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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.
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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 (876 )
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Story
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Performance
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  •  
    Ttim San Francisco, CA, United States 06-11-14
    Ttim San Francisco, CA, United States 06-11-14 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fantastic depiction of the 14th century"

    If you have an interest in the middle ages, and particularly in the social history of that time period, you absolutely have to read this book.

    We are all familiar with the history books which describe the major battles of a particular time period or which concentrates on the political machinations. This book does this as well but with so much more.

    If you want to learn how people dressed, what they ate, how much they were paid, how religion and war influenced their lives, what they died of etc, etc, then get this book now.
    The best bit is that Barbara Tuchman doesn't just concentrate on the nobility. She covers all stratas of society from peasants to clerics, from dukes to brigands.

    Some reviews have complained that this book spends too much time on the minutiae of daily life, but personally I think that this is the book's strongest point.
    You actually get to know how people "really" lived during the 14th century.

    The book does concentrate almost exclusively on western Europe, imparticular France. However, as so much of what happened in the 14th century centred around decisions and actions taken in what is now present day France this is perfectly understandable.

    There is excellent coverage of the Black Death, the Papal Schism and of course the 100 years war.
    We get a fascinating insight into how religion influenced daily life and what people actually believed and how much of that belief was actually practised.
    Believe me, if you thought some of the scandals surrounding the Catholic church in the last few years were bad, you will be sobered when you here what they were up to during this time period.

    My advice is not to get hung up on trying to remember all of the names of people and places covered in the book. Many of the names are similar and keeping track of interlinking families and alliances can often be tricky.
    As long as you can keep track of the main characters its probably ok to let the rest just flow over you ... while you just enjoy absorbing the interesting titbits of information we are given along the way.

    Personally I think the narration by Nadia May is the best ... note that a second version of the book is available from audible which is narrated by a different person.

    There is no doubt that this book contains a massive amount of information. Some might find this daunting, but if you are really interested in life during the middle ages then you will lap it all up.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sue 05-26-14
    Sue 05-26-14 Member Since 2013

    I am an avid lover of books and stories. Audible has provided a great outlet for me to read when otherwise I couldn't. I love dogs.

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    "A dry book of lists."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    A more cohesive history.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Barbara W. Tuchman again?

    Maybe, her research appeared to lead her to snippets of data which she provided without the context or cohesiveness to truly appreciate it.


    What aspect of Nadia May’s performance would you have changed?

    She was fine.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    The period is facinating. Some of the details were good. Just not as a collective history of the period.


    Any additional comments?

    George R. R. Martin owes this woman a bowl of cheetohs.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donald E. Campbell Pearl, MS USA 04-06-14
    Donald E. Campbell Pearl, MS USA 04-06-14 Member Since 2012

    reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very enjoyable and informative"
    Any additional comments?

    I thought this was a very well written and well-narrated book. I particularly like how the author wrapped the story around the life of one particular person of the time. It was a nice touch that held everything together. I have to say that if I were to start reading this book,l probably would not make it past chapter 2 because the book discusses events in France a great deal -- and I would have been frustrated by my inability to keep up with who is who. However, the narrator does a good job and I did not have any trouble with it at all. I highly recommend anyone interested in history listen to this book and be on the look out for pointy shoes, the anti-pope, and inbred the leaders of these countries were!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Stafford FL 11-28-13
    J. Stafford FL 11-28-13

    safe in FL

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    "A fantastic read"
    Would you consider the audio edition of A Distant Mirror to be better than the print version?

    No, but still excellent.


    What other book might you compare A Distant Mirror to and why?

    Pillars of the Earth. Same time period with focus on the human condition.


