Thursday, February 16, 2017

Medieval Europe by Chris Wickham

Well there won’t be much from me for the next few months as I plough through about eight books that form the compulsory pre-reading for my Cambridge course in Medieval Studies later this year. I’ve always been attracted to the medieval period, but knew nothing much about it. While this book by academic Chris Wickham is not on that list, it was in fact the impetus for me to enrol in the course in the first place. It is an utterly fascinating study of the entire medieval period, sweeping across Europe and into Byzantium from the beginning of the period and the fall of the Roman empire, through to the end, which Wickham believes is marked by the Reformation in the 1500s. It’s incredibly dense and very soon I found I needed a pencil for underlining key points, and then that of course developed into a full summary of each chapter. Its focus is primarily political, because that is what people are, political animals. And tied in with that is the ownership of land and the resources that brings contrasted against the practice of taxation. How a society handles its money it seems, is the most important thing of all! It certainly drives political and social development and the differences between his examples are sometimes astonishing. Threaded through all this is the other player, the church. I knew all this but I didn’t, I really didn’t. It’s been one eureka moment after the next for me as I’ve ploughed through this tome. It’s a serious undertaking, like studying something properly, to read this book but it is utterly wonderful.

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