21 February 2009 @ 01:41 am
Yet more books about the middle ages  
Friends:

What does everybody think about Norman F. Cantor? Will he be useful to me in my "Smells Like the Holy Spirit" research, or does he do "Bad Old Days" writing? Any books in particular I should read?

I keep realizing that I know next to nothing about the middle ages, because of things like this. Norman F. Cantor is a very prominent author of medieval history, and I really have no concept of his work. And yet, somehow, I still know more about the middle ages than most people off the street. There's something wrong in that.

Yes, I am still intending to work on my novel-y thing, even if it means being very silly indeed in the process. And dedicating NaNoWriMo 2009 to it.
 
 
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[identity profile] ciorstan.livejournal.com on February 21st, 2009 08:53 am (UTC)
::enraged hairball choking noises::

The only thing I can whole-heartedly recommend in his body of work is "The Medieval Reader," which... he edited, he did not write. He suffers from choosing an overly-broad topic for the length of the work contemplated, bad editing and dumbing down for the masses.

That said, when he does get his stride, he is an entertaining writer. And certainly don't trust him for anything he says in the last two books he wrote prior to his death: "In the Wake of the Plague," and "The Last Knight."

Now, changing the subject slightly... William Manchester can DIAF, so to speak. Worst. Medieval. "Scholarly". Author. Evah.
ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on February 22nd, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)
OK, so the vote from Ciorstan is "nay". :D

I asked because I was looking at the list of the best books about the middle ages on Good Reads, and Norman Cantor's books had five or six of the top fifty places. I'm going to assume that's because he's 1) prolific, and 2) widely read, and not necessarily a comment on value.

What do you think of Barbara Tuchman? A Distant Mirror was written in the '70s, and I'm wondering how dated it will seem now. The books by Joseph and Frances Gies were written around then, and I've been skimming them lately -- I read most of them in my teens -- and they are striking me as a little dated. I'm not sure what it is, but it's a bit like reading a math textbook from the '50s. I think it might just be that the "cultural voice" has changed, if you know what I mean.

Now, changing the subject slightly... William Manchester can DIAF, so to speak. Worst. Medieval. "Scholarly". Author. Evah.

Tell me more! He's in the top 50, too.
[identity profile] ciorstan.livejournal.com on February 22nd, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)
If you think The Venerable Gieses are a little on the dry side, you will not be able to make it through Tuchman without falling into a coma. Dryyyyyyy. However, she, at least, has her shit togher facts straight.

Manchester was not a historian, he was a reporter. He has been responsible for the circulation of the worst factoids in circulation of the Middle Ages; at one point I tracked back exactly WHO asserted the medievals used to cover up the taste and smell of rotting meat with spices, and sure enough, it's in this book. Let's count them, NINE errors of fact in the first ten pages...

I'm sorry, we don't eat spoiled meat because IT MAKES US SICK. Medieval folks were just as likely to die because of eating spoiled food as we are today-- and less likely to survive because of, yanno, no antibiotics to kill the crap running rampant through one's system. They weren't real big on cause and effect back then, but they were just as capable of observing that BAD MEAT = SICK as we are.

Oh, and the kicker? He admits IN THE BOOK that he'd written this piece of trash when he was ill and needed the money, and later conceded that it was not... a good piece of scholarship.

Um. Am I ranting?
[identity profile] lady-guenievre.livejournal.com on May 24th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
Rant on and PREACH IT. If only that book AND that myth would GO THE F*** away....
[identity profile] lady-guenievre.livejournal.com on May 24th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
I *really* loved Distant Mirror - am rereading it now, and it's honestly why I play the time period I do (was leaning that way before I read it, but that solidified it). I didn't find her dry at all.

Last Knight got thrown across the room. Almost literally. Major historical figures' only motivation was that they had Teh Gay? Complete BS. (Not a comment on the figure's actual orientation, just on the presentation thereof).
[identity profile] stringmonkey.livejournal.com on June 23rd, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Can you tell I've got a lot of waiting to do today? Just 'cuz I'm reading six-month-old blog posts.

From my perspective, the best thing Cantor ever wrote was "Inventing the Middle Ages," in which he outlines the biases that underlie a number of professional schools of thought on the medieval period. Not only can it be helpful in interpreting conclusions reached by other writers, but it's delightfully gossipy in places.
ext_46111[identity profile] msmcknittington.livejournal.com on June 23rd, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
The internet is forever, right? :P

That does sound interesting, if only to understand and identify the schools of thought.
[identity profile] stringmonkey.livejournal.com on June 23rd, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
It's also useful for understanding why certain writers go picnicking on one another.