We are currently making improvements to the Audible site. In an effort to enhance the accessibility experience for our customers, we have created a page to more easily navigate the new experience, available at the web address www.audible.com/access.
Call anytime(888) 283-5051
 >   > 
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century | [Barbara W. Tuchman]

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century

The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and the exquisitely decorated Books of Hours; and on the other, a time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world of chaos and the plague.
Regular Price:$34.96
  • Membership Details:
    • First book free with 30-day trial
    • $14.95/month thereafter for your choice of 1 new book each month
    • Cancel easily anytime
    • Exchange books you don't like
    • All selected books are yours to keep, even if you cancel
  • - or -

Your Likes make Audible better!

'Likes' are shared on Facebook and Audible.com. We use your 'likes' to improve Audible.com for all our listeners.

You can turn off Audible.com sharing from your Account Details page.

OK

Publisher's Summary

The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and the exquisitely decorated Books of Hours; and on the other, a time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world of chaos and the plague.

Barbara Tuchman reveals both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived. Here are the guilty passions, loyalties and treacheries, political assassinations, sea battles and sieges, corruption in high places and a yearning for reform, satire and humor, sorcery and demonology, and lust and sadism on the stage. Here are proud cardinals, beggars, feminists, university scholars, grocers, bankers, mercenaries, mystics, lawyers, and tax collectors, and, dominating all, the knight in his valor and "furious follies", a "terrible worm in an iron cocoon".

©1978 Barbara W. Tuchman; (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks

What the Critics Say

"Beautifully written, careful, and thorough in its scholarship....What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was....No one has ever done this better." (New York Review of Books)
"Barbara Tuchman at the top of her powers....A beautiful, extraordinary book....She has done nothing finer." (Wall Street Journal)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (803 )
5 star
 (311)
4 star
 (269)
3 star
 (139)
2 star
 (54)
1 star
 (30)
Overall
4.0 (372 )
5 star
 (161)
4 star
 (109)
3 star
 (71)
2 star
 (17)
1 star
 (14)
Story
4.0 (365 )
5 star
 (162)
4 star
 (107)
3 star
 (57)
2 star
 (26)
1 star
 (13)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    E. Smakman Netherlands 11-30-09
    E. Smakman Netherlands 11-30-09 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    111
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    159
    37
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    6
    3
    Overall
    "Gripping, once you get into it"

    The reviews I have seen so far are between enthusiasm and irritation. This definitely is an audiobook that needs getting into. The narrator has a fast pace, which takes some time to get used to (but is required for the book not to be 40 hours...), and the topic is highly entertaining and gripping.

    Why is this gripping? The book describes one of the bloodiest centuries in European History, with millions wiped out because of the Plague and probably hundreds of thousands due to wars, pillaging, meaningless executions, revolts and brutal slaughter of entire towns in reprisal. It describes the evil character of man in its eternal quest for more, whether it be power, glory, wealth or beauty; and the ruthlessness to achieve or obtain it.

    Many developments of later ages can be understood from what started in this 14th century: the pogroms, the rise of populism and popular revolution, new military doctrines, and anticlerical movements.

    A book this size has its drawbacks: there are numerous listings - of people, towns & regions, of the composition and resources of various armies and the payment each officer receives. Also the narrative uses a historical figure 'Angerand de Coucy' as a red line, while this might give too much focus on his exploits instead of describing the reasons or arguments behind historical events. Nonetheless, in an age so void of written records and chronologies, it is wonderfully detailed.

    But these drawbacks are overshadowed by the lyric description of the royal bloodlines of France and England, their perpetual strife and cinematic character. Therefore, well recommended!

    39 of 39 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rob 03-23-06
    Rob 03-23-06 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    111
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    147
    10
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "And you thought the twentieth century was rough..."

