about medieval warfare globally

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Book cover of Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower

Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower

By David Baldwin

Why this book?

My next pick takes us right up to the end of the medieval period, with David Baldwin’s highly readable biography of Elizabeth Woodville. While the legitimacy of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth is still hotly debated, she was undoubtedly presented to the world as his queen. Through his highly detailed research, Baldwin is able to add fine detail to a woman whose life was filled with drama and tragedy. In this biography, the woman emerges from behind the queen.

From the list:

The best books on England’s medieval queens

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Book cover of Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

By Etienne Gilson

Why this book?

Etienne Gilson was the leading intellectual historian of the medieval Church in France, and this is the clearest, most lucid exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’s thinking that I have read. Perhaps because the Roman Catholic Church has often used Aquinas’s thinking to justify conservative positions, we often forget that he was a world-class genius who radicalized religious and ethical thought in the Middle Ages, and whose work helped inspire later movements of reform like the Vatican II Council. Gilson’s sympathetic treatment of Aquinas restored this understanding of his thinking and helped produce the modern neo-Thomist movement. It is worth reading…

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature

Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature

By W. P. (William Paton) Ker

Why this book?

This book, from a fin de siècle Scotsman, is a classic of literature in its own right. It contains a perfectly brilliant reading of the sagas as well as other works of medieval literature. It has never been surpassed and is perhaps unsurpassable. Every sentence is an elegant gem, with one nonobvious insight after another. He just nails it. Ker reminds you that literary criticism need not be pretentious and badly written as it so often is. Treat yourself. 

From the list:

The best books on the Icelandic and Norse sagas

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Book cover of The Miller's Tale

The Miller's Tale

By Geoffrey Chaucer, Michael Alexander

Why this book?

Chaucer didn’t invent erotica, but he must be the all-time bestselling writer of medieval smut. He wrote The Miller’s Tale to entertain fellow travellers on a pilgrimage. I bet they lapped it up. This bawdy celebration of lust and trickery is as rude — and hilarious —  as it was 400 years ago.

From the list:

The best off-the-wall romance literature to surprise, delight, and challenge your perceptions

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Book cover of Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300

Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300

By Elisabeth Van Houts

Why this book?

A marvellous book that explores the experience for men and women of being married during the Christian Middle Ages. It presents us with an analysis of individual lives and is a social history, a gender history, an emotional history, a sexual history, and much else besides. Among the many subjects treated are female agency within marriage, the extent to which it was possible to choose a married partner, and the history and personal experience of married clergy when such marriages were forbidden. 

From the list:

The best books for exploring important aspects of Medieval History

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Book cover of The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth

By Ken Follett

Why this book?

The first in a series, Pillars sets the stage for subsequent Follett masterpieces. I devoured this huge page-turner in no time at all. The graphic violence of the time contrasts its tender love-making. I shared Tom Builder’s angst when he returns to find his abandoned baby gone. Follett seems to be a wanna-be architect as he describes in glorious detail 12th Century churches and buildings. As a budding author, I learned a lot reading this book and its sequels. I’m still learning.

From the list:

The best books to contemplate for a time

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Book cover of The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose

By Umberto Eco

Why this book?

This stand-out historical mystery features serial murders occurring in a 14th-century Benedictine monastery in a remote area of northern Italy. I love a murder mystery with a Ten Little Indians set-up: a small group of people stranded together, unable to get outside help when a killer sets to work. Who’s next? is the fear that drives the story. 

How, wonders the monk investigating the murders, can a crime be solved when there is no pattern? The writing is so wonderful it lands me right there among the monks – and the murderer. Eco has written a story towering in its…

From the list:

The best mystery books where great art leads to even greater crimes

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Book cover of Dreamspell: A Medieval Time Travel Romance

Dreamspell: A Medieval Time Travel Romance

By Tamara Leigh

Why this book?

I just love time travel stories. If you couple that with the Medieval time period, I’m there. Tamara Leigh is one of the best Medieval authors out there. This was one of the first books I read of hers, and I was hooked. If you like time travel, romance, great history, and a fun and exciting plot, you will love this book!. 

From the list:

The best Christian romance novels that will keep you on the edge of your seat

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Book cover of The Raging Quiet

The Raging Quiet

By Sherryl Jordan

Why this book?

