Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book Review: The History of the Medieval World

I did not enjoy writing and presenting book reviews as a student.  Why would I jump at the chance to write a book review now?  Because the book is Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Medieval World, a 700+ page second volume of what promises to be a full history of the whole world. 

Peace Hill Press and Norton gave bloggers an opportunity to look at the book in advance of its release date, and I jumped. We have enjoyed Ms. Bauer’s Story of the World series for children as well as some of her books for adults.  I love her writing style and could hardly wait to see this latest massive undertaking.

And massive it is.  Nope, I have not read the whole thing, but I have read 10 or so chapters, all the chapter headings, and pages at random.  I will begin with a bottom-line summary:  I love it.  I want to buy it and read it and keep it on my bookshelf and pull it out again and again. 

Each of the 85 chapters contains in its title and subtitle a little history lesson.  I learned just by perusing these headings.  For example,

Chapter One
One Empire, Under God
Between 312 and 330, Constantine imposes his will on the Roman Empire and gives the Christian church a hand with doctrine

I knew a little about that.  The chapter reads beautifully, and I learned much more than I ever knew. But how about this one?

Chapter Fifteen
Northern Ambitions
Between 420 and 464, the Liu Song displaces the Jin, the Bei Wei of the north brew magic potions, and the first state persecution of the Buddhists begins

Who persecuted the Buddhists? The Confucians?  That’s what I guessed.  But no!—the emperor was part of an oddball sect of Taoists.  And the magic potions?  Enlightenment and eternal youth, available in a cup.

The narratives are lively, and the maps are not overwhelming. I would like to have seen more illustrations. Each chapter ends with a timeline connecting its events with events of the previous chapter and elsewhere in the world. 

Like most public and private schooled U.S. students of the last generation or so, I feel fairly comfortable with U.S. history, passingly familiar with a bit of European history,  and woefully lacking in the whole rest of the world’s history.  I’ve been learning along with my daughter.  The History of the Medieval World will be part of my life-long education.

Disclosure:  Peace Hill Press is entering each Blogger who posts a review a chance in a drawing for a $100 gift certificate for Peace Hill Press.  They provided access to an advance galley for this review.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really cool. I would have had a hard time reading the book on the computer, I think. These sound like great books to read for pleasure and keep for general knowledge in our family library. Thanks!

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