The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas

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The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas

Edited by John M. Thompson
National Geographic, 2010
ISBN: 978-1426205330

Publisher’s Description: Sumptuously illustrating the vivid parade of a thousand years of history, this comprehensive historical atlas concentrates on the Mediterranean world but also shows what happened across the globe between A.D. 400 and 1500 —from the fall of Rome to the age of discovery. Every page glistens with period works of art, fascinating maps, quotes from medieval figures, close-ups of intriguing artifacts, and rich landscape photographs of the places where battles were fought and monarchs were crowned. For every century, a signature city is spotlighted to represent that era’s developments. Time lines connect the many dramatic events that took place in these dark and exciting times, which continue to shape our world today. Written by a team of veteran National Geographic writers, this richly illustrated reference includes full index, reading list, and glossary.

Click here to go to the National Geographic page for this book

Review from Medievalists.net: A quick look through this book gives a first impression that it is beautifully illustrated and filled with interesting content. Sadly, the mistakes in the book make it unable to live it up to initial expectations.

The Medieval World: An Illustrated Atlas offers an overview of medieval history from the year 400 to 1500, with each chapter devoted to a century. Although the book states that its focus will be the Mediterranean region, the content ranges across Europe and the Middle East.  The work covers most of the major historical events that shaped medieval Europe. Interspersed his many sidebars that cover topics such as King Arthur, Crop Rotation, The Astrolabe, and The Guildhall.  Profiles are also given for important cities like Rome, Antioch, Damascus, Aachen, Paris and London. Each chapter also comes with a world map that shows historical events happening in the other corners of the earth.

The best thing about this book is its beautiful images, which can be found on nearly every page. They include manuscript images and photos of historical sites and are well-laid out.

But once you get past looking at these images and start reading the text, one quickly notices a large number of omissions, confusing passages and blatant errors.  For instance, the Mongol Empire, which had an important influence on Europe and the Middle East during the thirteenth-century, are given only one paragraph. The work also gives a good account of the Seventh Crusade, but later on in same the chapter it states that no major crusades were launched after the Fifth. It also states that the game of chess did not arrive into Europe until the tenth century, and in the very next line mentions that Charlemagne had a chess set. One final example is that the English king Harold Godwinson, whose story is well-known from the Norman Conquest, is inaccurately referred to as the son of Edward the Confessor (he actually was his brother-in-law).

These and other mistakes certainly should not come up in a book published by such an esteemed organization as National Geographic, but it seems that only one member of the six-person team working on this book has a background as a medieval historian. Perhaps with one or two more medievalists on hand, this book would have been error free and be something worth recommending.

Sharan Newman

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