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Book Review: The Light Ages

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

The Medieval period is often looked down upon by historians and laypeople alike as backward and lacking, especially when compared to the Classical era and Renaissance. Even its names are dismissive – The Middle Ages, The Dark Ages, The Medieval Period…. all of those imply that the era is lesser than. Only a bridge between one “great” era and the next. That thought couldn’t be more wrong.

The light ages takes a long hard look at the era (particularly the High Middle Ages) through the lens of a regular old monk in rural England. The technological advancements that were present in the age. The scientific theory. The innovation. The inventions. Things that we see as ubiquitous now but were groundbreaking in their day. Science existed in the Middle Ages. It was pervasive. Even if it wasn’t called science. The achievements in thought and invention paved the way for the discoveries to come. This includes things like the mechanical clock, eye glasses, construction techniques, and several farming achievements.

The book is a pleasant mix of easy to read with some real depth to this. For an average reader, it may be difficult but the author clearly tries to make the subject matter interesting. For a history buff, it’s right on point. And for a scholar, there’s enough meat here to lead some great jumping off points.

Some interesting parts early on include just how reliant the medieval peasant was on astronomy. That time as we know it wasn’t codified until this era. That there was exchanges of knowledge from all over the world. That Monks in England knew of advances in places like the Middle East and China. That the populace was more literate than we think. That mathematics was more advanced. Frankly I was intrigued.

The author clearly knows their stuff and has done a ton of research and it shows. This is the kind of book I would have loved in my High Middle Ages course in College or in my Medieval England Course. I also feel that this would be a good book for people who are writing in the Medieval period to read since it disabuses many of the incorrect notions about how “backward” the period was. It also covers a lot of what daily life was sometimes like.

Five Stars for an absolutely wonderfully well-researched book that doesn’t just focus on the luminaries of the time but the real people.

If this is up your alley, you can find it here.

I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley. Thank you to the publisher, W. W. Norton and Company, for the opportunity to read this book.

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