A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

by Barbara W. Tuchman


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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

Barbara W. Tuchman—the acclaimed author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic The Guns of August—once again marshals her gift for character, history, and sparkling prose to compose an astonishing portrait of medieval Europe.
The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering age of crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry; on the other, a world plunged into chaos and spiritual agony. In this revelatory work, Barbara W. Tuchman examines not only the great rhythms of history but the grain and texture of domestic life: what childhood was like; what marriage meant; how money, taxes, and war dominated the lives of serf, noble, and clergy alike. Granting her subjects their loyalties, treacheries, and guilty passions, Tuchman re-creates the lives of proud cardinals, university scholars, grocers and clerks, saints and mystics, lawyers and mercenaries, and, dominating all, the knight—in all his valor and “furious follies,” a “terrible worm in an iron cocoon.”
Praise for A Distant Mirror
“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.”The New York Review of Books
“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.”The Wall Street Journal
“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.”—Commentary

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345349576
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/1987
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 784
Sales rank: 80,126
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.75(d)

About the Author

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912–1989) achieved prominence as a historian with The Zimmermann Telegram and international fame with The Guns of August—a huge bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her other works include Bible and Sword, The Proud Tower, Stilwell and the American Experience in China (for which Tuchman was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize), Notes from China, A Distant Mirror, Practicing History, The March of Folly, and The First Salute.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Excerpted from "A Distant Mirror"
by .
Copyright © 1987 Barbara W. Tuchman.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Distant Mirror 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read the Distant Mirror repeatedly over thirty years and now it is in the Nook library. When it was first published I used excerpts while teaching economics to evening school students. The reflections of this critical century in western history remain all around us in daily life. Including why we bless someone for sneezing, the meaning of children's nursery ryhmes, the source of idioms in language, the persistent cause of inflation, the roots of religious intolerance to rival the horrors of the 20th century, and history which reads like a fictional novel. Don't miss your chance to read one of the great books of our time.
JsrNull More than 1 year ago
Even those who are not students of medieval Europe will like this book. It has an easy to read and engaging style. The nice thing for the serious and non-serious reader is that Ms. Tuchman found a relatively obscure nobleman who always seemed to be on the edges of the great events of the 14th Century. So it is a history and a biography and something new to find out even for those fairly familiar with the period. I have read it twice and am glad to have it in my eBook library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you only want to read one book to better understand the 1300's,"A Distant Mirror" is, by far, the best one available! Tuchman's scholarship is impeccable, her writing is beautiful, and her conclusions are provocative. What struck me was the utterly horrible conditions that people, especially the poor, had to endure during this period. And there was no possibility of things improving! Starvation, the worst plague in history, unending labor, and the possibility of being pillaged, killed, and tortured were constant worries. For generations we have been conditioned to believe that, while there might be "bumps on the road" from time to time, the upward progress of western man was inevitable. During the 1300's this was unbelievable! It is a sobering conclusion.
LN_Adcox More than 1 year ago
MASTERFUL This is the most absorbing, interesting and engaging straight history book I have ever read. It uses the device of tracing one protagonist, Enguerrand de Coucy VII, to keep the historical story more intimate, although he is often not in the forefront. It covers a vast array of topics to include the plague, customs and fashions, crusades, the continuous, intermittent warfare between England and France, the foibles of chivalry, the political landscape and dearth of rationale leadership, the papal schism and the moral depravity of the church, economic conditions and insufferable taxation. I have a much better understanding of the papal schism that lasted over seventy years, the Hundred Years’ War, the ability of superior French forces to sustain catastrophic defeat, and the importance and manner of death of Jeanne (or Joan) d’Arc. I would challenge anyone that thinks American or world politics, leadership, morals, and economic and military problems are worse today than at any time in history to look at the fourteenth century. As Tuchman quotes Voltaire, “History never repeats itself, man always does”.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tuchman takes the tack, in this highly regarded and very informative, classic of cultural history, of tracing the development of an important and increasingly influential family of the time, the Coucy. Tuchman walks us through various economic and cultural rooms of the age, and - at her best - we feel that we are inside the room seeing it for ourselves. Chapters that cover the Black Death and sexual and romantic matters are particularly fascinating and revealing. I suggest reading this book in slices - the best way to enjoy a large feast. An excellent book for the layman and scholar alike.
RHSTX More than 1 year ago
A Distant Mirror has it all! It reads like a novel, yet is packed with the pathos of history... The black death, the black prince, the flagellants, and the 100 years' war. No one can write like Tuchman, and this is one of her best. You will have a fantastic ride, drop your jaw at Poitiers, and shed a tear for the hubris of the French. If you want a real education into the 14th century read this book along with Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's "Montaillou, The Promised Land of Error". You will gain a real insight into the three estates of medieval Europe...