A writer of predominantly fantasy and historical fiction, Sheryl Jordan’s books have heart and soul. The Raging Quiet, a fantasy novel, introduces us to outsider Marnie, a young widow living in an isolated medieval community. Her only friends are a priest and a weird, "mad" youth called Raven, who she realizes is not mad at all, but deaf. When she teaches him "hand words" they are both suspected of witchcraft and find themselves under attack. It’s a book that pierces your heart and stays with you for a long time afterward. 

From the list:

The best books for an introduction to Aotearoa New Zealand's YA writers (IMO)

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Book cover of Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon

Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon

By M.F.K. Fisher

Why this book?

Looking back across six decades, MFK Fisher, one of the most astute and evocative travel and gastronomical authors ever to put pen to paper, recalls the year when everything for her was new: France, Europe, marriage, food, culture. Based in provincial Dijon, Mary studied French, shopped in the open markets, learned to cook, and jotted down astute observations concerning everyone she met, while her husband wrote his dissertation. My first encounter with Tours, in 1979, reminds me of Fisher’s encounter with Dijon in 1929. Like her, I was warmed by the joy of discovery, the sense that every stone and…

From the list:

The best books on the culture of France and on medieval/modern poverty

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Book cover of God's Playground: A History of Poland: The Origins to 1795, Vol. 1

God's Playground: A History of Poland: The Origins to 1795, Vol. 1

By Norman Davies

Why this book?

This is a provocative book. Its very title suggests how difficult it is to understand Polish history than other that a divine joke. Yet his scholarship is excellent and his insights enlightening.

This is especially true for the first volume, which deals with the emergence of the Polish kingdom from rude barbarism to a political and cultural force so powerful that, after its union with Lithuania, dominated East Central Europe for generations. The total collapse of the kingdom in the 18th century—largely to defects in the constitution that allowed foreign interference in the election of the king—has blinded us to…

From the list:

The best books on medieval Baltic history

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Book cover of The Rise of the Polish Monarchy: Piast Poland in East Central Europe, 1320-1370

The Rise of the Polish Monarchy: Piast Poland in East Central Europe, 1320-1370

By Paul W Knoll

Why this book?

The history of the Baltic Crusade cannot be understood in isolation from the Polish kingdom. This is the era when Poland recovers from the disasters begun by the Mongol invasions of the 1240s and begins its own eastward expansion.

As the title indicates, this is really the story of Casimir III, whose father arranged a Lithuanian marriage that brought peace on the eastern frontiers and later allowed him to expand toward Rus’ (especially Ukraine) when the minor states there collapsed. Casimir succeeded in everything except siring a legitimate male heir, even though that was the one task expected of every…

From the list:

The best books on medieval Baltic history

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Book cover of The Bride

The Bride

By Julie Garwood

Why this book?

I must have a Julie Garwood novel on my list—and this is one of my favorites in the Scottish medieval romance category. In my opinion, Garwood writes great romance novels, with strong, attractive, and likable characters. This novel offers a determined hero and an equally headstrong heroine, combined with murder and intrigue. You’ll also have a few smiles with this one. I always enjoy a little humor in romance novels.

From the list:

The best historical romance novels that will make you fall in love with the genre

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Book cover of Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

By Richard Platt, Stephen Biesty

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best children’s books in which to happily lose yourself for hours

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Book cover of The Castle of Crossed Destinies

The Castle of Crossed Destinies

By Italo Calvino

Why this book?

A group of disparate Medieval travellers finds themselves marooned in a spooky castle in the middle of a forest. Some strange enchantment means they’re unable to speak, so each tells their tale through the medium of the Tarot. I love Calvino – the kind of stone-cold genius who made everything look easy – and I love this book, which immerses you deep within the forest: an almost mythical realm where anything feels possible. 

From the list:

The best books where the forest feels like a character in its own right

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Book cover of Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

By Spyros Theocharis, Chrysa Sakel, Justina Theochari

Why this book?

I had never looked at or had an interest in graphic novels until I saw this graphic novel about the mother of one of the Byzantine Empire’s most important rulers, Basil II. But if there was ever going to be one I would read, it had to be a Byzantine one! I loved it! The vivid artwork in this book is superb and tells of Theophano’s life from innkeeper’s daughter to wife of not one, but two emperors. If you want to ease into Byzantine historical fiction, this graphic novel is a great places to start. 

