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Henry Adams
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Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  267 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
This first paperback facsimile of the classic 1913 edition includes thirteen photographs and numerous illustrations of the great cathedrals of Northern France. Henry Adams referred to this book as "A Study of Thirteenth-Cntury Unity," and its expansive scope, together with the author's deep understanding of the period, makes it a classic in art history as well as in Americ ...more
Nook, 401 pages
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 1905)
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He was......intimidating. The smartest guy in the room intimidating. Henry Adams, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were both American Presidents. There were plenty of troubled failures in the family, but not so Henry. Like his illustrious forebears, he went back in time, to Europe. Unlike John and John Quincy, he stayed there, at least scholastically, being an historian and 'intellectual'. He had, oh, opinions. If he were political, he might have been the smartest man ever to be President ...more
Dec 24, 2014 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henry Adams is the type of author, and an author, whom every educated American once read and discussed. Now, he and his type have been replaced by stupid studies of so-called “white privilege,” and the triumphant martryologies of the past have been replaced by the mewling victimologies of the present, much to the detriment of everyone involved, and most of all to the detriment of any useful intellectual discourse, as can be seen from a cursory view of the comments section of any article in the ...more
Jun 01, 2012 Marks54 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an old classic that I first read over thirty years ago. I recently reread it as part of a family vacation to Belgium and France, during which we spent at day at each of these two wonderful places - along with the Bayeux Tapestry. James provides a good history and description of the key portions of each building along with particular highlights of interest - such as the links between Mont Saint-Michel and the Song of Roland. Adams' prose is wonderful and easy to follow and most of the inf ...more
Ben Dutton
Oct 27, 2008 Ben Dutton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The abbey at Mont-Saint Michel and the cathedral at Chartres are the subject of Henry Adams’ history, self-published in 1904 for the education of his nieces and “nieces in wish” but later released by Ralph Adams Cram with the support of the American Institute of Architects. This history takes in not only the architecture of these two buildings, but a detailed examination of poetry, religion, science, art and philosophy. It is a precise and understanding deconstruction of life in twelfth century ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Thoughtful idiots

In the ancestral shadow of Adams's great study of these two cathedrals of France, which he extends to amplify the doctrines of the 11th and 13th centuries in which they were built, we who live today must look on as thoughtful idiots. We think we understand God and man, theology and science, in deeper modern ways than available to Abelard and Aquinus, Francis and Bernard. We may be thoughtful, but we stand as idiots (Adams writing in the fin de seicle of the 19th century calls us
Sep 02, 2010 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
“Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres” is clearly a work of love by Henry Adams. To be sure, Adams can come off as a bit pompous with his repeated declarations of quotes which can only be read in French and not translated (which are probably best read that way, but impossible for many people who don’t read French at all), but his love of the subject is key, as his enthusiasm is infectious and the reader is likely to start to plan their trip to see these incredible structures for themselves.

Though not
Oct 04, 2009 Bobby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating, personal exploration of 12th century French culture. I wish I could read an edition of this book with more illustrations, since many of his descriptions of medieval church architecture are very difficult to follow for someone who has never seen the buildings he is writing about. One almost needs to be standing in front of the building itself to appreciate what the author has to say about it.

One negative thing I have to mention is that the author in two or three places lapses into
John Jr.
Henry Adams gets at the life of an entire age by way of examining two buildings, which, if you think about it, is quite an accomplishment. Having read it decades ago, I still find myself wondering now and then what constitutes a Mont-Saint-Michel or Chartres for our age. My current inclination is to regard celebrities as the creation of our time that speaks best for our beliefs and aspirations (and no compliment does that do us), but the thought pales in comparison to what Adams achieves here.
It is clear to me that I simply was not equipped with enough knowledge -- philosophical, theological, historical -- to begin to fully appreciate, or even understand, this book. A meditation on a time whose philosophy and architecture are now esteemed only as relics of a curious era a millennium-gone, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres is both playful and mournful, deeply conscious of the the glories of man's (and God's) creation, while simultaneously heavy with skepticism. Adams concludes by linking ...more
Oct 23, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A strange and wonderful compendium of knowledge regarding two of the greatest architectural achievements of the Middle Ages, paired with the social and philosophical achievements of the day. Adams finds a vast array of connections that surprise and sometimes confound, and in the process of examining two structures of stone and glass, paints a portrait of a civilization struggling not to fall back into the Dark Ages yet rekindling once more the the wars of faith that brought them so low. Especial ...more
Tom Randall
Mar 03, 2014 Tom Randall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
o fully appreciate Adams's book the reader is required to know the general parameters of the author's life. While Adams's autobiography, "The Education of Henry Adams" , was written after this volume it is nevertheless necessary to read it first and to also acquaint oneself with the details of Adams's marriage to Clover Hooper and her suicide which are not mentioned at all in the book. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is personalized history. If you want a more objective history look elsewhere. So ...more
Sep 25, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was not an easy book for me when I read it through thirty years ago but it has been on our bookshelf since. Prepared me if anything can for a visit to Mont St Michel that came long after I had seen Chartres. Magnificent opening and closing. Architectural history, theological history, a meditation on Western art. I honestly don't know if I could sit down and read it again with an attention span shortened by age and distraction, but it's a book that fairly often flashes upon the inward eye, m ...more
Sep 07, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this book, which is a fascinating look at the transition from Romanesque to Gothic in eleventh and twelfth century France. Adams brings his encyclopedic knowledge, taste and wit to bear on subjects ranging from the veneration of the Virgin to Scholasticism, the First Crusade, and much more.
I do have to say that the casual antisemitism he reveals on a few occasions, although socially acceptable and even commonplace for a man of his time and circumstances, is more than a little jarring to m
Jul 10, 2013 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It has a certain charming oldness about it. Chapter XIV "Abelard" and Chapter X "The Court of the Queen of Heaven" summarize the most stimulating theological discussions. Abelard on realism/nominalism; and QofH on the way Mariology allows for Grace as contrasted with the perfectionism of the Trinity (with a footnote on how Mary is the new Eve in the same sense as Jesus is the new Adam). The final chapter on Thomas Aquinas treats free will (as differentiated from free choice), science, esthetics, ...more
An interesting and very personal mediation on French architecture and theology in the 12th and 13th centuries centered around the "militant" Mont St. Michel; the cult of the Virgin in Chartres; and the battles between the Church and the scholastics. Many interesting anecdotes. A knowledge of gothic architecture helps in following his description; I could not follow his discussion of medieval scholastic philsophy very well, so I can't tell if the failing was mine or that Adams made his discussion ...more
I am slowly working my way through this paperback that I bought back in the 70s and never managed to finish. Now that I have been to France and seen many of the cathedrals, it is making more sense to me, and if you need visuals you can always google for photos. Adams connects the building style to the style and character of the culture and since I particularly love Romanesque and the earliest Gothic churches, I am delighted by his insights.
I still have not seen Mont-Saint-Michel or Chartres, bu
Dec 19, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-theory
Louis, you are reminding me of books I read long ago and loved. This is one of them. A new England Congregationalist visits Roman Catholicism in France and realizes there is something there.

