Regular price: $34.96

Free with 30-day trial
Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month
OR
In Cart

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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    590
  • 4 Stars
    403
  • 3 Stars
    191
  • 2 Stars
    76
  • 1 Stars
    37

Performance

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    425
  • 4 Stars
    217
  • 3 Stars
    101
  • 2 Stars
    35
  • 1 Stars
    20

Story

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    424
  • 4 Stars
    217
  • 3 Stars
    123
  • 2 Stars
    33
  • 1 Stars
    20
Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Kellie
  • Winona Lake, IN, United States
  • 04-25-11

Interesting approach kept me hooked

Another great book from Barabara Tuchman. I thought the idea of following the life of one man--Enguerrand de Coucy--throughout the book was a successful one, because it gave a good balance of weaving in politics, war, and territorial acquisition with a description of everyday life on all social levels. The book is thoroughly researched and well written, but Nadia May's voice is really starting to get on my nerves. Stop sneering!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • C. Cobb
  • Memphis, TN United States
  • 03-30-09

A lot of material but Tuchman moves the narrative

Listen with Wikipedia for reference. Enjoyed the tongue-and-cheek swipes at her subject matter.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Amazing Life, Reads A Bit Like a Good Text Book

I learned a great deal from this book. I have been on a 14th Century Engalnd kick as of late, and this was a good book to explore the age from the French perspective. The main character lived through and experienced so many significant events.
The story gets a bit monotonous at times, especially in comparison to the book World Without End (on 14th Century England) that I read just before. A Distant Mirror is not a book you will be unable to put down. Still, I think it was a great complement to other books on the Plague and the 14th Century. There is also more real history here than in other selection on the period (e.g. The White Company & World Without End.)

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Exhaustive but exhausting

Any additional comments?

Not too long into this book I started to wonder if perhaps Tuchman was going to cover the life and events of every single person who was alive on this planet during the 14th century. Tuchman covers so much ground, introduces so many events, writes about so many people that by the end I felt as if the entire 14th century had fallen on top of me.<br/><br/>This isn't a bad book by any means - the fault lies entirely with myself. I'm not cut out to enjoy an endless parade of peoples and events that have no clear narrative. And while Tuchman does attempt to frame the century through the life of one man, de Coucy, I never felt like had a clear enough picture of him or how all the events she talks about truly effected him. And I suppose had she drawn a clearer picture then this book would have become more speculative and less factual which would have been counter to her purpose of recounting the events of this tumultuous century.<br/><br/>I should have known what I was getting into because the title uses the word 'distant', as in remote, 'mirror', as in a lens, and '14th century', as in the entire century and every single event that took place during those 100 years. Yet what I've come to realize about myself as a reader is that I prefer the personal over the grand informative, the mundane over the 'calamitous', and the microscopic over the macro. I'm far more interested in learning about how events effected just a few people and not the broad, sweeping strokes that effected all of a society. That's why I prefer literary fiction over this type of nonfiction.<br/><br/>However, Tuchman has produced a supreme work of knowledge and she is an excellent writer. She speaks with humor and wit and is ever lively - even mischievous such as when talking about the pointy shoes - so any failing to not be engaged my this tremendous work is all on me. Yet I still wish I could have gotten a more personal, more minute look at the people who were alive during this century. I felt that after awhile I was watching a parade - Danse Macabre - of tragic life after tragic life. And while it would be unreasonable for me to think many close personal accounts from the century remain (if they ever existed at all), I should look harder to find something that would engage me more than this book was able to. <br/><br/>I wanted to fall in love with this book, but it was far too academic for me, too distant, not nearly personal enough, and overwhelming in scope. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn about the 14th century on the grand scale, but aside from a few points she makes about how religion and death and economics played a role in how people viewed themselves, I don't feel this book is able to (or was even attempting to) paint a clear picture of what it was to be an individual at the time. <br/><br/>Were someone were to write about the 20th and 21st century 600 years later and only wrote about the major headlines of those times I don't think we would have any better idea of what it was to actually be alive at the time than what Tuchman does here. Yes we would learn all about the major historical events of the day, but for me (and this is a matter of personal taste) I'm not interested in that sort of thing, I only care about the individuals and how they lived day to day. Most people do not live their lives according to the headlines. <br/><br/>But the failing is all mine. This is a work of historical nonfiction and not a novel and it attempts to show us the entire century. In that regard it is brilliant, it's just that it's so much information that it's hard to keep it all together. So while I can only critique the book that is and not the book as I want it to be then I have to admit this is a wonderful book and an excellent reading on a very distant time. Yet as as an engaging work that speaks to me as an individual, then I have to admit I failed this book because I'm just not cut out for it.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Disappointing

I was really disappointed with this book.... It should have been so much better than it is... A vast, stimulating subject written and read in such a pedestrian way. Not for me thanks.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Excellent

I enjoyed listening to this book very much. The story was very interesting and informative. I learned much more than I had ever known about the medieval world. The narrator was very easy lit to listen to and kept my attention. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Sue
  • Washington State
  • 05-26-14

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.<br/>

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.<br/>

Any additional comments?