From the list:

The best novels to explore the Byzantine world

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Book cover of The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950-1350

The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950-1350

By Robert S. Lopez

Why this book?

This is an academic book, but don’t let it scare you. As for me – it blew my mind! I had no idea of the level of economic sophistication and advance of Medieval Europe. Lopez explains in extraordinary detail the time period when our modern conception of money—as debt, as mortgage, as loans, and as an international object of commerce—was born.

From the list:

The best books that explore what money is, from beginning to Bitcoin

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Book cover of Blood and Roses: The Paston Family and the Wars of the Roses

Blood and Roses: The Paston Family and the Wars of the Roses

By Helen Castor

Why this book?

When I started writing about Alice de Bryene, basing my initial research on a single year of household accounts, I found this book inspiring. I wanted to explore Dame Alice’s family, her relationships with the wider community, and get an idea of what motivated her, even though it’s considered impossible to write medieval biography – there are just too few primary sources to construct a life. However, Blood and Roses demonstrates it can be done. The Pastons were different from Dame Alice – they came from humbler origins, were determined to ascend the social ladder, maintained voluminous correspondence, which illuminated…
From the list:

The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgment from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment

The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgment from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment

By Ethan H. Shagan

Why this book?

This book’s idea hooks you from the start. Why, he wonders, when people say, "Do you believe in God?" do we never reply, "…what do you mean, believe?" It turns out that ‘believing’ has, down the centuries, meant some pretty radically different things. Is ‘belief’ the same as ‘knowledge’ or ‘opinion,’ or is it the opposite of them? Ethan Shagan’s disarmingly simple idea is to track how the notion of belief shifted from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. If we do believe in God nowadays, we don’t do it the way our forebears did. And if we don’t,…

From the list:

The best books about atheism and religion

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Book cover of Kingmaker: Kingdom Come

Kingmaker: Kingdom Come

By Toby Clements

Why this book?

Bit of a cheat: four books in one. Researching the Wars of the Roses can often mean separating fact from fiction. When it comes to historical fiction on the Wars, authors have a tendency to impose their own theories on the facts and to ladle on the violence. The Wars were horribly violent at times, without question, and Toby Clements’s dazzling novels, which follow the fortunes of two outcasts, Thomas and Katherine, do not shy away from that. But these novels also focus on the humanity caught up in great events, to unforgettable effect.

From the list:

The Best books to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

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Book cover of The Collected Stories

The Collected Stories

By William Trevor

Why this book?

Lots of men write women in middle and older age well – Jim Harrison’s short story called "The Woman Lit by Fireflies" is incredible, and of course, there’s Shakespeare. I’d like to point you to the Irish writer William Trevor, though. His collected stories begin with one called "A Meeting in Middle Age" in which the character of Mrs. da Tanka (who is seeking grounds for her second husband to divorce her by paying a man to spend a sexless night with her in a hotel bed) crackles with dissatisfaction. Trevor writes aging people with a tenderness that isn’t always…

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The best books keeping it real about older women

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Book cover of The Warlock in Spite of Himself

The Warlock in Spite of Himself

By Christopher Stasheff

Why this book?

I think that all of us have dreams of being a secret hero. The hero of this novel is not one by accident, but by effort and ability. The story follows his effort to do the right thing, using his self-deprecating humour to give us glimpses of the real person. The flawed supporter that he has is both so very powerful and yet so vulnerable, something that all of us can understand. The main characters determination to do the right thing even at the risk of great personal loss, is the kind of thing that most of us hope we…

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The best books that will draw you into a completely different world

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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…

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The best books on medieval life

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Book cover of New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement

New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement

By Lindsey Tramuta

Why this book?

Written by my talented friend, a Paris-based journalist for publications such as The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar Magazine, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine. Lindsey Tramuta has taken her journalistic curiosity and written a cultural study-meets-guide book for those who are wanting to explore Paris from a new perspective, from one of a true, modern Parisienne.

From the list:

The best books with a taste of France

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Book cover of The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751

The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751

By Ian Wood

Why this book?

