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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

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  338 Ratings  ·  46 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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Will Byrnes
Oct 19, 2008 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 one's head ache. I wished sometimes that he had focused even more finely on fewer themes. His style is very acc ...more
May 13, 2012 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
David R.
Jan 25, 2010 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
Sarah -
I must've read a different book than others because, while it is certainly not without flaws, it is a good read about an important historical figure. Full review to come.


Rating: 3.5 Stars

While this book is not without its flaws, I feel like other readers and I must have read a completely different book. I found it to be a good read about a highly important historical f
Oct 09, 2013 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
Jan 26, 2009 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.
Sep 02, 2011 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 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
Jun 28, 2009 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.
Apr 25, 2014 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.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book--very easy to read!
Ethan Hulbert
I picked up The Last Knight by Norman F. Cantor at some vintage store I’m sure, a good while ago, and thought it made a nice coffee table book at my last place. I only got around to reading it lately, but as an amateur Medieval history fan, I was pretty excited!

And boy was I let down!

The Last Knight covers John of Gaunt, a wealthy nobleman and influential prince. Well, it claims to. It does mention him a lot, but it’s far from a biography, which is what you would assume from the title anyway.

Kert Tandog
The text is very easy to read and informative enough to keep me - a novice in history - interested. I've never taken history classes after high school and haven't really picked up history books before. However, I am keen to learn and this is a good enough introduction to historical texts. I have qualms with the ending, though, and the unnecessary commentaries on the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks. I wish he just remained in discussing medieval history rather than inadequately connecting i ...more goodreads
good one
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Meh. Took way too much liberty with this Annales school idea of long term history. He suggests that the linking of capitalism with the early enlightenment and renaissance shows that nothing changed for over 800 years until the early 19th century. He suggests 1855 should be the end of the medieval era as nothing changed for the 95 percent of the peasant population for 800 years. He's generalizing wayyyy too much on this assumption. The mid 1300s and 1600s were times of peasant revolt and alterati ...more
Joel Mitchell
Jan 15, 2016 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
J.S. Graustein
Dec 22, 2013 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
Mar 06, 2013 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
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
The second book I've read by the author and they just get worse. This barely squeaks over the "two star" line because buried in it are some interesting facts about one of the two English princes in the 100 Years' War whose offspring's conflicts define about 200 years of its history.

It's also a quick read, if only because it doesn't feel the need to support even the broadest assertions with any reference to fact or close argument. I read this while also reading the magisterial After Tamerlane. I
Nov 25, 2010 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.
Jun 17, 2015 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.
Caleb Guillotte
Apr 22, 2008 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 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.

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...
Feb 23, 2013 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.
Jul 12, 2008 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.
Dec 04, 2009 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.
Mar 11, 2009 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.
Jun 10, 2011 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!
Oliver Bogler
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fun read, and history of a central figure of the late middle ages.
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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
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