    I initially purchased this book as a result of my budding interest in the bubonic plague and the devestation it brought to Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century. What I got, however, was a tour de force. This book is an amazing work of scholarship. The plague years, though thoroughly discussed, warrant only a chapter in what could arguably be called the most turbulent, violent and terrifying hundred-year span in human history. So bad were these years that they make the past century look like a vacation to Disneyland. War, disease, death, rape, slaughter, indignity, religious turmoil, gang violence -- all were present in the fourteenth century to degrees unimaginable today. And yet humanity survived. Ms. Tuchman's research is astounding -- more than once it will leave you shaking your head and thinking, "Where did she find that?" -- and her words are brought to vibrant life by the incomparable Nadia May. But be warned -- this is not an undertaking for the timid. It's a long journey through a hundred years, and Ms. Tuchman pays homage to minutiae. She ties it all together nicely by focusing primarily on the life of French nobleman Enguerrand VII de Coucy, whose adventures spanned the most important events of the century, but she takes a lot of detours. If you're curious about the middle ages, though, and you're looking for detail, this is the place to start. You'll never look at your own time the same way again.

    68 of 69 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chi-Hung Riverside, CA, USA 02-27-09
    Chi-Hung Riverside, CA, USA 02-27-09 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    554
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    239
    104
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    33
    0
    Overall
    "A great history and a well deserved classic"

    I have been looking for a history of the middle ages that encompasses everything, the people, the nobles, the church doctrines, the economy, well, this is it, and the fact that this was written by an American historian, made it all the more astonishing. I went and bought a hard copy because many of the names and places were in French and cannot be understood without the written copy. I wish all the history books could be written like this, 5 stars.

    19 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John MENLO PARK, CA, United States 04-30-08
    John MENLO PARK, CA, United States 04-30-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    157
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    263
    43
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    4
    0
    Overall
    "Exceptional!"

    Now this is what a "scholarly" book should be. Impeccably researched, this book brings to life a period of history that has always proved opaque to me. Ms. Tuchman has done an exceptional job. It's the kind of book that makes you feel like you're investing your time well!

    19 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kirsty Toronto, Australia 09-15-09
    Kirsty Toronto, Australia 09-15-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    18
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    7
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "A fantastic guide to a forgotten century"

    Travelling through rural France on an extended holiday, I found this book an excellent guide to this period of the history of the region. Tuchman's style, knowledge and and enthusiasm for the subject, her ability to bring the long dead back to life with meaning added greatly to the experience. The narration by Nadia May, injected with enthusiasm, humour and expression, brought the castles, palaces, churches and village streets closer and heightened my ability to be able to see the past as it was lived, multi-dimensionally. Life in 14th century France and England was extremely hard, but we need to remember the struggles of all the history which shaped the future generations of these societies to understand who we are today. So often history is selective, but Tuchman has brought to our attention very detailed consequences of the actions of rulers, the revolts of the powerless, and the ruthlessness which which people of all ranks were treated. The book also reminded me that my life, compaired to that of my unknown ancestors, is so privileged. Thank you Barbara Tuchman and all who contributed to the amazing experience I had in listening to this book.

    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nassir Bainbridge Island, WA, United States 12-09-08
    Nassir Bainbridge Island, WA, United States 12-09-08 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    108
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    87
    11
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    10
    0
    Overall
    "Half excellent"

    The first half of the book, like all of Tuchman's work, is 5-stars of exceptional. Interesting and erudite, it pounds enthusiastically over the landscape of the century, shaking hands with the people and sticking it's nose into the culture. It does this to explain the background of the eventual subject of the biography. Unfortunately, when this subject, de Coucy, appears and grows up enough to start acting on history, the book stiffens its back and starts marching along the path of that history like someone was whipping it. Better on the page, in audiobook form it becomes an impossible tangle of names and dates, where de Coucy in April goes to A and meets X and Y and flirts with W and then in May may have gone on to the Italian state of B or perhaps was in C with S and P to campaign against N during the war that year between P and Q. And it goes on like that for hours, without any of the digression or deep explanation that made the buildup so entertaining. When the guy finally bites it, he does so in a pinch conveyed so perfunctorily that it comes kind of as a relief. This is not the Tuchman who would later convey the mechanical ticking of the first month of World War One (in "The Guns of August"), with its myriad dates and cast of thousands, with famous joie and vivre. However, don't mistake this minor criticism as a prohibition, please! A half-excellent book by Tuchman will nevertheless leave you half-again as entertained and informed as any other book on the subject in existence. I highly recommend.