CaptDJ More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books of all time. Brings a little known period of history to life. Fascinating historical facts and accounts based on real people. This period of history left an indelible mark on our culture and society. Every time we sing 'Ring around the rosie' with a child we recall our cultural memory and the impact of this period on Western Civilization. Read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic historical writing but most of all a great insight into different times and a different mentality. Not just who and when but how they thought and what motivated them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From besieges to peasantry uprisings. From corrupt officials to demonology and witch-hunts. From the holocaust that was the Black Death to the Hundred Years¿ War when the phrase ¿This is the end of World¿ was axiomatic. The 14th century was indeed one of the most calamitous time periods man has ever witnessed. Indubitably, no contemporary author has ever anatomized the Century, showing readers both the travesties that transpired and the accomplishments of the age, as the world-renowned historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Barbara W. Tuchman in her narrative A Distant Mirror. As the ¿Vehicle¿ of her narrative, Tuchman ingeniously choose one of the most prominent and skillful knights of his time, Enguerrand De Coucy of France. Chosen because his life from 1340-1397 coincided with the time period concerning Tuchman, Coucy truly lived one of the most extraordinary medieval lives, making this narrative a delightfully exhilarating read. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the multifaceted Coucy until he quelled a cataclysmic peasantry uprising at the meager age of 18. In order to paint a vivid picture of Europe¿s condition before Coucys known life, Tuchman devoted the first seven chapters of her narrative to explaining in detail the catastrophic events that materialized before Enguerrand made his mark on history. Enrapturing readers right from the beginning, Tuchman tells the all true tale of the arrogant French King, Phillip IV, who after a dispute with the Pontiff, used his military powers and political connections to elect a new Pope and move the Papacy to the French province of Avignon where it would remain for successions to come. Indeed, at the turn of the 13th Century, France was one of the mightiest powers in the world with narcissistic rulers, a massive army, and a love for Chivalry. As the 14th Century commenced, although French Supremacy reigned, the century was already in trouble. In 1303-1307 an advance of polar and alpine Glaciers started what was to be known as ¿The Little Ice Age¿ lasting until 1700. Farmers suffered from depleted crops triggered by the wintry temperatures. Furthermore, heavy downpours set off huge floods compared to that of the biblical flood. Amid Mother Nature¿s wrath, Political turbulence was brewing. Surprisingly, after territorial disputes with the Phillip IV, Edward III, King of England claimed the right to the French throne. Edward III¿s claim to the throne began what was to be the longest war in recorded history, the Infamous One Hundred Years¿ War. Through Alliances, Spies, manipulation, and marriages, the English obtained formidable strongholds in France. In consequence of England¿s growing strength in French territory, Phillip IV called for the best knights in his kingdom to destroy English forces. Although overwhelmingly outnumbered, the English use of longbow men (scorned by chivalry) annihilated the French Knights. Although the French had garrisons of Longbow men, they were never used, in view of the fact that the French believed it was ignoble to fight from long ranges. Through battle the English obtained Calais, a foothold that gave them a safe route into France. The French effort to take back Calais was prolonged by the most lethal catastrophe in recorded history, The Black Death. Brought to Europe by Italian Traders who recently visited Asia, the Black Death spread rapidly, leaving a worldwide death toll estimated at 23,840,00(1/3 world population). In the next six decades the Black Death would rise six more times. Hardly emerging from the Plague, France moved toward another military debacle with England, this time lead by the king¿s imprudent heir to the throne Jean II. After raising the largest and most daunting army of the century, the French were defeated at the Battle of Poitiers. Extraordinarily, Jean II was captured in Poitiers, an event that would directly influence Enguerrand De Coucy. Maddened by the defeat at Poitiers, taxe
Jthierer on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Much more of a page-turner than I anticipated. This book, which chronicles the history of the 14th Century by following one noble's life, has all the elements: war, plague, politics, love and religion. I feel not only more informed about this era, but inspired to learn more.
StennKlubov on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The parallels between some of the unfortunate events detailed in "A Distant Mirror ..." and the present (e.g., countries squandering their domestic product on profitless wars, devaluing the currency, repression of the general populace, etc), are quite disturbing. This is a book I can't resist picking up, but which I also read a bit at a time. Not for the faint of heart, but I recommend it for all who would prefer to learn from the mistakes of our fore bearers, rather than be doomed to repeat them.
antiquary on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Tuchman should have stuck to her own period around World War I. Proud Tower is great. This is terrible. I write asa specialist in 14th century England. In Proud Tower Tuchman said all statements about how wonderful things were before WWI were written after WWI, but when she wrote Distant Mirror she forgot the same applied to the 100 Years War.
medievalmama on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Because the author does not have a PhD, she does not get the credit she deserves in the academic world. Whatever "errors" the book has, they are certainly not sufficient to ruin it. With that said, this is a great, well-researched book for fans, enthusiasts, and undergrads. (I would argue for grad students, too, as long as it is the beginning of your reading and not the end). Written for the general public, lacking in academese, it is a good read of a specific time and place, an illuminated (figuratively) slice of a much bigger pie.
bacharbin on LibraryThing 6 days ago
This book (along with a great teacher) got me into studying the Middle Ages. This took me through a BA and MA. Excellent and engaging read.
jcvogan1 on LibraryThing 12 days ago
A great book about about a time period that I knew very little about. The focus on the Sire of Coucy is a little contrived, but the author does capture both the events of the 14th century and the background.
ksmyth on LibraryThing 12 days ago
I reread A Distant Mirror this summer. The last time I read it was about twenty-five years ago. I was struck at how much stronger it seemed with its parallel narratives. Tuchman did a fabulous job of touching all the important aspects of the 14th century, though most particularly those in France. The papal schism, the Hundred Years War, civil war and succession issues in England and France, the Black Death; they're all there.
Anonymous 21 days ago
A great review of the turmoil of the 14th century. It is sometimes difficult to follow all the relationships but still gives a knowledge that would be hard to get in any other single book.
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books that i love to share. It is historically important when trying to understand this portion of history. IT is well organize. It reads like a history book rather that a textbook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books, giving insight into human and societal behaviors for any time period.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Crammed with facts not presented elsewhere. This is a great reference book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dave_The_Red More than 1 year ago
A Masterpiece, I have read this book at least 3 times, and will probably read it again to catch all the different nuances and facts. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys history and a good story. I have related parts of this story to my children and my parents. History repeats itself in many ways, as the title suggests.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago