A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

I’d always heard this book was “the gold standard” for history books on the Middle Ages. It’s been on my radar for years, and for some reason, it kept getting backburnered. Now that I’ve gone through it, I can honest say that it’s earned the high praise. As an overview of a single century, it provides both a microcosm of the Middle Ages as a whole and a fascinating storyscape of the events that defined the 14th century. There is nothing in this book that’s overly difficult to consume, making it an ideal read for both enthusiast and expert alike. Tuchman knows her stuff, and she presents it in a way that speaks to the audience at their own level without insulting either end of the spectrum. That’s so hard to do.

Not only is this book fair and balanced in regards to the distaster, drama, and people involved, it makes it a point of telling you so and demonstrating it at every turn by comparing the information to some of the more grandiose fallacies that are often believed. And as balanced as it is, it’s still pretty clear that this is a century you wouldn’t want to visit, let alone be a part of. It’s the kind of book that, the deeper it goes, the more you will appreciate living in your own day and time, with all of the modern comforts to which you’ve grown accustomed.

5 stars

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