Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Middle Ages by Edwin S. Grosvenor (2016)

This was a collection of articles written for Horizon, a “bi-monthly hardback” published by American Heritage from 1958 to 1989, the year after I graduated from high school.  The front cover and title page imply that Edwin S. Grosvenor is the author; he is not - I suppose he is the editor, although I’m going to guess “gatherer” or “included” would be more correct (if not very scholarly or proper terms; I never claimed to be anything other than myself, and that is no scholar, and barely proper).  The articles are a mixed bag; short, some of them crisply so, others not so successfully.  Only one of the authors is a woman, Regine Pernoud, a French historian and archivist who died nine years ago.  As far as I can tell, every writer in the book was white.   1958-1989 wasn’t really a time of “woke-ness”, so this should come as no surprise.  I am glad we live in the time we do now, when more people are getting chances to express their opinions and share their research.  Or research.  I think in 1958, if you were a black graduate student interested in medieval history, finding a school to admit you was difficult, let alone finding a library or archive to do research in.

There were eleven articles - they aren’t essays - and they read as if they had pictures accompanying them.  Alas, no pictures in this book.  I liked Regine Pernoud’s article on Charlemagne - I never quite realized how closely he was aligned to the Roman Empire rather than being French; they were speaking a language closer to Latin than French even.  The French certainly that claimed Charlemagne as their own, but he’s really the first European?  That’s a very unscholarly guess.

Morris Bishop’s take on 1066 was interesting.  Frederic Grunfeld’s article about the troubadours, while good, still felt dated; he compared them to The Rolling Stones, which instantly put the article sometime long before now.  I liked Philip Ziegler’s article on the Black Death as well; Ziegler wrote a book about the subject that I may go look up; I imagine this is a minuscule version of his book.

The most interesting of all the articles was Alfred Duggan’s look at Richard I and Saladin.  Duggan was a best selling writer of historical fiction in the middle of the last century; I have some of his books on my list to read, as I think they’ve all been re-released as e-books with snazzy new covers.  He was known for his meticulous research.

I picked out these two descriptions of Richard I and Saladin to show how vile they both were:

"On August 20, recognizing that the agreed ransom would never be handed over, Richard killed the soldiers in the surrendered garrison, along with their wives and children, some 2,700 people in all, excluding some wealthy emirs who bought their survival through the payment of individual ransoms. Having gained one impressive victory..."  An impressive victory that he got through slaughtering children.  A true lion - male lions will slay the cubs of rivals.
 "The Muslims, while killing the unarmed citizens, also had killed all the pigs, and fragments of pork had been deliberately mingled with fragments of Christians, so burial was a slow process."  Saladin was no better.  What a monstrous thing to do.


I don't think Duggan came down hard enough on these two beasts.  The last paragraph in the article, while not a lovefest, was still admiration about their gallantry and peace-keeping abilities.  I don't feel they deserved.  King John and Richard III get bad, bad press - but Richard I deserves some too.

Edwin Grosvenor is the great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell - thank you Wikipedia!


The Middle AgesThe Middle Ages by Edwin S. Grosvenor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a collection of articles written for Horizon, a “bi-monthly hardback” published by American Heritage from 1958 to 1989, the year after I graduated from high school. The front cover and title page imply that Edwin S. Grosvenor is the author; he is not - I suppose he is the editor, although I’m going to guess “gatherer” or “included” would be more correct (if not very scholarly or proper terms; I never claimed to be anything other than myself, and that is no scholar, and barely proper). The articles are a mixed bag; short, some of them crisply so, others not so successfully. Only one of the authors is a woman, Régine Pernoud, a French historian and archivist who died nine years ago. As far as I can tell, every writer in the book was white. 1958-1989 wasn’t really a time of “woke-ness”, so this should come as no surprise. I am glad we live in the time we do now, when more people are getting chances to express their opinions and share their research. Things aren't perfect, but they are better. Alfred Duggan's article on Saladin and Richard I was the most interesting (and eye opening: these guys were monsters). I also liked Pernoud's article about Charlemagne. Nothing of note here; feel comfortable skipping this book.


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