Mysteries of the Middle Ages

  • by Thomas Cahill
  • Narrated by Thomas Cahill
  • 6 hrs and 31 mins
  • Abridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

After the long period of cultural decline known as the Dark Ages, Europe experienced a rebirth of scholarship, art, literature, philosophy, and science, and began to develop a vision of Western society that remains at the heart of Western civilization today. By placing the image of the Virgin Mary at the center of their churches and their lives, medieval people exalted womanhood to a level unknown in any previous society. For the first time, men began to treat women with dignity and women took up professions that had always been closed to them.
The communion bread, believed to be the body of Jesus, encouraged the formulation of new questions in philosophy: Could reality be so fluid that one substance could be transformed into another? Could ordinary bread become a holy reality? Could mud become gold, as the alchemists believed? These new questions pushed the minds of medieval thinkers toward what would become modern science.
Artists began to ask themselves similar questions. How can we depict human anatomy so that it looks real to the viewer? How can we depict motion in a composition that never moves? How can two dimensions appear to be three? Medieval artists (and writers, too) invented the Western tradition of realism.
On visits to the great cities of Europe: monumental Rome; the intellectually explosive Paris of Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas; the hotbed of scientific study that was Oxford; and the incomparable Florence of Dante and Giotto, Cahill brilliantly captures the spirit of experimentation, the colorful pageantry, and the passionate pursuit of knowledge that built the foundations for the modern world.

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What the Critics Say

"The author wears his erudition lightly and leavens his writing with reader-friendly anachronisms....The result is a fresh, provocative look at an epoch that's both strange and tantalizingly familiar." (Publishers Weekly)
"A prodigiously gifted populizar of Western philosophical and religious thought spotlights exemplary Christians in the High Middle Ages....Cahill serves as an irresistible guide: never dull, sometimes provocative, often luminous." (Kirkus Reviews)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

History at its worst

As an avid reader of history for over 40 years, I must say this is absolutely the most self indulgent nonsense I have ever come across. If you want to hear ridiculous references to everyone from MLK to Bessie Smith, and the obligatory swings at George W Bush, in a book that pretends to be about the Middle Ages, go ahead. If you want to learn how the Renaissance got it's start, look elsewhere.

The authors' over bloated prose, packed full of pseudo-intellectual double negatives reeks of an ego I have never seen or heard in any other historian's works. I tried as hard as I could to put up with the book; after 2 hours it was more than I could stand.
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- John

Thinly veiled Progressive Rant

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

If Cahill had actually stuck to history instead of using history as an excuse to go on leftist rants.


What do you think your next listen will be?

Not Cahill.


If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Mysteries of the Middle Ages?

The work has nothing to do with "mysteries" but is largely a series of biographical vignettes. Cahill is a compelling author, but could not resist using this work as a platform for criticizing GW Bush and the 20th century Catholic Church. There is plenty there to criticize, but this was not the place for it. Cahill also profoundly misrepresents both Islam and Christianity, even though his first-person references often suggest he is (was ?) Catholic. His controlling interpretive lens of history (medieval and modern) is the tired progressive filter that long ago ran its course.The few worthwhile insights he offers are greatly outweighed by the deficiencies in this work.


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- Mountain K9iner

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-05-2006
  • Publisher: Random House Audio