Book Review: The Time Travellers Guide To Medieval England.

See Historyland’s review for this book by Ian Mortimer.

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England.
Ian Mortimer.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Vintage (1 Oct 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1845950992
ISBN-13: 978-1845950996
Appearance and Handling:
I have nothing against hardback books, indeed I have hardback books, but in the case of the Time Traveller I got it in paperback. Why? Because by the time I picked it up, I was relatively disenchanted by the Medieval period. The paperback is a handy single volume with 292 reading pages and a bibliography, notes and index, that you can just about read in a week, it will not seem long enough. It has 16 pages of colour pictures (mostly from illuminated texts etc) with an average of 2 to 3 pictures per page and compliment the book nicely.
The book is predominantly white, and a collection of whimsical Medieval drawings are scattered here and there around it, in an attractively offbeat manner. It will fit in a decent sized coat pocket and feels sturdy in your hand for a paperback and will take a good bit of abuse. As with all paperbacks though the front cover will tend to curl and the pages turn wavy, if you leave it sitting somewhere too long.

“The Past is a foreign country, they did things differently there…”
So reads the beginning of the synopsise on the back sandwiched in by adulation praise from literary reviewers.
It has been said that Ian Mortimer has probably been responsible for putting Medieval History back in the hands of the general public. In my case he is certainly responsible for putting Medieval History back on my shelves, for I had grown wary of the subject for some time, that is until I decided to by this book.

For some reason, sometimes even more so than ancient history, the middle ages of European History are some of the most weighty, dry and confusing books you will ever read. I don’t understand why so many authors make it so complicated, but when they get into politics and social relevance of this and that, and the obligatory spiders web of intrigue which, often I have come out the other end of, no clearer than before and have to re read whole sections back,  it makes me dismissive of What should be just as engaging as the history of the  modern era.
The various odious stigmas attached to Mediaeval History is why Ian Mortimer wrote the Time Travellers Guide back in 2008, but the genesis of the idea back in 1995 when he met his future wife to discuss it.

It presents a readable, accessible, understandable view of what life was like in the 14th century. Here you are lead through a world you have never known, as you read it you are tempted to believe you are actually time travelling, and find out that this period in history actually does affect even our own modern time and that far from being backwards the people that lived then where actually advanced in many ways. And that all the Romans brought had not entirely been forgotten and that they had knowledge that you’d never have credited them with. There was colour, music and ways to enjoy yourself in a difficult period of time. In short this book is an eye opener that will make you if not force you to look at History and the way it can be presented in a different way. As you read your guide book and find out how to dress, where to eat and where to sleep, architecture and how things work, even how to speak with a few helpful ye olde phrases, you begin to imagine yourself actually there and being delighted you have come.

Have no fear though, for all those worried that this is some kind of fairy tale with no dirt or realism there are warnings about what brooks you shouldn’t go near, the seedier areas, mortality rates and what diseases to look out for and why you should really pop back nowadays super quick if you get come down with something, because most of the doctors where… well I’ll let you find out. All in all it kills the stigma of Mediaeval life as just endless plagues and psychopathic churchmen and greedy kings, where the rich got richer and the poor died young, it paints real life and is as thought provoking as it is entertaining and informative. Even people with no interest in history should read this, for it can be read for just the pleasure of a good read, escapism and a tale well told, or it can be read for study, I would read it for both because it is one of the best books, if not the best General History book I have read on any subject I cannot fault this book in any way. If you have never read about Medieval life, or have and have forgotten why you like it, you must read this, few windows to the past have been thrown open so wide as they have by this author. Take a look, the sights are worth it.

Josh.

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