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Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  416 ratings  ·  45 reviews
An illuminating look at the monumental inventions of the Middle Ages, by the authors of Life in a Medieval Castle.
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 6th 1995 by Harper Perennial (first published 1994)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,521)
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Rogerio Oleniski
Excelente livro, extensamente documentado. A obra mostra como na Idade Média houve um crescente interesse em tecnologia e como os medievais não só receberam novidades técnicas de diversas fontes, mas empreenderam inúmeros aperfeiçoamentos e realizaram legítimas descobertas e inovações. Ao longo do tempo, a relação de recepção de tecnologia vai se invertendo e aqueles que eram os fornecedores e inovadores (chineses, indianos, árabes)aos poucos vão perdendo a iniciativa e se tornando beneficiários ...more

To be fair, I should preface this review by saying that this book has been my bathroom reading for the better part of a year.

Since I'm guessing that's not how this book was intended to be read, it probably had a somewhat deleterious effect on my perception of the book.

And now that I've over-shared to an alarming degree, on to the review.

This book was a little academic for my taste. A little dry. And the information density isn't quite what I'd hoped for either.

That said, the book does do a g
Warren Watts
The Middle Ages are often considered a time of stagnation in human cultural and scientific development. In Cathedral, Forge & Waterwheel: Technology & Invention in the Middle Ages, author Frances Gies proposes that quite to the contrary, the period of history between 500 AD and 1500 AD led to the development of several key technologies that subsequently allowed the scientific and industrial revolutions to occur.

The development of the pointed and segmented arch permitted wider bridges to
G. Branden
Mostly excellent.

My only real criticism of this title is that it should contain a glossary of technological and mechanical terms.

Since it does not, it may pay to either be a really well-read mechanical engineer or to have a reference close to hand.

For example, I know that an "adze" is a hand tool but I always forget what the head looks like, and what it's for. It's not an axe or a hammer, and when was the last time you went to a hardware store for an "adze"? Probably never if you're not a carpen
The general impression about the middle ages is that the period from 500 CE to about 1500 CE was one of darkness, justifying the term 'Dark Ages'. Nothing of note happened during this period. Then - in a burst of creativity and freedom of spirit - the Renaissance, Reformation and Industrial Revolution happened in quick succession. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the consequent shifting of Greek scholars to the West is sometimes presented as the trigger for this change.

Frances Gies sets ou
H. Honsinger
I read this book several years ago, and strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in either medieval history or the history of technology. The thesis of this well-written book, which draws heavily and very interestingly from a plethora of unusual primary sources, is that the Middle Ages have gotten a bad rap. Rather than a long dark millennium of ignorance and stagnation, the Medieval period was an age of significant technological innovation.

Cathedral building was the crucible in which t
Good history read, discussing the technological innovations of the Middle Ages which led to the technological revolution later.
1) ''From the long Paleolithic (Old Stone) Age came the tools and techniques that separated humankind forever from the animal world: language, fire making, hunting weapons and methods, domestication of animals. From the short Neolithic (New Stone) Age, beginning about 8000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, came agriculture and its tools---plow, sickle, ax, and mortar and pestle or stone grain crusher. The wheel and axle appeared in Mesopotamia between 3000 and 4000 B.C. The arts of cloth making were invented ...more
Dana Stabenow
Packed with detail useful to the scholar of the era and the writer who only pretends to be one, and in places hilarious, as regards the comments about smiths as undesirable neighbors. But as bad as the smiths were

A spin-off branch of the trade was found even more objectionable. The spurriers (spur makers) were reputed to "wander about all day with working," getting drunk and "blow[ing] up their fires so vigorously" at night that they blazed, "to the great peril of themselves and the whole neighb
I must confess, I'm not sure how to review a non-fiction book, I've read plenty but never reviewed. I'll try my best though.

This book is about inventions and technology and its advancement during the Middle ages. The general belief is that during that time not much happened technology-wise until daVinci showed up, but this book busts that myth.

Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel is full of information on all manner of technology, not just the invention and its applications but often how it came to b
Husband and wife team of (amateur?) scholars, synthesize recent scholarship (from mid 60's on) on the middle ages for your reading pleasure.

As the title hints at and the subtitle: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, spells out, the focus is the manner in which technology and invention transformed society in the area soon to be known as "the West".

The broadest service this book provides is to cue the reader in to the massive scholarship on the subject that exists outside the English sp
I read this book as part of a study group to which I belong. The authors argue that the dark ages were not nearly so dark as assumed by many. They demonstrate this by chronicling the developments in technology over the centuries preceding the Renaissance. Some of these included the magnetic compass which would enable the voyages of discovery in the fifteenth century, water power for industry, and new designs for ships with full rigging. Europe did not develop ideas in isolation but was able to a ...more
Timothy Bertolet
For those who still think the Middle Ages is a period of "dark ages" this book would be a good place to start to dispell that myth. It is a fascinating account of the development of technology in the middle ages.

Much of the technology in the Middle Ages arose from borrowing and adapting technology from China and the Arabs but this is not to discredit the Middle Ages.

This fascinating book covers just about all areas in breadth and scope of technological advancement in the Middle Ages from cloth
If you are really interested in the subject, this is a tremendous source book. If you just want to learn something about the subject and the themes, this is a very hard book to read.

