The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas by the National Geographic Sociey

Title: The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas
Authors: John M. Thompson (main); Dan O’Toole (sidebars); Bethanne Kelly Patrick (book outline); Lauren Pruneski (world maps and thematic spreads); Tiffin Thompson (city spreads); and Roderick Martin (chapter 1)
Published: 2009
Pages: 364
Rating: ****
medieval worldSumptuously illustrating the vivid parade of a thousand years of history, this comprehensive historical atlas concentrates on the Mediterranean world but also shows what happened across the globe between A.D. 400 and 1500 —from the fall of Rome to the age of discovery. Every page glistens with period works of art, fascinating maps, quotes from medieval figures, close-ups of intriguing artifacts, and rich landscape photographs of the places where battles were fought and monarchs were crowned. For every century, a signature city is spotlighted to represent that era’s developments. Time lines connect the many dramatic events that took place in these dark and exciting times, which continue to shape our world today. Written by a team of veteran National Geographic writers, this richly illustrated reference includes full index, reading list, and glossary (from Goodreads).
Thoughts: My parents gave me this book for Christmas… two years ago I think? Anyway I’ve had it for a while. Last summer I finally started it and made some serious inroads but between moving from my apartment to back home it got lost in the shuffle and its only now that we’ve moved states that I picked it up this week and finished the last few chapters.
     The book tells, in very general terms, the story of Europe from the fall of Rome in the 400s through to the end of the 1400s and the beginning of the Renaissance. Although each chapter does discuss the near East (and the chapter from the years 600-700 is almost entirely focused on the birth of Islam) the focus is clearly on Europe, with England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Byzantine Empire receiving the most coverage, although places like Spain, Poland, and Scandinavia are mentioned. Because each chapter covers the entire continent and the events that take place each century during the middle ages, attempting to write in-depth and in detail is impossible; the book is a very general overarching look of Europe during the middle ages.
     Although I would rare the writing/content of the book itself as just okay and, to be honest, somewhat on the dry side, where the book really shines is with its pictures, illustrations, and other features that accompany each chapter. First off, the pictures alone make this book worth it. Each page has at least one picture, some even taking up an entire page,that are full color of either artifacts, ruins, cityscapes, maps, or art from the period. If there wasn’t so much text it would definitely qualify as a coffee table book with the quality of its pictures and other images. And even though it has taken me a while to actually read the book, several times I have sat paging through looking at the pictures and reading their captions- some times up to a half hour! There is seriously so much to look at in this book.
     Besides the pictures, what I really loved about The Medieval World was the features they included within each chapter. There is a glossary in the back and words are defined in boxes at the bottom of some pages. To be honest, I didn’t need to consult these but as the book is geared more towards general and basic information about the era I think these features are appropriate. I also really liked the quotes that are from the period that are dispersed through each chapter in large bold red text in the areas where appropriate. I have been wanting to read some works from the medieval era for some time, and although I enjoyed these quotes I am still not sure where to start. But my interest is piqued so that is something that I will have to think on.
     Throughout the chapters there are also various sidebars on different topics: Personae, Locus, Edifices, Innovations, and Arts and Letters. I really enjoyed the small bios about people such as Joan of Arch, King Arthur, and Hieronymus Bosch and the Arts and Letters sidebars. But I ended up wanting to read more about these people and written works rather than the return to the more general text. I also really liked the city pages in each chapter: a two page spread that details one city that played an important role during the events that were discussed in the chapter. Many of these cities I have visited myself so it was nice to ‘revisit’ them in the middle ages.
     And although the book is overwhelmingly centered on Europe, towards the end of each chapter there is a two page world map and text that goes into some detail about what was happening in the rest of the world at that time. Of course, the information given in very basic and with not a lot of detail but I did appreciate that some effort was made to bring the rest of world events from this time into the book.
      Also, at the end of each chapter there is a spread on a different theme: toys, food, music, clocks, etc which I very much enjoyed, especially seeing the pictures of artifacts from the era relating to the topic. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, if not so much from the text then from the pictures and other features that really succeed in engaging me and bring the era to life. To be honest, I am not sure that I will read this book again, but I can guarantee that I will be flipping through it and stopping at whatever image or graphic piques my fancy!
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About hillarypat

I'm a recent college graduate and this is my blog where I talk about whatever happens to be on my mind- mostly books!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books, History, Nonfiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas by the National Geographic Sociey

  1. Pingback: October Round Up! | ahorseandacarrot

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