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The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era
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The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  284 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
There may not be a more fascinating a historical period than the late fourteenth century in Europe. The Hundred Years' War ravaged the continent, yet gallantry, chivalry, and literary brilliance flourished in the courts of England and elsewhere. It was a world in transition, soon to be replaced by the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration -- and John of Gaunt was its cent ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 2004)
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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettThe Name of the Rose by Umberto EcoThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey ChaucerWorld Without End by Ken FollettBeowulf by Unknown
Best Middle Ages Books
217th out of 920 books — 1,149 voters
A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. TuchmanBlood Royal by Eric JagerThe Last Plantagenets by Thomas B. CostainJoan of Arc by Jules MicheletAgincourt by Juliet Barker
Non-fiction books about the Hundred Years' War
22nd out of 72 books — 21 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 621)
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May 14, 2012 Nikki rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I read two chapters and put it down in disgust. Refers to people who are not heterosexual as 'gays' constantly, overstates 'facts' that cannot actually be proven (protip: if William Rufus, Richard II and Edward II were attracted to men, we will still never know for sure, and their eras concepts of sexuality were wholly different to ours), and has some kind of obsession with seeing John of Gaunt as a modern-day billionaire.

I'll have to look for a different biography of John of Gaunt. This one sim
Will Byrnes
Mar 27, 2015 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Cantor is an irascible academic who flourishes in the field of the Middle Ages. He takes as his focus one John Gaunt, a high-born aristocrat who also embodies the values of the time. Using Gaunt, Cantor provides us with a wide ranging look at the times in Europe as changes flowed through the world with varying degrees of resistance. There is so much information in here that it can make the head ache. I wished some times that he could have focused even more finely on fewer themes. His style is ve ...more
David R.
Dec 04, 2013 David R. rated it it was ok
Almost too many flaws to itemize, including: (A) Shallow research -- or at least a compendium of superficialities about the Middle Ages, (B) Far too much repetition, (C) Little focus on the presumptive central character (John of Gaunt), (D) Made-up (and shockingly bad) "personal statements", (E) Ridiculous conclusions, (F) Simplistic writing (aimed at middle schoolers?,) and (G) a weird obsession with "billionaire capitalists" (a phrase that comes up so often I lost count.) Cantor has the academ ...more
Jan 26, 2009 Judie rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
By delving into the life of John of Gaunt, Cantor explores the end of the Middle Ages. It read like an overview of the people of that time--their lifestyle, politics, religion, wars, and attitudes. I enjoyed reading this book and having a different view John of Gaunt.
Nov 30, 2013 John-Paul rated it it was ok
This is a short book and a quick read. Quick as in some of the paragraphs are two sentences long and Cantor makes sure that he's always making a point, even if he's already made the point, or even if the point isn't really supported by evidence. That's not always so bad, as at least Cantor is clear about why he wrote this book: more people should know about John of Gaunt, and one reason is to understand that wealthy elites haven't changed much, however much society seems to have changed. Gaunt w ...more
Nov 25, 2011 Teaberry rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: medieval die-hards who don't mind slogging through jumbled-up mishmash content
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Good heavens, this book seriously needs an EDITOR! The first three chapters are nearly unreadable, the writing is so poor. From Chapter 4 on, the author seems finally to be interested in his own topic, and things flow a little more smoothly, but still, I was constantly distracted by the author's personal asides and political commentary. I understand his intent in so many asides and digressions, but they, too, are rather poorly executed and just made me roll my eyes, even when I agreed with him.

Aug 12, 2010 Jenn rated it liked it
If you already maintain a rough understanding of the Middle Ages, dates, royal lines, and maps, than you will probably enjoy. This is however not a book for a novice looking for an interesting history book. Cantor's parallels between our current concept of class and economy to those found during the twilight of the Middle Ages are intriguing. And, upon completion of the book, I am interested in reading further material, which is always a positive. Yet, I am not certain I am ready to jump into an ...more
Joel Mitchell
Jan 17, 2016 Joel Mitchell rated it it was ok
From this book's cover I assumed that this was primarily a biography of John of Gaunt. However, the book's subtitle gives a better indication of the author's focus: the waning years of the middle ages (in which John of Gaunt was a major player). Rather than tell about John's life in chronological order, the author breaks down the society of the late middle ages into a number of categories which he discusses, using John of Gaunt as an occasional illustration (with increasing frequency as the book ...more
Jun 29, 2009 PastAllReason rated it really liked it
Cantor's book is very accessible. His biography places John of Gaunt within the context of the times in which he lived, and the role he played in society. The book therefore presents both a portrait of John of Gaunt but also of England in the transition to the post-medieval world. Well worth reading.
Jan 12, 2009 Tracy rated it it was amazing
I loved this book--very easy to read!
Jun 27, 2015 Ann rated it it was ok
It gives a general background on Gaunt.
However, it is not focused; there's a lot of repetition. Also, and more problematically, there's a lot of speculation. Cantor speculates many times on what might have happened. He also is also very liberal with tossing around the homosexual brand to different historical figures, calling them out as gay with no real basis or proof for his statements -- and he makes it sounds like fact.

Interesting historical facts are to be found here and there.
Apr 25, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Just finished Katherine - and wanted to reread this again. John of Gaunt is one of my most favorite historical characters...this place him within the customs, institutions, economical, religious context of his times with chapters on politics, the church, women, peasants, warfare, Chaucer, etc.

I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.
J.S. Graustein
Dec 22, 2013 J.S. Graustein rated it it was ok
Shelves: medieval, history
First the good: The typographer of this book really knocked it out of the park. He/she is the only reason I didn't rate this book with one star.

Now the rest: This book reads like it was dictated and transcribed, then clumsily edited. There are tangents and repetitions, huge leaps of logic, and statements of fact that are actually conjecture. The words suggest, imply, and seem should have been used throughout the text...but they weren't. I had purchased this book as background research for a proj
Oct 27, 2015 Trish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy read overview on the time of John of Gaunt and Medieval history. Informative but no exhaustive by any stretch. It was an enjoyable and education read.
Mar 14, 2013 Cate rated it it was ok
Cantor is a funny writer, and he doesn't shy away from topics like homosexuality the way some other historians do. His bibliography is excellent as well. However, I felt that this book was a little cursory in some aspects. The chapters are very much: this is a basic outline of a Medieval thing...and John of Gaunt was connected tangentially to that because he was a Medieval guy. Still, it's short and a pretty quick read so even if you know more about a certain subject than he goes into, you'll fi ...more
Nov 27, 2010 Joy rated it it was ok
THE LAST KNIGHT reads like an overview all the way through. I sometimes felt the author had caught the essence of John of Gaunt, and sometimes felt he had been writing from memory without checking his facts. There were times when Cantor would set a generalization down flatly before us, and I would wish he would offer some support for it. He gives great credit to the Gaunt bios by Goodman, Armitage-Smith and Russell, and says in effect that if we want details we should read them.
Caleb Guillotte
Apr 22, 2008 Caleb Guillotte rated it really liked it
A really fascinating look at a lesser-known yettruly pivotal figure in history. John of Gaunt was the richest man in europe not a crowned monarch. He influenced the major players in western Europe with his wealth and familial ties (he was the second son of Edward III of England & father of Prince Henry "the navigator" of Portugal). He was the Rockafeller of his day and a player in social and religious movements and was, perhaps, the last great player in the Middle Ages.
Daniel Kukwa
Jan 15, 2011 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s a book that reads quickly and simply, but seems packed full of sumptuous detail, along with the acknowledgement of various theories and past works on certain events in relation to John of Gaunt & the Middle Ages…and where exactly Cantor stands in relation to those previous works. An excellent handbook on an exciting era of transition, it’s almost disappointing that it ends as quickly as it does.

Jul 18, 2008 Stuart rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An in depth look at John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, and brother to The Black Prince, and the world in which he lived. Towards the end of Medieval England, and during the Hundred Years War, it's also a look at Englands progression and move into the Rennaissance, and the discrepancies between the aristocracy and peasants during a period of upheaval.
Aaron DeMott
I've been working on this one for a while. I tend to read a chapter or two, read another whole book or three, then come back to it.

The content is a fascinating look into life in the middle ages, but the writing style is a tad dry. Perhaps it's just because I prefer reading Historical Fiction which flows more like a story...
Mar 04, 2013 Jason rated it did not like it
I gave this book a good shot - got 'bout half way thru...and that was a chore. This book is so random, scattered and overall poorly written, i'm not sure how it even got published. The title seems to have nothing to do with the subject...but then, the subject is all over the place so...who can tell.
Mar 11, 2009 Cody rated it really liked it
I read this too far back to remember all the particulars as to why I liked it - but I did! It may something to do with my decade long (give or take a few years)affinity for all-things-middle-ages. Finding connections from that time in history to ours fascinates me.
Dec 04, 2009 Mk100 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting read, although not nearly as interesting as Cantor's book on the Black Death. I prefer Tuchman's writing style. But if you're interested in this period of history, it is overall a reasonable away to spend a few pleasant hours.
Jun 14, 2011 Sue rated it it was ok
Started out good but really started to drag towards the end. Interesting but too much like a history textbook after a while. I think I just am in need of some mindless entertainment reading!
Kristen Gurri
Jan 20, 2008 Kristen Gurri rated it liked it
Shelves: 2-non-fiction
Cantor draws some interesting comparisons to the end of the Middle Ages and the corporations of today. I enjoyed reading it and filling in some of the gaps from high school world history.
Jun 05, 2008 Miles rated it really liked it
Awesome view of aristocratic society at the end of the Middle Ages. At great insight to anyone interested in a light spattering of Knights, medieval economics, politics, and social customs.
Adam Johnson
Jul 20, 2011 Adam Johnson rated it really liked it
Norman F Cantor never fails to come up with something readable and historically educational, this is shows the other face of the middle ages, good read.
Colleen O'grady
Jun 16, 2010 Colleen O'grady rated it it was amazing
What a inhospitable environment John of Gaunt was born, lived, married and warred in and what a magnificent man he was...I like that
Jul 27, 2012 Bookworm rated it did not like it
I read about 50 pages and gave up on it. I found it superficial, disorganized, and didactic--not traits I like in a history book.
Jun 05, 2014 Jenny rated it it was amazing
The author is unforgiving in his assessment of the aristocracies high opinion of themselves. It was quiet a refreshing read.
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Born in Winnipeg, Canada, Cantor received his B.A. at the University of Manitoba in 1951. He went on to get his master's degree in 1953 from Princeton University and spent a year as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. He received his doctorate from Princeton in 1957 under the direction of the eminent medievalist Joseph R. Strayer.

After teaching at Princeton, Cantor moved to Columbia Univ
More about Norman F. Cantor...

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