The Merovingians – the Frankish royal family – were the closest, and most powerful, neighbour to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages. They influenced trade, culture, and religion of early England, at times as partners, at times as hegemons of the island. At the same time, they built the foundation on which the Carolingians built their empire, the New Rome that would control the great swathes of Europe for centuries to come. Ian Wood’s excellent book is possibly the most detailed account of their rule ever written. 

From the list:

The best books on Barbarian Europe

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Book cover of Ptolemy’s Geography in the Renaissance

Ptolemy’s Geography in the Renaissance

By Zur Shalev, Charles Burnett

Why this book?

In the first century A.D., the ancient Greek polymath Claudius Ptolemy produced a work known today simply as the Geography. Ptolemy described the world as the Greeks and Romans knew it at the time—and he did so using latitude and longitude. The Geography largely disappeared from view in Europe during the Middle Ages, as did latitude and longitude on maps, but in the early 1400s the humanists of Florence rediscovered and revived the work, in ways that dramatically improved their understanding of the ancient world and their ability to explore and map it in the present. Shalev and Burnett…

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The best books on the geographical ideas that informed the age of discovery

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Book cover of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

By Henry Adams

Why this book?

Originally published privately in 1904 for his nieces, it was printed commercially a decade later and has stayed in print ever since. It is a “tour” of the two great cathedrals one from the 11th century and one from the 13th, and both among the wonders of the world. But it is much more: a cultural history of medieval Europe, a sympathetic understanding of the worldview of everyday people of that era, and a reading of some of the great thinkers—Abelard, Aquinas—of that era. He is a great storyteller, and since it is written for his two…

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The best travel books for wanderers

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Book cover of Cantares Gallegos

Cantares Gallegos

By Rosalia de Castro

Why this book?

To really understand Galicia I feel one needs to read some of the evocative Galician poets. Galicia is a land of poets and of writers, and the Galician language has been associated with poetry since the middle ages. Rosalia de Castro was known as ‘Galicia’s nightingale’ by her biographer Failde, and she loved her homeland with a real passion. This passion shines through in her works, none more so than Cantares Gallegas. Her poems are simply told tales of love and loss, of her beloved country and of her people, which evoke all the senses. Rosalia de Castro died…

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The best books that capture the magic of Galicia Spain

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Book cover of The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók

The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók

By Paul Edwards, Hermann Pálsson

Why this book?

What other nation can boast that it has a written account of the first people to inhabit it? Iceland was an uninhabited, volcanic island until the arrival of Vikings from Scandinavia and elsewhere in the 870s. This book, written in the 13th century, is a catalogue of some 3000 individuals who link the settlement period to the time of writing. Of these around 400 (including 13 women) are remembered as the landnámsmenn or original ‘land-takers’ who settled, distributed, named, and cultivated this empty land. In amongst the lists and genealogies are wonderful short anecdotes about their families, feuds, and…

From the list:

The best medieval books about Viking Islands

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Book cover of The Concise History of the Crusades

The Concise History of the Crusades

By Thomas F. Madden

Why this book?

This is the perfect “first book” for anyone interested in learning about the crusades without ideological bias or polemics.

In just 209 pages, Professor Thomas Madden has provided a cogent and comprehensive overview of the crusades. He writes in a fluid, accessible style rather than a turgid academic tone, yet his scholarship is impeccable. Madden opens with an explanation of the concept of crusading and proceeds to summarize the key events leading to and during the major crusades to the Holy Land. The book is chronological and ends with a chapter on the legacy of the crusades. Madden also provides…

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The best books on the Crusades and Crusader States

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Book cover of Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

By Rory Naismith

Why this book?

In my own writing I’ve recently ventured into the Anglo-Saxon period, so I know how hard it is to conjure the history of these early medieval centuries from the meagre source material that survives. Rory Naismith manages this brilliantly in his highly engaging history of London in the centuries between the end of Roman Britain and the Norman Conquest. Naismith’s earlier books are on coins and coinage, but he does not allow his specialism to pull the book off balance. It’s a comparatively short volume, but it provides a comprehensive overview of the emerging capital, and it wears its considerable…

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The best books on medieval Britain

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Book cover of Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works

Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works

By Herbert A. Davidson

Why this book?

The late Herbert Davidson wrote on medieval Jewish and Muslim philosophy, and Maimonides was a natural topic for him.  Of the roughly eight or ten biographical studies of Maimonides that I have read, Davidson’s stands out for the strength of its logical analysis and its great breadth.  It offers numerous insights into the polymath that is its subject.

