On Monday, I finished reading The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer. This is the sort of history book I love. It’s written for the average person and is easy to read. It contains plenty of interesting material, but not so much detail that it becomes overwhelming.
The book is broken up into chapters by category, including: What to Wear, Traveling, Health and Hygiene, and the Law, among others. The effect is a general overview of what life was like for people in different classes of society during the fourteenth century in England. This is not the book that is going to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about all the things that happened during the fourteenth century. It is the book you will want to read if you were the person sitting in school very much enjoying this period of history when you studied it, wishing the unit would last a little bit longer. With this book I was finally able to begin to satiate my appetite for crazy medical theories, tales of executions (WHY? AND WHEREFORE?), more (ALWAYS MORE!) information about plague years, details about what differences class & gender made at the time, and what daily life might have looked like. What I ended up thinking about as I read was something that I have realized but never applied to this time period, which is that people don’t often do stuff that doesn’t make sense. I never thought about why it made sense to behead people or boil puppies and use the liquid for medicine. I mean, those are not things I think are okay (let’s assume we’re all decidedly NOT okay with all of the above), but as I read I could begin to understand why they were done. And please let me make clear that the author did not argue that puppies and criminals with heads just have it too good these days and those medieval people really knew their stuff. He shared a bit of the thinking behind it all, is what I’m saying.
I use books like this in much the same way I use a compilation album. I think they’re a great entry point to further study–an easy way to get a general feel for things, organize my thoughts a bit, and get information about primary sources to flesh out any details that interest me.
I’m glad to have this on hand for homeschooling, also. We just finished up the medieval period this past year, but we’ll cover it again in a few years (we use Susan Wise Bauer’s schedule for our history studies, which I’ll discuss in another post). By that time, the boys should be ready for a little more detail and extra reading on the time period, and, while I doubt I’d have them read the whole book (they’ll be 14 and 12), I’ll probably share excerpts.
So! The book! I liked it. Definitely read it if you’re into that sort of thing.