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Craig Peters :: * RECOMMENDED *
Norman Cantor's The Medieval Reader is a good book, but it's probably more relevant to a first year history course than to the average medieval history enthusiast. The text is written as an introduction to medieval ideas and thought, and by extension, medieval society. It contains a staggering array of sources from various authors throughout the Middle Ages. Subjects are grouped together thematically, rather than alphabetically or by title. Each of the readings is selected judiciously to illustrate certain points or themes regarding the medieval period.
A strong point for the book is its cosmopolitan selection of sources. Many medieval history texts focus primarily upon a few regions while only touching on others; typically, England, France and Outremer are the focus. In this book, Cantor has selected readings from England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, Spain and other locations, which provides the reader wtih a much more rounded and accurate perspective on medieval Europe.
However, there are two principle drawbacks to this book that may prevent a more serious student of medieval history from being interested in it. First, all of the texts are translated into modern English, but transcriptions of the original text are not available. This is fine for first year history students and most casual readers, but it might be a source of frustration for others. Secondly, all of readings in the book represent only brief excerpts from the original texts. Obviously, it would be impossible to include the full version of all the texts in one volume, but readers who would prefer to have a few texts, each of which is complete, will be disappointed. Another thing to consider is that secondary scholarly material on the readings is basically non-existent, save for a brief bit of text at the start of each reading to introduce it. This undoubtedly was done to help keep the cost of the book down, but again, it could prove to be a source of frustration for certain readers.
Overall, I would recommend The Medieval Reader, but with the caveat that you need to accept it for what it is if you plan to pick up your own copy. As a general introductory book to many medieval texts, The Medieval Reader is without parallel. As a book for the serious medieval historian or student, which it was not intended to be, The Medieval Reader leaves a fair amount to be desired. It does, however, provide a good resource with a variety of texts that can serve as a handy springboard that allows one to identify an interesting text and then search for it in its entirety elsewhere. So long as you are aware of its limitations, The Medieval Reader will prove a good, if introductory, text on medieval thought, society and culture.
Updated Jul 7, 2006 :: 1 of 1 members found this review helpful