Sunday, August 14, 2005

Medieval Lives

Book Review

Medieval Lives

Norman F Cantor
Harper Perennial, 1994

One of the uses of historical and science fiction is to present a point of view on contemporary subjects, set in the distant past or future. This lets the author present a viewpoint on current issues by passes current bias’ loyalties and personalities.

Norman F. Cantor’s Medieval Lives is such a book. The book is nominally about medieval characters discussing important issues of their day. What is happening is an apologetic for a postmodernism. The first eight chapters record a fictional conversation between real medieval persons discussing actual issues of the day. The last chapter is an overview. The background settings for each chapter are well done and there is enough variety in the chapters that the formula does not become boring. One of the characters in each chapter is seeing the issue from a postmodern lens. The other sees the issue through a straw man of how postmoderns would see other viewpoints. Of course with such a setup the postmodern viewpoint seems best, but then the straw man prevents a serious look at the counter argument or itself. In cases where I know something of the actual issue and persons involved I sometimes found it hard to credit that they would say what the author put in their mouths. Since the book is not really about the issues presented it seems little effort was made in researching the issues.

As an uncritical apologetic for postmodernism this book is reasonably well done. However, I bought it with the desire to learn something about the lives of actual medieval people. Except for the background settings, this book is useless for that purpose.


Dymphna said...

Thanks for the warning. I love medieval studies. You might try "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman. At the time she wrote it, during the cultural climate of THE BOMB and nuclear annihilation, she used the Black Plague as the "distant mirror."

Excellent. So is her work on WWI, "The Guns of August." But you've probably read that one?

Have you been to the History blog? The Baron blogrolled him on Gates...he just randomly does posts on history topics. Great stuff.

hank_F_M said...
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hank_F_M said...


I read most Tuchman’s books including those.

I saw the History Blog on the Gates and added it already.

Have you seen the Far Outliers? I found it on Wretchered's blogrole. Most days it is a scaned excerpt about places and events near and far. Since one can't read everything it is a good screen.

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