George R. R. Martin owes this woman a bowl of cheetohs.<br/>

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

The Gold Standard for Books of Its Kind

I'd always heard this book was "the gold standard" for history books on the Middle Ages. It's been on my radar for years, and for some reason, it kept getting backburnered. Now that I've gone through it, I can honest say that it's earned the high praise. As an overview of a single century, it provides both a microcosm of the Middle Ages as a whole and a fascinating storyscape of the events that defined the 14th century. There is nothing in this book that's overly difficult to consume, making it an ideal read for both enthusiast and expert alike. Tuchman knows her stuff, and she presents it in a way that speaks to the audience at their own level without insulting either end of the spectrum. That's so hard to do.

Not only is this book fair and balanced in regards to the distaster, drama, and people involved, it makes it a point of telling you so and demonstrating it at every turn by comparing the information to some of the more grandiose fallacies that are often believed. And as balanced as it is, it's still pretty clear that this is a century you wouldn't want to visit, let alone be a part of. It's the kind of book that, the deeper it goes, the more you will appreciate living in your own day and time, with all of the modern comforts to which you've grown accustomed.

Nadia May is superb as the narrator. Her French is spot-on, which is necessary for any book that discusses this era, and her tone is lively and engaging throughout. She reads this material in a way that says, "I'm interested in this, and you should be too."

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

700 Pages of Awesome

A Distant Mirror / 9780307793690

I selected this book for a book club discussion, not realizing that it's ~700 pages long rather than ~400 pages long. Whoops! However, this is a completely awesome book and everyone had a ball reading and discussing it, even if several members weren't able to finish on time, and I recommend it highly as a fun and fascinating, as well as wonderfully researched and sourced, look into 14th century culture.

"A Distant Mirror" is a look at the 14th century and follows the life of Enguerrand de Coucy VII as a vehicle for examining every facet of life during this time period. If the idea of following the life and biography of a 14th century French lord you've probably never heard of turns you off to the idea of this book (as it briefly did me when selecting this book to read), don't let it! Tuchman is an absolute master at her work, and manages to make Enguerrand VII's life deeply interesting and entertaining, while using the larger narrative to talk about every aspect of 14th century life in griping detail.

Indeed, the first 8 chapters (of 27 total) deal largely with 14th century life before even really introducing Enguerrand VII, and while the entire book is 100% concentrated awesome, these opening chapters are definitely my favorite. Tuchman examines the 14th century ideals of religion and chivalry (as well as when and how and why the ideal diverged from reality), the social and political climate of the 14th century for France and some of her surrounding neighbors, the daily lives of both nobles and commoners (including their entertainments, their religious observances, and their access to medicine), and the impact of the Black Death and the Papal Schism in shaping history and social thought.

Tuchman is a truly entertaining writer, and I love how she shows her work as she goes along, and grounds sources before using them by warning the reader as to how accurate and/or unbiased the source is understood to be. (One terribly amusing anecdote of a brigand company shaking down the Pope for money is prefaced with the note that "it has been said of Cuvelier that 'the tyranny of rhyme left him little leisure for accuracy.'") And while this is absolutely a history book, it reads just as fluidly and fascinatingly as you could ever hope for -- I finished all ~700 pages and was left with nothing but admiration for this book and the feeling that Tuchman had made a really large and complex subject very accessible to the lay-person.

A note on the audiobook version of this book: There are currently two different versions of this book available on Audible, one narrated by Nadia May and one narrated by Aviva Skell. I tried listening to both books, and I recommend the Nadia May version. Her narration is a little slower than Aviva Skell's (indeed, there is a 2.5 hour difference between the two versions, and I think that's entirely pacing and not reflective of new/added material between the versions), and I found the pauses and slower pace necessary in order to adequately process all the material in this book. And Nadia May's pronunciations of the French names and places in this book are delightful to hear, so there's no need to worry that you might not be getting the full experience with her.

I absolutely recommend this book if you have any interest in the 14th century or in chivalry and its effect on nations when large sections of a privileged populace are armed and dangerous.

~ Ana Mardoll

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

A Fascinating Century Filled with Contrasts

Would you listen to A Distant Mirror again? Why?

Yes. There is so much in this book that you just can't take it all in with one listen. The book is so superbly written and so well narrated that listening to it many times would be a pleasure.

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

The Guns Of August by the same author. It was another superbly written and excellently narrated book that went into the prelude to, causes and first decisive months of World War I.

What does Nadia May bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

She narrates the book just like I would imagine Barbara Tuchman meant it to sound. I'm not an expert, but her pronunciation of French, Italian and other names and quotations sounded totally correct. Her enunciation was such that I never missed a word.

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

Several times I laughed at the idiotic behavior of people or at the biting wit of both the author and of some of the commentators of the times.<br/><br/>I also was often stunned at the amazingly stupid decisions made by the aristocracy, especially in battle. Let's load up the barges with fine wines and food and leave the siege engines at home. Let's follow the same tactics time after time after time, even though they fail every time resulting in disaster and huge casualties.<br/><br/>I was also amazed at the similarities between our own society and that of the 14th Century - A Distant Mirror, indeed.

Any additional comments?

I have listened to three books by this author, The Guns of August, The Zimmerman Telegram and now this one. All three are superb. If you want to be entertained while learning history and its lessons then Barbara Tuchman is the author for you.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful