New College of the Humanities

The Two Cities; & Carolingian Renewal

Eric Christiansen reviews two very different books on medieval history

Eric Christiansen | Published in
  • The Two Cities: Medieval Europe 1050-1320
    Malcolm Barber – Routledge, 1992 - 581 pp. - £40
  • Carolingian Renewal: Sources And History
    D.A. Bullough - Manchester University Press, 1991 - 343 pp. - £40

Two very different books on medieval history: one for beginners, one for insiders, both at the same price, which is out of the student's reach. The question is not whether to buy them as they are, but as they might be, in paperback.

The much-respected Reading Lecturer Malcolm Barber has chosen the 270 years when Latin medieval civilisation is usually held to have reached some sort of climax (and is actually called 'High' in America), and has bottled much of it in a compendium which 'seeks to explore the medieval mentality in greater depth than could he gained from a conventionaI outline of political events'.

Perhaps it is churlish to say so, but what this period needs at present more than anything else is precisely that: 'a conventional outline of political events'. Nothing since Mundy's High Middle Ages has been of the slightest use in setting out what actually happened; and Mundy was not much use, either. However, the good news is that Barber provides both the conventional outline, and the mentality exploration. On the whole, the beginner is doubly well served.

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