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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 (926 )
5 star
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4.1 (482 )
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Story
4.1 (469 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    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
  •  
    A. Easthampton, MA, United States 09-08-12
    A. Easthampton, MA, United States 09-08-12 Member Since 2015
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    "Fascinating book that led me to seek more."
    If you could sum up A Distant Mirror in three words, what would they be?

    Illuminating, inspiring, detailed.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Enguerrand de Coucy is the landed aristocrat who links this history together. There were a number of other figures he encountered that I'd like to learn more about. I need to get a paper copy of this book for reference.


    What about Nadia May’s performance did you like?

    Her classy narration fit the subject.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No - too long.


    Any additional comments?

    I'd recommend finding a paper copy of this book to accompany the audio version if you are interested in further research. There are many names of places and people that are difficult to decipher by ear as they are obscure and French. There were so many fascinating stories and people that I'd like to learn more about, but I don't know where to begin.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pat La Mesa, CA, United States 08-19-12
    Pat La Mesa, CA, United States 08-19-12 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "History Repeats Itself"

    If the Middle Ages intrigues you, Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror makes it accessible and understandable. I wouldn't have "read" this book. I don't speak French, and I think I would have just skipped trying to remember the characters because I couldn't pronounce their names. This narration makes it easy to follow the machinations of the European leaders in the 1300's. By choosing a French nobleman as the focal point for her book, she kept the history in check. There's a lot here, but so interesting. I loved it. And I'm keeping it on my iPhone, just to have if I feel like checking in occasionally, because it's impossible for me to remember even a tenth of what she has to offer, so re-listening occasionally will be enjoyable.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kindle Customer Huntington, MA USA 07-31-12
    Kindle Customer Huntington, MA USA 07-31-12 Member Since 2015

    Linda Williams Standridge

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Narrator Importance to Audio"
    Would you consider the audio edition of A Distant Mirror to be better than the print version?

    no way


    What was one of the most memorable moments of A Distant Mirror?

    none


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    Narrator had nasty, harsh voice, which also was boring and monotone...very off putting


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    cry--because the material was so very good, but ruined by narrator..


    Any additional comments?

    Shadow County was another book I bought from audio.com which had a terrible narrator which ruined my interest in following the plot. This particular narrator had a huge rural Southern Accent, very hard to understand, plus narrator showed no emotion following the story. Twice I forced myself to try to just go with it in order to get the story, but each time I was frustrated and irritated enough to not listen to the rest--and there were four download parts to this book, so it was a huge waste of money!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffrey Penn Valley, PA, United States 06-07-12
    Jeffrey Penn Valley, PA, United States 06-07-12 Member Since 2015
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    "Riveting and unbelievable at the same time"

    Like the best science fiction, this book transports you to another world and invites you to immerse yourself in the lives of alien beings. And that's what the 14th century is to us -- literally another planet of ideas, social structures, relationships, diseases, professions and everything else that makes life interesting. The author has an artist's eye for the illuminating detail, and yet she tells enough of the history of the era to give you a complete picture of what is going on too.

    If I had one complaint, it is that it's ridiculously difficult to follow the byzantine politics of city-state wars in 14th century Italy. So whenever the author gets into the thick weeds of this area, I kind of tune out the names, and it all ends up sounding like "so-and-so attacked whats-his-name, his uncle and former ally in the war against flibber-jibber, until dude #1 changed sides and joined his brother-in-law, dude #2, who was also his wife's cousin's stepfather." Seriously, it's that difficult to follow, and way too complicated to track in an audiobook.

    Overall, this is really, really worth the credit, and you will enjoy spending time as a visitor to this distant century.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James boxborough, ma, United States 08-06-11
    James boxborough, ma, United States 08-06-11 Member Since 2013

    JimLuckett

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Boring"

    Boring, boring, boring. There is a minimum of 15 words for a review but I don't have anything more to say about this book so this sentence is just filler.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patrick Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-31-11
    Patrick Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-31-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Great book, Irritating Reader"

    Poor Barbara Tuchman must turn in her grave whenever Nadia May voices her 19 hour Audible version on somebody's Kindle. May's energetic and ever-enthusiastic reading reminds me of the librarians who read to four-year-olds on Saturdays, but I don't need her misplaced emphasis and over-dramatized, breathless theatrics. What serious reader would?

    Her diction is tediously impeccable if you are Old-School English, but Oxbridge it is not. Have you ever heard anyone pronounce "joust" as 'juiced"? Yep, that's what she says, and many other Britishisms with no sensitivity to the North American ear. (I'm Canadian so I speak like someone from the Midwest.)

    I find I can barely listen to 15 minutes of her "story-telling" before I have to turn it off. The full 19 hours will never happen.

    Anyway, as Audible's choice of reader is so inappropriate and condescendingly trivializing of a fine book, I will be cancelling my subscription. The robot is better.

    Patrick in Vancouver

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Messelbeck 02-07-11 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
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    "Fruits of Tuchman's labor as good ad it gets"

    Tuchman has done an excellent job of researching all that was written about the 14th century in Europe then distilling that through the life of an extraordinary man, Enguerrand VII, Sire de Coucy. The editing task must have been enormous. Then to have introduced relevant political and public health dynamics (plague) made this book exceptional.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joey 06-30-10
    Joey 06-30-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Joey"

    This audio book is fantastic!! Anyone who is interested in the characters and events of this time period will enjoy this book. While at times my "ears" glazed over with all of the details, I found myself mesmorized. I consider it time well spent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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