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The best books about Jewish history

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Book cover of Scholastic Affect: Gender, Maternity and the History of Emotions

Scholastic Affect: Gender, Maternity and the History of Emotions

By Clare Monagle

Why this book?

When comparing the Protestant and Catholic versions of Mary, the Catholics always come out on top. The Protestant Mary is little more than a vessel to house the Godhead, while the Catholic Mary is the Queen of Heaven. Indeed, medieval sermons stories and miracles align Mary most closely with the superheroes of the modern era: ready to help at a moment’s notice, she takes on the worst of villains and always wins. Yet, there’s something about Mary… despite being best known for a quintessentially feminine act (giving birth), she’s really not your typical woman.  Why is that?

In this movingly…

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The best books about women in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance

The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance

By Christopher MacEvitt

Why this book?

There has been an explosion of interest in the Crusades since 9/11, with many medieval historians working hard to push back against over-simplified and often inaccurate depictions of Christian holy war and Christian-Muslim relations. This impressively researched book adds a fascinating new dimension to the story of the Crusades, examining relations between newly arrived European Catholics and the many and varied indigenous Levantine Christian communities in the decades following the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. MacEvitt rejects the dominant narrative, which held that the Frankish conquerors, imbued with the rigid prejudices of an intolerant European Christendom, had little interaction…
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The best books on medieval religious history

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Book cover of French Wine: A History

French Wine: A History

By Rod Phillips

Why this book?

This is the best general survey of French wine in English, from someone who not only teaches the history of modern France at his local university, but who also reviews and writes about wine for his city’s newspaper. As both an academic historian and a journalist, Phillips has written a riveting account of how wine was first introduced to France under the Romans, how many of the vineyards later came under the control of the Catholic church in the Middle Ages, how the French state attempted to control and regulate the production of wine in the nineteenth-century, and how smaller…
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The best books on French wine, history, and culture

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Book cover of The Black Death

The Black Death

By Rosemary Horrox

Why this book?

This is a wonderfully curated selection of sources drawn from many western European countries. They offer us a real sense of how individuals, groups, governments and the Church reacted to this, perhaps the most appalling natural disaster in European history. We learn not only of political but personal and psychological reactions to a plague which most contemporaries viewed as a manifestation of divine anger with a sinful world.
From the list:

The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

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

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

By Richard W. Kaeuper, Elspeth Kennedy

Why this book?

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.
From the list:

The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

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Book cover of Heir Apparent

Heir Apparent

By Vivian Vande Velde

Why this book?

I first read this book back in 2004 when I was spending way too much time with MMO games. This YA novel is certainly a product of a time where the tech of today was within sight but social media and smartphones didn't exist as we know them now. But the story more than makes up for this unfortunate timing with its witty characters, a structure reminiscent of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books and a fantasy game setting that leads this book to cross genres. I’m a big fan of sci-fi stories that follow the “Groundhog Day” structure…
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The best novels about virtual reality games

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Book cover of York: The Making of a City 1068-1350

York: The Making of a City 1068-1350

By Sarah Rees Jones

Why this book?

This is a masterful work covering the period from the Norman conquest to the Black Death. Sarah Rees Jones is one of my go-to scholars for medieval York, as well as an engaging writer. I particularly appreciate her looking beyond the importance of the royal government in the city’s development to include the strong influence of the Minster and other ecclesiastical institutions in the city as well as the significance of the people of York—merchants and craftspeople.

Check here first if you want a feel for how the city grew, who were the makers and shakers, how the neighborhoods developed,…

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The best books about medieval York

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Book cover of The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX

The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX

By William Chester Jordan

Why this book?

In his unsurpassed, informative, and intrinsically interesting study, Jordan reveals how France’s Louis IX settled over a thousand Muslims in France after his first Crusade during the thirteenth century. Jordan writes beautifully and through his careful research, engaging style, and polished prose, a forgotten world that few had imagined to even exist comes vividly alive.  

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The best books from Medieval European history to contemporary Japanese literature

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Book cover of Marguerite Makes a Book

Marguerite Makes a Book

By Bruce Robertson, Kathryn Hewitt

Why this book?