    Have you listened to any of Nadia May’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Blaine, MN, United States 08-01-13
    Richard Blaine, MN, United States 08-01-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Huge unwieldy download"

    My major complaint is the size of the download files. My current MP3 player requires the Enhanced format, which makes files twice as large as the previous format 4, with no increase in audio quality. They are also no longer splitting up the book into smaller files. It is almost impossible to download a book without the latest in high speed connections,

    I drive truck over the road, which leaves me lots of time to listen to audiobooks while driving, but I almost never have access to a good enough connection to download such large files. This download would cost ten dollars worth of bandwidth to download via my Verizon wireless hotspot and no truckstop WiFi network has proven stable enough to download such a large file. I was only able to download it by going to a local library to use their connection.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Pearland, Texas, United States 01-03-13
    Chris Pearland, Texas, United States 01-03-13 Member Since 2012

    I teach high school physics and read/listen to books in my free time. My favorite genres are history, sci fi, fantasy, and science writing.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enjoyable if this is what your into"
    Where does A Distant Mirror rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Somewhere in the middle. Barbara Tuchman is a marvelous writer and she did manage to keep the book rather more intriguing than other authors by wrapping her narrative around an obscure, but important figure from the day. With that said, I felt sometimes she stretched her points a little bit and her parallels to 20th Century warfare came out particularly contrived. The book is full of great information though and the narrator does a great job of making what could be a dull book enjoyable to listen to.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    War wreaks a terrible price on mankind, regardless of the age.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Coral Mississauga, ON, Canada 01-01-13
    Coral Mississauga, ON, Canada 01-01-13 Member Since 2008

    I hold a BA in History from York University of Toronto; a 3yr Diploma in Computer Networking from Sheridan College in Oakville Ontario. I have been "reading" audio books sinces the late 80s and a member of Audible back to 2004. What a really like is a good long story preferable over 30 hours. :)

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fallacy of Composition is adverted by a narrow |"

    The author warn the reader that she is going to attempt to give one inside into the thinking of an age based on a single person; the way the book unfold it's more of a single male line then about a single man.This history is trying to balance itself between a general history and that of a single family. In the end it reads more like a second year history reader for a couple of lectures then a detailed book about the family.

    The author knows her business and seems to have a reasonable collection of proofs but it's a dry first hour.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gregory LILBURN, GA, United States 12-08-12
    Gregory LILBURN, GA, United States 12-08-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Simply Incredible"
    Would you listen to A Distant Mirror again? Why?

    I've listened to this book 4 or 5 times. It is that engrossing.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Where to begin? Seemingly every sentence contains a novel facts and the sentences woven into a beautiful tapestry.


    What about Nadia May’s performance did you like?

    Nadia May is terrific. She speaks with the author's authority.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a must have for anyone. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in medieval history, this book still a must have.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Epalinges, Switzerland 09-17-12
    Jean Epalinges, Switzerland 09-17-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Delightfull and fascinating"

    A very interesting review of the 14th century history with the central character of Engerrand de Coucy as the "fil rouge".
    A new look at history with a turning point in history. Very well narrate and delightfull to listen and very educative.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Neil Chisholm Buninyong, Australia 09-11-12
    Neil Chisholm Buninyong, Australia 09-11-12 Member Since 2011

    "fabric artist and quilter"

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "It should be made into a musical!"

    This book has it all and should be made into a musical - there's fantastic sets, tragedy in the form of the 100 years war and the black death and the civilians of medieval Europe living life and loving to the fullest against the fear of plague or slaughter. Like the 1980s but on steriods!

    Seriously, I hadn't realised how extravagant the 14th Century was, there was the ever present threat of pan European war and the reoccurrence of the Black Death which killed nearly 50% of the total European population by 1400. Against this, those that lived well lived like there was no tomorrow (which for some there wasn't). Everything was taken to excess, extravagant costumes, absurdly rich food at 10 course banquets, money was spent recklessly.

    Ms Tuchman concentrates on Enguerrand VII, Baron de Coucy who lives conveniently in both the English Court of Edward III and the French Court of John II and thru his life Tuchman gives a thorough history of the century. It is truly fascinating and would be to anyone with an interest in European history at that time.

    My only criticism is that the narrator rattles along at a cracking speed - I know that there is a lot of info to pass on but the speed at which Nadia May reads means that you have to concentrate the whole way thru - miss a bit, you have to go back and replay it - you wont catch up later.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book, learnt lots but its not a book to relax to - its a history book for history buffs.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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