Life in a Medieval Village

Life in a Medieval Village

In it’s simplicity, Life in a Medieval Village reminds me of my 8th grade humanities class. The problem is, that class had a lot more style. We even had a medieval fair in the school library at the end of the semester. But this book is extremely well-researched. So well in fact that after reading one anecdote on a certain subject I often had to skip over four more. It’s full of quote after quote from contemporary court rolls too, also demanding to be skipped. But at least it made this already short book a quick read. This would actually be a great book to hand out in those humanities classes. All the information is here, in a way that anyone can understand, and it’s right to the point. And the lack of style, while boring for the layman, means no unnecessary homework time for a high schooler. It’s also not written in grand academic style, which would be a total snoozefest.

What I did find interesting was how very intermingled religion, politics, and the economy were at this period. They were all linked, as the peasants and villeins were to the lord they served, and remained virtually locked together this way for hundreds of years. While this book in theory is intended to describe life in medieval villages across Europe, it focuses almost exclusively on the real village of Elton in Huntingdonshire, England. This gives the anecdotes and history an excellent sense of continuity, but left me feeling like other areas were being unfortunately neglected, and this is a terrible omission to make. Britain is often the focus of histories theoretically pertaining to all of Europe, just as New York is so often the focus of histories theoretically pertaining to all of America. I would have found this study to be more valuable if it had perhaps focused on three or four cities in different countries instead of just the one. It wouldn’t have been too great a departure from the structure of the book as it already stands, and we would have the additional benefit of comparing and contrasting the structure and development of society in a few different areas. There’s no way that they were all the same. This certainly doesn’t make it a worthless study in any sense, but I feel like it should at least be retitled to indicate the British focus.

It’s impossible not to compare this to another book I read this year, Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England, about every day life in the early modern period, roughly 400-500 years after life described in Life in a Medieval Village. This was similar in subject matter, but vastly different in approach. Hubbub focused on the oft neglected unpleasant side of life for every day people, and was an absolute riot to read. Its focus was on four English cities. The intent here is to focus on England alone, but keeping the spotlight on four different cities allow us to get a better scope of the issues. While both focus on the every day ordinary person, Hubbub focused more on the negative aspects of life and the experiences of specific individuals, while Life in a Medieval Village is more about the structure that supports that every day life, and the larger group of people living it. This is interesting stuff, if you like history, but it definitely lacked that personal touch. I’m glad I read Life in a Medieval Village, but part of me can’t help but wish Hubbub had gone over there and shaken some life into it.

Other recommended reads: Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England, Life in a Medieval City, The Great Mortality

Advertisements

Under the Black Flag

cordingly-under-the-black-flag

I’m going to be blunt here, I hated this. I know that many readers will love it, but there were certain elements here that really annoyed me, and distracted from the fact that it’s detailed and well-researched.

For the most part I just plain found it very boring. This is for a few reasons, but the largest one is that it fails to really immerse you. It’s honest, well-rounded and as I said detailed, however there’s a lack of heart in there that withholds the opportunity to make you feel strongly about the pirates or really anyone else. By the end of it I didn’t find myself really liking pirates, being outraged by them, or anything. I didn’t find them particularly interesting in any way. They just were. Even the brutalities of their actions and demises read so matter-of-factly that I couldn’t get very absorbed. Not that I ever really welcome a bias, I do highly appreciate it when books really incorporate the author’s personality, and I’m left wondering if the author himself even really cares. It was like an otherwise skillfully prepared meal lacking in flavor. For such an exciting subject, this is especially disappointing.

I think the author really was trying to keep things as exciting as they should be, but given the lack of enthusiasm it falls flat. (“It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care,” comes to mind.) One other particular annoyance contributing to this for me was his assumption that the reader will have a somewhat intimate knowledge of 18th century boats. There is a chapter covering this, but it really didn’t have enough detail to sustain me through the rest of the book with a firm enough understanding to appreciate many of its passages, and as it was he didn’t make me at all interested. To include even more detail would have been incredibly tedious. This ends up creating a lose-lose situation.

Another thing I noticed was that the book tends to be disjointed and repetitive in places, even to the point where it feels like you must have read this section already. It’s really confusing the first time you encounter it, and you have to check the page again to make sure you haven’t accidentally gone back. The author tends to break off in the middle of a story only to finish it in another chapter, and this adds to the sense of tedium that I felt. I hate to admit that I ended up skimming pretty quickly over these parts. Battles sometimes return to the foreground a time or two, and you really don’t need to learn all over again what happened. And you don’t much feel like finishing something you already left 50 pages ago, especially since it was so lacking in energy the first time around. It creates a real sense of disorganization, and I just can’t see a method to the madness.

The detail works against the book here, and instead of being remotely insightful it ends up being just too confused and drawn out. The knowledge gained here thus feels completely pointless, not very new or sensational, and though no time learning is wasted, this came about as close as you can get.

Better recommendations: I’ll let you know when I find some.