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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

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

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Performance

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  • Overall
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Loved it.

A wonderful history. I wish audible carried more such. If they did though I would have to spend more of my money with them

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Incredibly well documented and written

Where does A Distant Mirror rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of my favorite. Captivating like a novel and documented like a scholarly book.

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

The pest epidemics and its deep consequences on the social and political events of the century.

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

Great energy throughout this dense and complicated book.

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

Not really, it is too long and detailed !

Any additional comments?

Nadia May delivers a great performance as long as she sticks to English. Unfortunately her French pronunciation is not very good and, as a native French speaker, I struggled to understand the French quotations or the name of some French locations.

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Long but Good

This is the second time I've "read" this book and listening to it gives a different dimension. Impressive historian, impressive sourcing and incisive pattern-finding. I'm not a historian but it seems to me there's been a lot of "medieval times were not so backward" going around, like "they discovered X and did Y, etc." but . . . well . . . really?

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Loved the content but not the performance.

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

Not better, just different. I like to listen to these fascinating books while i garden or drive so this was perfect for me.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Way too much range in loudness and pace. She would drop into these low pitch, fast paced, quieter sections i couldn't hear. It was incredibly frustrating. I listen to many audiobooks and i have never found a narrator more frustrating.

Any additional comments?

Amazing author, wish the narration was better.

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Its a landmark book - but it takes effort

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

YES. The narrative is a mess at the start - but the material is EXCELLENT. I've read this multiple times and loved it each time.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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  • Chris
  • Pearland, Texas, United States
  • 01-03-13

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.