Suzannah's Reviews > Inventing the Middle Ages

Inventing the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor
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really liked it
bookshelves: history
Read 2 times. Last read May 4, 2018.

This is a phenomenal book, a kind of parallel history of the Middle Ages and the twentieth century combined with biographical sketches and book reviews of the great twentieth-century medievalists and their work. Every single chapter in this book was endlessly fascinating. For me, a major highlight was the chapter on "the Oxford fantasists" notably CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. I had never before read a serious assessment of the Inklings from an academic historian's perspective even though they were by and large academic historians themselves. Cantor is far from dismissive of them, which in 1990 when this book was published cannot have been a very respectable perspective.

But I'm tempted to go through this book chapter by chapter. There are lightbulbs on every page and the whole thing is wound up with a wonderful appendix containing a list of major historical works on the middle ages. There are fascinating details on the influence of Woodrow Wilsonian statism in the study of the Norman duchy, or the pre-Vatican II Roman church's extremely difficult relationship with its best and brightest medieval scholars, and much more. Cantor is unabashedly interested in how the great medievalists' lives and worldviews informed their perspective on the history, which works well when he confines himself to their overt beliefs and becomes nonsensical when he attempts psychoanalysis and alleges various sexual repressions. There are a number of other places I'd disagree with Cantor's conclusions (eg, I agree with him that medieval society was a persecuting society, but that was not because of a lack of separation of church and state but rather because of a top-down, hierarchical conception of both institutions, as well as the family).

Overall, however, this could be the most helpful and enlightening single book I have read on the Middle Ages, a high-level overview that opens up many more avenues of exploration. Don't miss this book!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 14, 2017 – Shelved
November 14, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 3, 2018 – Shelved as: history
Started Reading
May 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

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