I added this book simply because I think it’s charming. Although written for children, grownups will love it, too! In 15th century Paris, Marguerite, the young daughter of a manuscript illuminator, has to help her aging father illuminate a Book of Hours for a very important lady or her father will lose both his commission and his reputation. This beautifully illustrated book joins Marguerite through each step of her illuminated book’s creation. You will be transported to medieval Paris and Marguerite’s workshop as you read and gaze at the pictures! This book was inspired by a rare collection of illuminated…

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The best books on medieval illumination

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Book cover of The Medieval Archer

The Medieval Archer

By Jim Bradbury

Why this book?

The controversial topic of the English longbow continues to haunt medieval warfare studies today. I was delighted to read this robust book which convinced me with its clear argument that the “long” bow was not itself a revolutionary new weapon of the later Middle Ages, but a bow that had evolved over time and which had always been significant in medieval warfare. Throughout there are lots of absorbing accounts of battles.
From the list:

The best books on medieval warfare (if you love knights and castles)

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Book cover of Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

By Sara Cockerill

Why this book?

Eleanor of Castile, who was the first wife of Edward I, is one of the most fascinating of English queens. Posthumously, thanks to the series of crosses her husband erected in her memory, she gained the reputation of a perfect, peerless queen. However, the real Eleanor was very much a controversial figure, renowned for her acquisitiveness. Eleanor has been the subject of much academic study in the work of John Carmi Parsons and others, however, I particularly recommend Sara Cockerill’s recent study for its compelling narrative and detailed research. Cockerill brings this fascinating figure to life, giving equal weight to…

From the list:

The best books on England’s medieval queens

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Book cover of Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

By Judith Herrin

Why this book?

This is the ideal introduction to the thousand-year, Greek-speaking empire of Byzantium that lasted right through the Middle Ages until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. A joy to read, and beautifully illustrated, it brings together the strange contradictions of an empire that was at once intensely Christian and spiritual but also loved power and wealth and invented the arts of diplomacy as we know them today.

From the list:

The best books about Greece and Greek civilization, old and new

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Book cover of Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination

Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination

By Paul Freedman

Why this book?

This is one of the books I wish I had written! Although it is a scholarly book based on the author’s research, it reads like a compellingly told story. It’s full of imaginative and vivid detail. Paul Freedman asks why there was such a high demand for spices in medieval Europe, examines the practicalities of trade and travel that enabled Europeans to acquire them, the ways they used them as commodities and the cultural meanings of taste and what changes in taste tell us about societal development. 

From the list:

The best books on food and drink in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

By Catherine Nixey

Why this book?

You can’t overstate the impact of religion on this tumultuous period. The transition from paganism to Christianity not only coincided with, but greatly impacted everything that happened in early medieval Europe. Catherine Nixey’s controversial book focuses on that transition and shows it in full, gory detail – the violence it spurned, and the destruction it caused to the ancient culture that preceded the onset of Christianity. A necessary read for understanding the full picture of the 4th and 5th centuries in Europe.

From the list:

The best books on Barbarian Europe

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Book cover of Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

By Judith Herrin

Why this book?

Between antiquity and the middle ages, between Byzantium and the West, between Christendom and Islam... For four hundred years Ravenna sat at the tipping points of all the great transitions that together shaped Europe. Judith Herrin tells its fascinating history and presents a parade of forceful and creative characters with great insight and a wonderfully light touch, in a book as beautifully produced as it is profoundly researched.

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The best books on the real Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Silk Road: A New History

The Silk Road: A New History

By Valerie Hansen

Why this book?

The Silk Road is a nineteenth-century invention, but the movements of people, things, and ideas in and through the immense and often terrifying space between modern Iran and China generated change in every sphere and engaged an astonishing variety of people. Valerie Hansen’s exploration of seven places along the imagined route and what has been found in them offers a lucid and lively introduction to a wider medieval world and how we know about it. 

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The best books on the real Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron

By Lloyd Alexander

Why this book?

I read the second book in the Prydain Chronicles first, so it remains my favorite for introducing me to this magical version of medieval Wales and an Assistant Pig-Keeper. While I, like Taran, wanted to avoid the mundanities of life and skip straight to the magic swords, it was the grounding in the reality of chores that made me believe in the world. It also made me believe that if I had the good fortune to discover a portal to Prydain, that I could at least take up a career in the scullery, the forge, or possibly as a pig-keeper,…

From the list:

The best books for feeling like you scrubbed floors in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Tale of Gwyn

The Tale of Gwyn

By Cynthia Voigt

Why this book?

