A Distant Mirror

  • by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Narrated by Nadia May
  • 28 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and the exquisitely decorated Books of Hours; and on the other, a time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world of chaos and the plague.Barbara Tuchman reveals both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived. Here are the guilty passions, loyalties and treacheries, political assassinations, sea battles and sieges, corruption in high places and a yearning for reform, satire and humor, sorcery and demonology, and lust and sadism on the stage. Here are proud cardinals, beggars, feminists, university scholars, grocers, bankers, mercenaries, mystics, lawyers, and tax collectors, and, dominating all, the knight in his valor and "furious follies", a "terrible worm in an iron cocoon".


What the Critics Say

"Beautifully written, careful, and thorough in its scholarship....What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was....No one has ever done this better." (New York Review of Books)
"Barbara Tuchman at the top of her powers....A beautiful, extraordinary book....She has done nothing finer." (Wall Street Journal)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Gripping, once you get into it

The reviews I have seen so far are between enthusiasm and irritation. This definitely is an audiobook that needs getting into. The narrator has a fast pace, which takes some time to get used to (but is required for the book not to be 40 hours...), and the topic is highly entertaining and gripping.

Why is this gripping? The book describes one of the bloodiest centuries in European History, with millions wiped out because of the Plague and probably hundreds of thousands due to wars, pillaging, meaningless executions, revolts and brutal slaughter of entire towns in reprisal. It describes the evil character of man in its eternal quest for more, whether it be power, glory, wealth or beauty; and the ruthlessness to achieve or obtain it.

Many developments of later ages can be understood from what started in this 14th century: the pogroms, the rise of populism and popular revolution, new military doctrines, and anticlerical movements.

A book this size has its drawbacks: there are numerous listings - of people, towns & regions, of the composition and resources of various armies and the payment each officer receives. Also the narrative uses a historical figure 'Angerand de Coucy' as a red line, while this might give too much focus on his exploits instead of describing the reasons or arguments behind historical events. Nonetheless, in an age so void of written records and chronologies, it is wonderfully detailed.

But these drawbacks are overshadowed by the lyric description of the royal bloodlines of France and England, their perpetual strife and cinematic character. Therefore, well recommended!
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- E. Smakman

And you thought the twentieth century was rough...

I initially purchased this book as a result of my budding interest in the bubonic plague and the devestation it brought to Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century. What I got, however, was a tour de force. This book is an amazing work of scholarship. The plague years, though thoroughly discussed, warrant only a chapter in what could arguably be called the most turbulent, violent and terrifying hundred-year span in human history. So bad were these years that they make the past century look like a vacation to Disneyland. War, disease, death, rape, slaughter, indignity, religious turmoil, gang violence -- all were present in the fourteenth century to degrees unimaginable today. And yet humanity survived. Ms. Tuchman's research is astounding -- more than once it will leave you shaking your head and thinking, "Where did she find that?" -- and her words are brought to vibrant life by the incomparable Nadia May. But be warned -- this is not an undertaking for the timid. It's a long journey through a hundred years, and Ms. Tuchman pays homage to minutiae. She ties it all together nicely by focusing primarily on the life of French nobleman Enguerrand VII de Coucy, whose adventures spanned the most important events of the century, but she takes a lot of detours. If you're curious about the middle ages, though, and you're looking for detail, this is the place to start. You'll never look at your own time the same way again.
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- Rob

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-26-2006
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.