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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (The Hinges of History #5)

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  3,458 Ratings  ·  326 Reviews
From the bestselling author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, a fascinating look at how medieval thinkers created the origins of modern intellectual movements.

After the long period of decline known as the Dark Ages, medieval Europe experienced a rebirth of scholarship, art, literature, philosophy, and science and began to develop a vision of Western society that remains
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 4th 2008 by Anchor (first published 2006)
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Aug 13, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
ARGH. This book!

1. The author does not reveal his semi-thesis until the conclusion of the book and fails to make his arguments (when he has an argument) conform to the thesis throughout the book.

2. The first thing they teach you when you do graduate work in history is that history is not inevitable. Because something happened in the 12th century it does not mean that things have to be the way they are in the 21st century. Hildegard von Bingen and Eleanor of Aquitaine do not feminism make. In fac
Mysteries of the Middle Ages is history told through biography and anecdote. While it covers grand themes, as the title implies, it does so in an immediate, small scale way that makes the transitions of time more accessible to lay readers (i.e.: me).

I picked Mysteries up somewhat by chance; I was reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, and wanted to supplement my meager knowledge of the period. Originally, I passed this over because it was too expensive at my local Borders (it has full-color
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'll say this for Cahill--he holds nothing back.
Let's start with the book proper, because I'm a medievalist and an editor, so I notice these things. Setting this up like an illuminated manuscript was a brilliant move--the marginalia, the side notes like glosses instead of the more academic foot- or endnotes, even the scribe-like scratches of page numbers made this book a visual joy to read, which was a neat trick.
As to the contents, this gets the stamp of approval from a Real Live Medievalist. I
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book in a long time that I've stopped reading mid-way through. I appreciated the pictures. I like pictures. But they could not compensate for the otherwise amateur composition of this book.

The frequent plugs for Cahill's other books in the text are arrogant, but understandable. The idiot-friendly comparisons between medieval troubadors and the Rolling Stones are annoying, but tolerable. But the fact that he makes judgments which are not only out-of-context, but inflammatory (li
Dana Stabenow
Cahill is determined to redeem the Middle Ages from the likes of William Manchester (A World Lit Only By Fire) and Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). On the contrary, Cahill writes

The reputation of the Middle Ages for thuggish cruelty is largely (if not wholly) undeserved.

which I find a bit of a relief, since I much prefer the Middle Ages of Brother Cafael to the Middle Ages of Torquemada. When Cahill cites Hildegarde of Bingen as proof of the rise of feminism in the Middl
Jul 01, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History and Biography lovers
Shelves: finished
I have the audio book (abridged) which I've listened to through the state of Nevada, a state in which to listen to audio books.

I picked up the book thinking that I didn't know much about the Middle Ages, but as I listened, Cahill reintroduced me to some of my favorite historical figures: Hildegard, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Dante, Giotto. I realized that I knew more about the Middle Ages than I thought.

Cahill talks of the time through the people an
Jacob Aitken
Cahill argues that those terrible dark ages actually sparked movements that elevated women and anticipated science.

Cahill is always worth reading. He is very interesting and is a good writer. He brings up many topics that modern academics ignore.

The bad parts:
1) While he gets the general overview of history correct, his specific analyses are usually wrong--and wrong by a long shot. For example, he said that the Greek Orthodox were not as concerned with the Incarnation as the Romans. This is ju
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the Reader's Digest take on history. Like any good digest, Cahill draws on the Middle Ages' most interesting topics and presents said topics very accessibly. Despite being disappointingly low on cults and mysteries (false advertising!), this book was a great introduction to religious art and philosophy. Never before have I found the two to be more accessibly presented. However the whimsical illustrations (not the photos, but the gargoyles littering every other page) and riffing tangents ...more
The central thesis that Mr. Cahill sets forth in Mysteries of the Middle Ages certainly intrigued me from the outset. I was very curious to see the threads of modern thinking rising from the ashes of the Roman Empire, and how the Catholic Church facilitated this remarkable transition. Unfortunately, I never felt that the author completely proved his main argument. While I enjoyed the examples provided by Francis of Assisi, Francis Bacon, Hildegard, etc. I never really felt that this book came to ...more
Dec 16, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I put this down pretty much exactly halfway through, when the author leaves the Middle Ages and goes on an unnecessary anti-Islam diatribe, parroting the right-wing anti-Muslim talking points you hear from any Fox News guest. It is otherwise a compelling account of a hodgepodge of figures from Catholic history; though neither deep nor thought-provoking, at least fairly interesting. I have no idea why the author decided to ruin his own credibility halfway through, and I can't imagine why his edit ...more
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Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in Queens and the Bronx, Cahill was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy in 1964, and a pontifical degree in philosophy in ...more
More about Thomas Cahill...

Other Books in the Series

The Hinges of History (6 books)
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization
  • The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels
  • Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter
  • Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World
“Is is seldom possible to say of the medievals that they *always* did one thing and *never* another; they were marvelously inconsistent. ” 10 likes
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