I had the opportunity to visit Mont St Michel for a few hours in 2009 when my legs could still negotiate the steps. Abaolutely amazing place and architecture, full of faith and nationalism and beauty and war...
Apr 23, 2008 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This book is a personal reading triumph for me. I read it in undergraduate school. It's the hardest thing I've ever read...and, thus, the most rewarding. A fascinating look at 8th (or was it 9th?) century French architecture, written by an American, this book deals with cosmic unity, the formation of the Catholic church's adoration of Mary, and, of course, the gorgeous architecture of Mont St Michel and Chartres.
Jun 17, 2008 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly hate The Education...but I read a few chapters of this while browsing a bookstore, and it triggered none of the usual loathing that overtakes me when in the proximity of his prose style. So maybe.
Feb 05, 2015 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
an amazing classic, especially if you like medieval studies, but it gets a bit ponderous toward the end,
Mar 14, 2016 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
almost as a Pre-Steinian prose,
Deep medieval historian detail in 19th-20th thought...
Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
This is a history of France in the 11th through the 13th Centuries, as told through architecture, and was very interesting.
May 22, 2017 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not exactly sure what to call this, perhaps an intellectual meditation. Adams attempts to reconstruct the medieval mindset that led to the creation of these great churches and eventually to St. Thomas Aquinas. The section where he describes Chartres is one of the best things I have ever read.
It took 9 months, and, finally, stubborn perseverance to get through Henry Adams' work. I relied heavily on the glossary of architectural terms, but could not progress until I Binged (Googled) images and videos of the cathedrals while I read.

I hadn't known one thing about Chartres: that the two towers are different in size, style and age; that the cathedral is a shrine for worship of the Virgin Mary; that the stained glass built in the eleventh century is unique among stained glass. Artisans ha
Philip Lane
This proved to be a bit of a challenge. The first section is about architecture - Norman architecture in France and had me grabbing for a dictionary to explain the architectural vocab. I also missed out badly by reading a free electronic version with no illustrations or diagrams which would have made it much easier to access.
The secon section was more connected to the politics of the time and how the buildings came to be built, by whom and why. This was great fun particularly regarding Eleanor
Nov 02, 2011 g rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france
The first half of this book was a revelation--insightful, playful, energizing. I didn't know a thing about it, having happily stumbled upon it on a $1 sidewalk rack of an Oakland bookstore. I loved learning about the architecture of Mont St. Michel and Notre-Dame de Chartres (and a whole host of other cathedrals and abbeys by way of comparisons), the history of their construction, and the atmosphere of their milieu. All of the stuff about Chartres-as-shrine to the Virgin got to be a bit heavy-he ...more
May 25, 2013 Jaap rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not my sort of subject matter, too dated. At times it does get interesting, but only in a very long-winded manner. I do like that the author assumes an educated readership, inserting large chunks of Middle French and Latin quotations in the text, usually with translations but not always, but drawing parallels between medieval Norman cathedrals and theology went a bit beyond me.

If you are really into how early 20th-century authors analysed the culture of north-western French medieval cathedral bu
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Has an amusing preface "The following pages, then, are for nieces, or for those who are willing, for the time, to be nieces in wish."

Oh, and the quote he says is from an Elizabethan play is actually from a Jacobean play, The Tragedy of Thierry King of France and His Brother Theodoret, also known as Thierry and Theodoret.
Douglas Dalrymple
This is from one chapter to the next a very engaging and a very plodding book. My ignorance of architectural language probably cost me something in the enjoyment of it. Still, I did enjoy it. Adams is a real intelligence. You feel the vigor and breadth of his mind, for instance, in his opening chapter and the excellent chapter on Abelard. He’s also a fine writer. I’m going to have to read his Education soon.
Mar 08, 2011 Mae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magnificient book. Read this book before going on a trip of the Gothic Cathedrals in the North of France. We travelled from Saint Michelle to Paris and the Saint Chapelle. This book along with two others served as my guide of the stories behind their constructions and the turbulent times they were built. A must read for those interested in history and architecture.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Born in 1838 into one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, a family which had produced two American presidents, Henry Adams had the opportunity to pursue a wide-ranging variety of intellectual interests during the course of his life. Functioning both in
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