    31 of 32 people found this review helpful
  •  
    victor wesseling 03-20-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    58
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "A great book..."

    Politics and war, but also daily life and the short sightedness of human ambition are brought to life in this excellent narrative of events in the 14th century. A pleasure to listen to the reading (I had the feeling the Queen of England was readig it to me). It makes you think of the stupidity and crazyness of the war in our 21st century. The bright pictures in this distant mirror helped me to reconcile myself with the darker side of our own times. And I met and lost a friend I never met....Angerand de Cousy, a bright and valliant man in this spectaculair cenury!

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 05-20-08
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 05-20-08 Member Since 2000

    On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1787
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    139
    89
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    646
    13
    Overall
    "Wonderful for this non-historian"

    There are two important things to know about this book: First, it is a wonderful popular history, strong on narrative and with terrific scenes that illuminate a deeply troubled period of knights and plague. Second, it is, apparently, also only mediocre as actual history, drawing large-scale conclusions about the psychology of the age from a few pieces of art, frequently assuming the motivations of historical figures, and relying on translations rather than original documents, among other historical sins.

    Whether the second point matters more than the first depends on you. I found it fascinating (and well-narrated) and, as a non-historian, was not troubled by its generalizations and potential inaccuracies. Ms. Tuchman could write! And the book is still the most detailed popular history of the Middle Ages thirty years after it was published. Plagues! Wars! Betrayal! The book has everything, so I was more than willing to not worry too much about where it overgeneralized or lept to conclusions. I highly recommend it.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A reader Geneva, Switzerland 11-15-06
    A reader Geneva, Switzerland 11-15-06 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    36
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    139
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "Splendid"

    I could never, never have immagined that a history of the Middle Ages could have given me such a pleasure in listening to(and in fact I even bought a paper copy of the book). The idea of mixing the history of the 14th century with the life of the main character of the story (Enguerrand VII, Sire de Coucy) is simply brilliant and developed with masterful ability by the author. The narration develops so incredibly, that from time to time you have to remind yourself that this is real, documented history, and not a piece of fiction.
    Your whole perspective of the history of Europe (and also of several aspects of our modern society) will change completely after reading this book.

    36 of 38 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cameron Monterey, CA, United States 01-29-10
    Cameron Monterey, CA, United States 01-29-10 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    41
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    123
    46
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "A History Written Like a Novel"

    I understand why some people gave this a bad review--there are a lot of names and places that are difficult to keep to track of via audio. But overall the book flows together very well. There are some really good episodes that Tuchman relates and the listener understands the motivations of the principle characters (primarily the kings and queens and nobles). I learned a lot about the 14th century and I found it enjoyable to listen to.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 62 results PREVIOUS127NEXT
Sort by:
  • Annelli
    Ashford, Kent, United Kingdom
    2/16/07
    Overall
    "A Distant Mirror"

    Okay, this is a very long book and, as the previous reviewer remarks, it is certainly full of information. Precise information, at that. He also calls it 'dry' but I disagree. I found myself quite absorbed by the parallels between present-day politics and warmongering and those of our ancestors. I'm not an academic and I admit I would have found sitting and reading so much detail hard going at times but (and isn't this the whole point of Audible?) when busy with mundane tasks that keep the hands occupied but leave the brain free, my ipod-transmitted history lesson worked very well. And I truly enjoyed it.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • markw
    Farnham, UK
    4/2/07
    Overall
    "Worth the investment of both time and money"

    When you buy this, you're signing up for (if you download the richest format) 4 100MB downloads, read by a lady with a middle class English accent and of a certain age. So be aware of what you're lettting yourself in for.

    However, I found the book rewarding of the extended attention. Essentially, it tracks the career of one French nobleman, Enguerrand de Coucy, against the wider tapestry of the period of the black death of the papal schism and of the hundred years war. Somehow, de Coucy, the existence of whom I'm pretty sure nobody learned during their school history lessons, happened to be present, sometimes on the English side, latterly on the French, at almost all of the events you did hear about.

    It's a clever device, and an effective retelling of Froissart's chronicles in the light of what we now know. It turns what starts out seeming dry into something thrilling and absorbing. I dearly wish, now, there was a volume from Tuchman to take us into the of the renaissance and the reformation.

    More like this, please, Audible.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • Jim
    Twickenham, United Kingdom
    7/14/11
    Overall
    "Outstanding"

    Brilliantly conceived to combine the life of a central character with an overview of the peak and decline of European medieval culture. It's well narrated (don't care about her accent; she's always as clear as a bell) and at just north of 24 hours duration, excellent value.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Caroline
    Pembroke Dock, United Kingdom
    12/14/07
    Overall
    "More please"

    Fascinating, with wonderful illuminating detail. I enjoyed it immensely.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Joseph
    Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom
    7/12/07
    Overall
    "Scholarship at it's best"

    An amazing work of perspective and scholarship. I enjoyed every minute of it. It?s not ?light? by any means, and justly it doesn?t claim to be, but it so engages you that its length becomes an irrelevance. And the characterisation is a brilliant ploy. Will Done Mrs Tuchman!

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Geoffrey Cockayne
    Walsall, UK
    10/11/09
    Overall
    "Outstanding reflection of the central Middle Ages"

    I am slowly working my way through all of Audible's historical offerings. This book is so far the most rewarding I have listened to. It combines a high scholarly standard with an approach that engages the listener throughout. Speaking as a working-class, male Brummie, I find the narration is excellent.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Rogayah
    Reading, United Kingdom
    7/26/09
    Overall
    "Great overview of Middle Ages"

    This book has had excellent reviews and I can only add mine to the list. It is a good introduction to the Middle Ages up to the beginning of the late Middle Ages; how society functioned and how wars were fought and many other aspects of life in this period. The 15th century is such a busy century; wars, changing patterns of warfare, the black death's first appearance, a dramatic fall in population in the second half of the century and its repercussion. Even the continual political rivalry between France and England is brilliantly illustrated by the De Courcey family's allegiences and diplomacy.

    It is well narrated and it a book I shall enjoy listening to again as it has much to recommend itself.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • WILSON
    Ventenac en Minervois, France
    3/30/12
    Overall
    "OK, but too many lists, and a poor narration"

    Although I enjoy audiobooks, I think I would have preferred to read this in print, for two reasons. Firstly because I could have skimmed over the endless lists - everything has to be listed in excruciating detail, from meals to armour to knights in a battle to... and so on. Other than that, the content is actually fascinating, with much of interest about a very turbulent century that, in many ways, had a major impact on the following three or four hundred years.

    The other reason I think I would have preferred to read it was the narration, which frankly appalled me. First of all, it's a constant sing-song, with no apparent reference to what is being said: it sounded like Joyce Grenfell on acid. And secondly, so many of the words were wrongly or bizarrely pronounced. It really interfered with what should have been an enjoyable listen.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Venice
    Accrington, Lancashire, United Kingdom
    3/11/13
    Overall
    "Sublime"

    Had this book in my audible library for years and find myself constantly returning to it - a firm favourite. One of the best descriptions of the middle ages out there. I find it interesting that in all this time between then and now, nothing of a fundamental nature has changed very much. Calamitous times then - calamitous times now. Wonderfully woven, finely crafted, full of delicious detail - you get a real sense of the times and what it would have been like to live then. I don't normally like female narrators, but Nadia May was perfect for this book and she did a brilliant job. My favourite history book on Audible.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Chris
    basingstokeUnited Kingdom
    1/6/07
    Overall
    "dry"

    This is a very dry book, although it contains an enormous amount of information. Only for the true stoic, you will be informed, but not entertained.

    4 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 10 results

    There are no listener reviews for this title yet.

Report Inappropriate Content

If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.

Cancel

Thank You

Your report has been received. It will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.