Books, Banks, Buttons: And Other Inventions from the Middle Ages

Books, Banks, Buttons: And Other Inventions from the Middle Ages

by Chiara Frugoni
     
 

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Once regarded by historians as a period of intellectual stagnation, the Middle Ages were actually a time of extraordinary cultural and technological innovation. This entertaining romp through the inventions of the period tells the story of the first appearance of dozens of items and ideas of lasting significance.

From this misunderstood age we get our buttons,

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Overview

Once regarded by historians as a period of intellectual stagnation, the Middle Ages were actually a time of extraordinary cultural and technological innovation. This entertaining romp through the inventions of the period tells the story of the first appearance of dozens of items and ideas of lasting significance.

From this misunderstood age we get our buttons, our underwear, and our trousers; we entertain ourselves with medieval playing cards, tarot cards, and chess. It was during the Middle Ages that domesticated cats first found their way into our houses, along with glazed windows, dining tables and chairs, and fireplaces. Numerous labor-saving devices originated then as well, including the wheelbarrow, the windmill and watermill, and the effective use of the horse. War became more deadly with the introduction of gunpowder, while travel over water became less so thanks to the compass and the rudder. Time itself emerged into recognizably modern form, with the advent of clocks—based on the escapement mechanism—that measured hours of equal length independent of the changing seasons. More cosmic notions of time developed as well, as the new realm of purgatory broke the traditional dichotomy of heaven and hell. Even Santa Claus first captured the imagination of children during the Middle Ages.

Ranging from the invention of eyeglasses (by a now-forgotten layperson who sought to keep his methods secret, the better to profit from them) to the creation of the fork (at first regarded as an instrument of diabolical perversion but embraced when it helped people handle another invention of the age, pasta), this beautifully illustrated volume is a fitting tribute to an era from which we still benefit today.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Speculum - Michael E. Hoenicke Moore
It is likely that this book will lead new students to develop a fascination with the Middle Ages while introducing seasoned scholars to topics they have overlooked.

Blue Ridge Business Journal - Dan Smith
A thoroughly engaging look at the slow, subtle development of civilization.

Bloomsbury Review - Gray Pleuth
These contents provide a scholarly overview of the changes evinced by era while retaining a readable style and refreshing pace.

Choice
[Frugoni] deftly fashions a narrative that takes readers on an informative, often charming and wryly humorous, journey... What particularly distinguishes this volume, though, is the more than 100 exquisite illustrations that aptly represent social and religious attitudes toward the inventions and innovations of the time... Highly recommended.

Speculum
It is likely that this book will lead new students to develop a fascination with the Middle Ages while introducing seasoned scholars to topics they have overlooked.

— Michael E. Hoenicke Moore, Southern Illinois University

Blue Ridge Business Journal
A thoroughly engaging look at the slow, subtle development of civilization.

— Dan Smith

Bloomsbury Review
These contents provide a scholarly overview of the changes evinced by era while retaining a readable style and refreshing pace.

— Gray Pleuth

History Magazine
Written in an engaging and open style with many delightful color illustrations showing the various objects, the book examines such commonplace items as forks, glazed windows, paper watermarks, rudders and wheelbarrows, placing them in their medieval context with the support of contemporary sources.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231128131
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
06/15/2005
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
7.82(w) x 10.46(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Jacques Le Goff
From glasses to the compass, from buttons to the university, this brilliant work of Chiara Frugoni paints a portrait of an epoch that was anything but dark and immune to progress and that was everywhere rich with vital and important inventions.

Irving Lavin
Brilliant.... Lucid, graceful, always lively and imaginative.... There is no precendent for the range of themes gathered [here]... with rare critical intelligence and perceptivity.... In short, the book is a... masterpiece.

Patricia Fortini Brown
This enchanting tale, masterfully recounted by a pre-eminent historian of the Middle Ages, reveals the fertile imagination and extraordinary inventiveness of a period whose legacy to the modern world included not just books, banks, and buttons, but also eyeglasses, playing cards, pasta, table forks, underwear, the mechanical clock, and domesticated cats inside the house.

Meet the Author

Chiara Frugoni is professor of medieval history at the University of Rome II, a frequent contributor to La Repubblica and the Manifesto, and the author of many books, including Francis of Assisi: A Life, A Distant City: Images of Urban Experience in the Medieval World, and A Day in the Life of a Medieval City (forthcoming). William McCuaig is a translator living in Toronto.

Columbia University Press

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