I mostly post reviews of the books I'm reading lately.
Mortimer has a radical idea: history can be looked at from a different perspective; “it is not just about the analysis of evidence, unrolling vellum documents or answering exam papers. It is not about judging the dead. It is about understanding the meaning of the past - to realise the whole evolving human story over centuries, not just our own lifetimes.”
He tried to write a travel guide about XIV century England and he manages to put the reader right in the middle of it. You visit the houses of lords and peasants, dress like them, look into their kitchens and solars, study the law very briefly, travel around and look for signs of the plague. Hopefully, you survive.
It’s not just about facts and figures. The descriptions are vivid, there are some images in case you have trouble imagining something, and he covers a wide range of subjects. He does make clear that things might be different whether you arrive at the beginning or at the end of the century, but he tries to include information even on these changes.
And you’ll laugh. It’s impossible not to, when you read things like “Images of extreme cruelty provide an opportunity to study men’s underwear” (right under a picture of the Templars’ burning), or “Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, puts wrestling matches in the same category as gluttony, chatting idly in the market, and anything else which distracts the populace from listening to his sermons.”
Despite getting a tinsy bit boring in the middle, it’s a great read, funny, well-documented, accessible even to those who don’t care about a history. A great complement to all the historical novels I’ve been reading lately.