When I first encountered this book in the late 1980s, it was titled Jackaroo--named for the Robin Hood-like folk hero in the non-magical secondary world called the Kingdom. However, the star of the story is Gwyn, so the renaming makes sense. The book is riveting in its action moments, but somehow I'm even more drawn to the scenes of daily toil. I have absolutely no idea how Voigt can make scrubbing the floor seem so important! (This is the real floor-scrubbing book of this list.) The Tale of Gwyn evokes a medieval European past that feels more real than…

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The best books for feeling like you scrubbed floors in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune

The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune

By Carol Lansing

Why this book?

It’s impossible to understand the turbulence that frequently swept over Florence in those years without some sense of what the magnate class was all about: its pride and its violence, its lawlessness, its emphasis on knighthood, and its private military forces. Lansing shows how the magnate class evolved as a distinctive culture, becoming powerful and disruptive to the city’s peace well beyond even what its considerable economic clout would suggest. She places a lot of emphasis on the role of women among the magnates, even though women could never be full members of the lineage, since they married into other…

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The best books on medieval Florence

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Book cover of History of Florence 1200-1575

History of Florence 1200-1575

By Najemy

Why this book?

This concise history of Florence is a great starting point. It traces the evolution of the city from a medieval commune to a republic, covering intellectual, political, cultural, religious, and economic trends and developments over the centuries. Its scope is broad, and one of its strengths is its continuity, as it follows various threads through time. Najemy is a well-known historian of Florence, and this popular history is an excellent resource.

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The best books on medieval Florence

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Book cover of Dino Compagni's Chronicle of Florence

Dino Compagni's Chronicle of Florence

By Daniel E. Bornstein

Why this book?

If you want to learn about medieval Florence, why not go directly to the source? Dino Compagni was a Florentine merchant, a member of the silk guild, and an active member of the city’s government, contemporary with Dante. He was right in the middle of things during that turbulent period—he saw it all and took part in a lot of it. His chronicle, which covers from about the year 1280 to the beginning of the fourteenth century, relates the harm he perceived coming from factional strife. Bornstein’s translation is clear and readable, and his extensive notes and introduction help to…

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The best books on medieval Florence

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Book cover of Camille Claudel: A Life

Camille Claudel: A Life

By Odile Ayral-Clause

Why this book?

This biography is a must-read for anyone who is interested in art, history, and strong, powerful women. It was the first book I read about the great 19th-century sculptress, Camille Claudel. “As recently as twenty years ago, in France, Camille Claudel was known only to a handful of admirers. The brief moments of applause she had enjoyed during her lifetime had never led to important commissions, and the sales of her pieces remained few and far…Camille Claudel displayed many characteristics that contribute to the weaving of myths: she was beautiful, talented, witty, and fiercely independent. She was connected to some…
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The best novels that capture the life, strength, struggles, and victories of known and unknown heroines

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Book cover of The Queen's Man: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries)

The Queen's Man: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries)

By Sharon Kay Penman

Why this book?

Bastard-born Justin de Quincy becomes ‘the Queen’s Man’ after carrying an important letter from a dying man to Eleanor of Aquitaine. He is charged by Eleanor to keep her son John out of mischief and thwart his efforts to become king while she sets about raising the ransom money to bail Richard the Lionheart out of his prison in Austria. As a roving trouble-shooter, Justin is supported by the under-sheriff of Hampshire and a sergeant, Jonas, but things become complicated after he falls for the Lady Claudine, who is close to John, while the Queen’s double agent, Durant, also poses…

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The best medieval murders and mysteries in fiction

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Book cover of By Chance or Providence

By Chance or Providence

By Becky Cloonan

Why this book?

This graphic novel is composed of three hauntingly beautiful stories written and drawn by Becky Cloonan. It’s a book that I have found myself returning to many times and it often sits on my desk as a point of inspiration when I am lettering my own work (lettering is the process of creating the word balloons and design elements in a graphic novel). Becky Cloonan’s art is something to behold and captures a spirit of dread, foreboding, and beauty. These are dark, moody tales of cursed love that would appeal to anyone who enjoys the poetic and melancholic. They are…

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The best fantasy graphic novels for kids and adults who love adventure and strange mystery

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Book cover of The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600

The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600

By Alfred W. Crosby

Why this book?

