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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: Hinges of History    by Thomas Cahill Amazon.com order for
Mysteries of the Middle Ages
by Thomas Cahill
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2008 (2008)
Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

In the fifth book in his Hinges of History series, Thomas Cahill takes on the Middle Ages, developing in depth the important people of the era and the mark they made on history. Regardless of its content, Mysteries of the Middles Ages deserves an award for excellence in design and layout. It is one of the most ornate and beautifully designed books I've ever read. Opening the cover, one is greeted by lavish design, colorful photographs and paintings, as well as eye-catching and picaresque fonts.

Cahill's lengthy introduction spends a little too much time on the content of past books and leads readers through the centuries up to the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages. He then skips past the Dark Ages and jumps to the twelfth century and Hildegard of Bingen. There is little mention of the likes of Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, or William the Conqueror - all incredibly important people in setting in motion events, ideas, and practices that gave rise to the High Middle Ages and the great strides made therein, as well as creating precedents and standards that influence the modern age. Subtitling this as And the Beginning of the Modern World seems rather offhand. Only in a small aside does Cahill discuss Muhammad and the birth of Islam in the late sixth century, after spending a quarter of the book on Jesus.

Nevertheless, what Cahill does spend his time addressing, he covers well and thoroughly. Using a conversational and at times jocular tone - making this book accessible to the layman - he begins with Hildegard of Bingen and then speaks of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most important women in the history of the western world. It is here that Cahill digs into the deep and complex history of the High Middle Ages with the rise of universities, the growth of science, math and art, and the crucial stirrings of what would come to be known as the Renaissance - beginning in Paris, then Oxford, and finally moving to Italy with Padua, Florence, and Ravenna, and concluding with Dante.

While Mysteries of the Middle Ages should not be considered a comprehensive coverage of the important people and hinges of the Middle Ages, it nevertheless is an excellent book on the High Middle Ages, and some of the important people who made great leaps and strides sometimes at the cost of their own lives to help create the more advanced world we live in today.

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