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The Making of the Middle Ages (1953)

by R. W. Southern

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952916,206 (4.04)14
A distinguished Oxford historian presents an absorbing study of the main personalities and the influences that molded the history of Western Europe from the late tenth to the early thirteenth century, describing the chief forms of social, political, and religious organization.   "A book of rare value."--Sidney Painter, American Historical Review… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
After this brief appearance he vanished from history, and the whole incident might be dismissed as one of those inexplicable approaches of worlds moving in different orbits and disturbing for a moment the even tenor tenor of their course, were it not for what followed.

My reading progression was routinely distracted last week. This is customary, hardly an aberration. A return to Chinese literature was a possibility. The killings at Charlie Hebdo changed that. I really appreciate Dr. Southern's work. I'm sure there have been successive waves of disputation and engagement since its publication. This remains a brilliant portrait of an age. The 11th and 12th Centuries were brazen efforts at stability. Augustine, Anselm and Boethius appear to be the heroes in this text. I also appreciated Southern's characterization of the opposition between Byzantines and the Latin West: the obscure rituals of the former appearing to the latter like a visit to the Kremlin. There is a subsequent explanation of the Fourth Crusade which appears to be an attempted justification of the sacking of Constantinople. That aside this is a wonderful text. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Southern explores a transitional period in the 11th and 12th centuries that led to high medieval culture. Southern's writing is always lucid and enjoyable, and this book is no exception. He discusses the consolidation of political power, and how that resulted in a culture of chivalry. He covers the Crusades, and Europe's increasing engagement with other cultures and awareness of the larger world. Southern's main passion is intellectual culture, and this really comes out in the final chapters that explore education in and out of the monasteries, and the shift from a totally rational culture to a much more emotional culture - this emotional engagement, particularly in religion, is one of the hallmarks of late medieval culture.

This book is considered one of the big must-reads for anyone interested in medieval history, and it deserves that reputation. However, I often see it recommended for beginners or people who are just starting to learn about medieval history, and I don't think that is a good audience for this book. For starters, Southern never really explains what he means by "the Middle Ages" - a lot of people are used to thinking of "the Middle Ages" as the period from 400 to 1500, but Southern is using it more specifically to mean the period beginning around 1200. The whole book is about how the culture of the Middle Ages developed, but Southern doesn't tell you at the beginning what that culture is: for this book to truly be useful for beginners, it would be helpful to have a chapter explaining what the world was like at the beginning of the period and what it was like at the end, so that readers would understand what transition he is exploring. This is by no means a criticism of Southern's work: he did not intend this book to be read by people unfamiliar with the period. This is a warning to anyone who thinks this book might be a good introduction to the Middle Ages. ( )
2 vote Gwendydd | Jan 19, 2014 |
As said by other reviewers, this is not an easy book. It is very erudite, and there is a lot of learning to be gained. The big picture is mixed with concrete details of certain places and families. I think it does show its age by its biography, but still very worth the effort. Should be read in conjunction with Wickham and "Framing of the Middle ages". ( )
1 vote Coessens | May 8, 2010 |
Dr. Hill History 1980
  sjmonson | Jul 16, 2008 |
2161 The Making of the Middle Ages, by R. W. Southern (read 4 Sep 1988) This book by an Oxonian was first published in 1953. It is a very erudite book, and hence not too easy to read. It covers the period from 972 to 1204, and discusses "Latin Christendom and its Neighbors," "The Bonds of Society," "The Ordering of the Christian Life," and "The Tradition of Thought." The tone is very favorable to the age, and I found it a good book: The author is a real student, and there is nothing popularizing about the book. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Jul 6, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
R. W. Southernprimary authorall editionscalculated
Looff, B.H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The formation of western Europe from the late tenth to the early thirteenth century is the subject of this book. (Introduction)
It is easy to forget that the idea of the unity of Western civilization with which we are familiar arises from a radical simplification of the past. (Chapter I)
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A distinguished Oxford historian presents an absorbing study of the main personalities and the influences that molded the history of Western Europe from the late tenth to the early thirteenth century, describing the chief forms of social, political, and religious organization.   "A book of rare value."--Sidney Painter, American Historical Review

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