The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
As I’ve started to branch out from the Tudors, I’ve become more and more interested in the earlier period, Medieval England. Of course when I am looking for recommendations on books set in the medieval period, I go to my favorite medieval history grad student and book blogger, Medieval Bookworm. Some time ago she started talking about a book she was reading, “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England.” She raved about it, and got me very interested, so when I was offered a review copy from Simon and Schuster, I jumped at the chance to read it.
The premise of “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” is fairly obvious from the title. Ian Mortimer has written the book you will need if you suddenly decide to take a trip to Medieval England. Now, you may be about to protest that you aren’t going to be taking a trip to Medieval England any time soon, and wonder why you should read this. Well, are you interested in history? In historical fiction? An approach like Mortimer’s is a fantastic way to get a feel for a time and place.
“The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” is divided into eleven sections:
- The Landscape
- The People
- The Medieval Character
- Basic Essentials
- What to Wear
- Where to Stay
- What to Eat and Drink
- Health and Hygiene
- The Law
- What to Do
I really learned a lot from this book. Mortimer walks very well the line between being accessible to those who may not have much depth of knowledge about the time period and not talking down to those who do. A passing knowledge of the reigning kings of the 14th century would certainly be helpful before reading, but if you don’t even know that much you won’t be lost. I anticipated reading perhaps a chapter at a time, interspersing “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” with unrelated fiction in order to keep my interest up, but I found myself reading chapter after chapter greedily, hungry for the knowledge that Mortimer imparts so painlessly.
I don’t know that I can give “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” much higher praise than saying that it made me really excited to read “The Canterbury Tales” – Chaucer and his Tales are referenced quite often – and even just by partway through the first tale, there have been two or three things that I understood much better than I otherwise would have.
Really, if you have any interest in Medieval England at all, this will be an invaluable resource, helping provide background and context for other works of history and historical fiction. Plus, it is so readable!