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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978)

de Barbara Tuchman

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Sèrie: The Mirror of the Past (1)

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6,056961,214 (4.14)247
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."… (més)
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» Mira també 247 mencions

Anglès (86)  Neerlandès (5)  Suec (1)  Alemany (1)  Islandès (1)  Castellà (1)  Hebreu (1)  Totes les llengües (96)
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An amazing collecting of facts, figures and narrative, emphasized by the introduction that outlines the difficulty any researcher faces when looking into this era. Tuchman set out to write about the Black Plague but couldn't distinguish its effects from all the other calamities of the period, leading her to a broader study that centers on the latter half of the 14th century. In addition to the Black Plague and the Hundred Years War, these years also featured (among a multitude of other things) Chaucer and Boccaccio, the "hysterical mystic" Margery Kempe, Thomas Wyclif, Saint Catherine of Siena, the Dance Macabre, and concluded with the disaster at Nicopolis.

France is the setting for nearly all of the action of the Hundred Years War, an event which through its constancy remains the central focus. Tuchman selects a French knight who marries an English princess as an individual to structure her narrative around, since he is conveniently placed at all the major centres of action. She also uses events in the life of Enguerrand de Coucy to explore asides such as the lives of peasants, roles for women, etc. but it is the war's unfurling that primarily directs the action. Early, spectacular English victories created the perception of France as a land of spoils for the taking, while the French were consumed by internal disorders and too frequently prioritized glory over strategy. This war spelled the end for chivalry, Enguerrand arguably the last knight worthy of the name, as softness and immorality consumed it from within, tactics from without.

Tuchman does almost nothing explicit to draw the parallels between the 14th and 20th centuries that she proposes are there. She does not need to. The Hundred Years War contrasts with the World Wars, Black Plague with Spanish Flu (and Covid, if you stretch a bit). The 14th century had its own unpopular wars, political and religious scandals, and horrific acts of anti-Semitism. Should a time machine hurl you randomly into the past, pray you do not land here. A church fallen into usury and schism, random taxation to the point of starving its people and destroying their livelihoods, no recourse to justice or the law, no protection from attack by violent roving bands, unpredictable recursions of the plague, a dearth of heroes or hope ... The common people saw no ray of light in any direction, nor indication how one might come. If they rose up in violence, as they tried multiple times, they were put down like dogs or worse. In place of Cold War gloom they awaited the end times, but with the hope of something good to come afterwards. There was no other hope to cling to.

As always after reading a book like this, the details begin to fade. I'll retain my impression of an age of chaos, when Western civilization was at lowest tide since the fall of Rome. In her epilogue, Tuchman briefly covers the 15th century in as many pages to demonstrate how a stumbling end to the Hundred Years War, a resolution to the schism, the dawn of the printing press and the age of exploration slowly began to point the way out of these doldrums. I wish she'd had the lifetimes necessary to carry this on as a series, or that I could find a similar layperson's overview of every historical century. Perhaps there are for most, but I'd wager this one to be a standout entry. ( )
3 vota Cecrow | Aug 29, 2020 |
Wow, truly a terrible time to be alive. I never thought about how most everyone back then was "young" because most people were dead by their forties, if not their first birthday.

Her author photo is very inspiring to me:
( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
History that reads like a novel with Engerrand De Coucy as the main character and what a harrowing trip it is. Were there any truly righteous men or women? Makes one look at current events in a different light. ( )
1 vota charlie68 | Oct 15, 2019 |
Notable portions:

- Her quotes on little boys, "always hungry; no sooner clean than dirt again." (timeless)

- Description of black death causing parents to forsake children

- Account of Great Schism and Urban's mad rule as pope. ( )
  revspotts | Oct 4, 2019 |
I spent so long taking notes on years ago in the SCA -never thought I'd need those notes for my thesis! ( )
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Tuchman, Barbaraautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
May, NadiaNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Sliedrecht-Smit, J.C.Traductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Spaans-van der Bijl, J.Traductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Vries, S. deEditorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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" For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered. "

John Dryden
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The genesis of this book was a desire to find out what were the effects on society of the most lethal disaster of recorded history-that is to say, of the Black Death of 1348-50, which killed an estimated one third of the population living between India and Iceland.
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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."

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