I gave it only 3 stars, given that it is basically just a listing of examples grouped by century through the middle ages. There is little interpretation, and the summary conclusion is a very simply theme: those medievals had it goin' on. Even for non-fiction, it is pretty dry.

Nevertheless, before I had even finished
Gennady Gorin
Remarkably clear, concise, and readable work on technological progress during the Medieval. Reading it is a humbling experience, reminding on every page of the gradual and incremental nature of improvement. I strongly recommend this book. It is a bit too dry, a bit low on detail, but excellent as a text for the layman.
Kevin Bittner
It is rare that we read a book about the things that came out of what is often called the Dark ages of Europe as it concerns technology and invention. Cathedral, Forge & Waterwheel talks about many of the advances that were made during that time as being piecemeal improvements, instead of the advances that would come about during the industrial age. Unlike the industrial age, advances such as the waterwheel do not have a single inventor that can be pointed at, because each invention was one ...more
Filled with interesting anecdotes but presented in a rambling, repetitive style.

The nominal scope is Europe in the middle ages, but they only stick to that topic for about a quarter of the book.
A pretty basic but comprehensive history of medieval technology, Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel is best used as an introduction for the interested layperson to other scholarship in the field. The Gies have produced a good overview of various kinds of technologies, but I would disagree quite a bit with the conclusions they draw and the contextualisation they provide. Though written in 1994, it feels curiously old-fashioned at points. To be honest, I'm still a little confused as to why it was ass ...more
R.E. Thomas
This book is an excellent study in the general progress of technology during the Middle Ages, debunking the centuries-old conventional wisdom that the period was somehow a step backwards or idling vis-a-vis the Romans. Proceeding chronologically from period to period, a convincing case is made by showing how particular developments built on each other step by step. If I had to find a quibble, it would be the very minor one that I expected a bit more on building technology, and that is very minor ...more
Simply an outstanding treatise on how the "Dark Ages" lead to our modern world. If you are at all interested in the history of technology and innovation this is the book for you.

It is not a dry account, but a lucid, well-paced and thoughtful analysis of how we got here. The rate of technological change today is enormous, but what we "know" today was built on the shoulders of medieval giants and synthesized by Western Civilization.

This knowledge came from a variety of sources - Muslim, Chinese,
VR O'Mahony
This is a wonderful discussion of a generally ignored topic: the actual result of "the fall of the Roman Empire" was an explosion of steadily advancing technology across northern Europe. The Romans, and Greeks, had ignored new technologies (the horizontal loom in place of the clumsy vertical loom, the Chinese blast furnance to make steel, the Indian spinning wheel in place of the "woman's work" of spinning on a distaff, etc., etc., etc.) because they based their economies on slaves and had so no ...more
Michael Kruse
Excellent overview of technological change in Europe, 500-1500 C.E. Well written with an eye to why the technological changes were significant in Europe's cultural development.
Mar 27, 2015 Brian rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2015
Interesting look at the many technological advances during the so-called :dark ages." A little slow sometimes, but worth the effort.
Far less interesting than I though it would be and I think the authors had some odd thoughs. For example they seem to think its necessary to defend the idea that a lot of great advancements were made during the dark ages. OK some advances were made. Man didnt move backwards, but it clearly took hundreds of years to move a very small distance speaking of technology and what was invented took hundreds of years to become common place. The book even bares this out, but the authors seem like its impo ...more
Norman Howe
A good overview of Medieval innovation.
Great insight into the evolution of technology in the Middle Ages.
As an engineer, I was intrigued.
As a fantasy writer, I read about a lot of interesting inventions for the first time that I may have to include in future stories.

My only complaint is that the beginning of the book was a bit slow, and didn't really talk about any inventions at all. But once I got through that, it was a very interesting book.
Michael Barnette
Aug 25, 2010 Michael Barnette rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in medieval studies
Another great offering from this husband and wife team of authors. I cannot recommend their books highly enough for people interested in medieval history or those planning to write historic fiction. These two authors convey their love of history with every written word. Their style is wonderful and accessible rather than being a cut and dried listing of dates and facts.

A real must read!
The thesis of this book is that there was a lot of technological innovation going on during the so-called "dark ages." Who cares? I just liked reading about interesting inventions and how they lead to other discoveries. I had to read it in a night, though, so it was a bit rushed, and I didn't really get to enjoy it. But I doubt I would have given it more than three stars anyway.
Ryan Abbott
A good comprehensive book on the Middle Ages. Touches lightly on most facets of the technology. I read with the intent on learning more about cathedral construction and forges/ medieval ironwork. It only briefly describes these topics. Good starter book for people intent on a broad based understanding of the time.
Inventions during the Middle Ages, or how they weren't that dark after all. Fairly interesting, and a good discussion of how many of the not-too-well-known inventions made a deep impact. I would have liked a bit more discussion of the maths though (such as the adoption of the arabic numerals).
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Frances and and her husband Joseph Gies were historians and writers who collaborated on a number of books about the Middle Ages as well as wrote individual works.
More about Frances Gies...
Life in a Medieval City Life in a Medieval Village Women in the Middle Ages Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages The Knight in History

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