This is one of the most lucid explanations of our modern culture of numbers, and deals with topics ranging from music and architecture to, of course, money. It was the “big think” book that most inspired me to consider money not as something in and of itself, but as an artifact of a culture, transformed by time, place, and the genius of individuals.

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The best books that explore what money is, from beginning to Bitcoin

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Book cover of The Age of Pilgrimage: The Medieval Journey to God

The Age of Pilgrimage: The Medieval Journey to God

By Jonathan Sumption

Why this book?

There’re numerous books on medieval pilgrimage, and even though I don’t agree with all of Sumption’s conclusions, I’m recommending this for its readability and fascinating anecdotes and quotations, drawn from contemporary accounts, which were invaluable for my research. It’s informative about both the devout and more worldly travelers, kings, queens, clerics and nobles, and the common people of the day.

One major drawback is that his focus is largely on France and Rome, while Jerusalem, Santiago, and the German pilgrimage sites don’t get the attention they deserve. But this just demonstrates how popular pilgrimage was throughout the Middle Ages and…

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The best books about medieval pilgrimage and why you wouldn’t have wanted to travel with Margery Kempe

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Book cover of The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom

The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom

By Paulo Coelho, Julia Sanches

Why this book?

This book actually preceded the more famous Alchemist written by Paolo Coelho, but served as its inspiration. It is one of two autobiographical works by Coelho and recounts his journey across Northern Spain along the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago. When Coelho walked the road in the 1980s, it was neglected and almost entirely forgotten. His work has inspired hundreds of thousands to revisit that magical path! I was fortunate enough to walk the road in 2007 and I credit that experience to reading The Pilgrimage at 15.

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The best books to make you rethink life and learning

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Book cover of The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700

The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700

By Ronald Hutton

Why this book?

I’m passionate about writing well-researched history which appeals to the general reader and endeavours to present compelling, authentic pictures of times past. Hutton’s book was a great help in understanding the religious and secular festivals which were celebrated by Dame Alice, her peers, and workers, on the days when she served high-status food at her dinner table. Together they appear to have enjoyed many traditional rituals, like Candlemas, Plough days, and the Harvest festival.

Here’s one example: Hutton emphasizes New Year’s Day was important for gift-giving and feasting: on January 1st, 1413 Dame Alice bought gloves and rings for her…

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The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of The Foundations of Gentry Life: The Multons of Frampton and Their World 1270-1370

The Foundations of Gentry Life: The Multons of Frampton and Their World 1270-1370

By Peter Coss

Why this book?

When I was at school medieval social classes were depicted as “those who pray, those who fight, and those who work” – a narrow demarcation that excluded the “middling sort”. Since then there’s been considerable work on local and regional studies and the rise of gentry households, who quickly established a material culture where literacy, display, hospitality, and relationships with the Church were key to their success. Coss’s book provides a fascinating in-depth example and I particularly appreciated his use of the Luttrell Psalter to illustrate the behaviour and aspirations of the Multons.

Just one drawback: The scope of this…

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The best books about medieval life and widows who prefer independence to remarriage

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Book cover of Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Necropolis: London and Its Dead

By Catharine Arnold

Why this book?

London is basically built over layer upon layer of graves. I was thoroughly fascinated by the Bronze Age tumulus on Parliament Hill, which Arnold calls one of the oldest burial grounds in the city, predating Highgate Cemetery by over 4000 years.

The book really grabbed me when it explored the plague pits of the Middle Ages. I could have read much more about those centuries, although so little seems to be left above ground to mark them. The Tudor chapters were equally fascinating.

Once the book moves into the exquisite Victorian-era graveyards, Arnold hits her stride. If you are new…

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Book cover of Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me

Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me

By Matthew Lewis

Why this book?

Matt Lewis is a brilliant historian and writer. This biography of Richard III is beautifully written. Matt takes us through Richard’s life from his time as a young boy to his death at Bosworth. Matt’s passion for this monarch is clear, and he makes a very strong case for why he believes the crown was stolen out from under him. Well done, Matt.

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The best books on the middle ages for those with an odd fascination for filth and torture

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