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MEDIEVAL BOOKS: Black Friday!

Book: Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty - Dan Jones

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Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty

Author: Dan Jones

Publisher: Viking (Oct 20, 2015)

Summary
Dan Jones has an enviable gift for telling a dramatic story while at the same time inviting us to consider serious topics like liberty and the seeds of representative government.” —Antonia Fraser

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plantagenets, a lively, action-packed history of how the Magna Carta came to be.

The Magna Carta is revered around the world as the founding document of Western liberty. Its principles—even its language—can be found in our Bill of Rights and in the Constitution. But what was this strange document and how did it gain such legendary status?

Dan Jones takes us back to the turbulent year of 1215, when, beset by foreign crises and cornered by a growing domestic rebellion, King John reluctantly agree to fix his seal to a document that would change the course of history. At the time of its creation the Magna Carta was just a peace treaty drafted by a group of rebel barons who were tired of the king’s high taxes, arbitrary justice, and endless foreign wars. The fragile peace it established would last only two months, but its principles have reverberated over the centuries.

Jones’s riveting narrative follows the story of the Magna Carta’s creation, its failure, and the war that subsequently engulfed England, and charts the high points in its unespected afterlife. Reissued by King John’s successors it protected the Church, banned unlawful imprisonment, and set limits to the exercise of royal power. It established the principle that taxation must be tied to representation and paved the way for the creation of Parliament.

In 1776 American patriots, inspired by that long-ago defiance, dared to pick up arms against another English king and to demand even more far-reaching rights. We think of the Declaration of Independence as our founding document but those who drafted it had their eye on the Magna Carta.

Books: Augustine: Conversions to Confessions - Robin Lane Fox

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Augustine: Conversions to Confessions

Author: Robin Lane Fox

Publisher: Basic Books (Nov 3, 2015)

Summary
Saint Augustine is one of the most influential figures in all of Christianity, yet his path to sainthood was by no means assured. Born in AD 354 to a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine spent the first thirty years of his life struggling to understand the nature of God and his world. He learned about Christianity as a child but was never baptized, choosing instead to immerse himself in the study of rhetoric, Manicheanism, and then Neoplatonism—all the while indulging in a life of lust and greed.

In Augustine, the acclaimed historian Robin Lane Fox re-creates Augustine’s early life with unparalleled insight, showing how Augustine’s quest for knowledge and faith finally brought him to Christianity and a life of celibacy. Augustine’s Confessions, a vivid description of his journey toward conversion and baptism, still serves as a model of spirituality for Christians around the world.

Magisterial and beautifully written, Augustine will be the definitive biography of this colossal figure for decades to come.

Books: Plagues in World History - John Aberth

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Plagues in World History

Author: John Aberth

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher (January 1, 2016)

Summary
Plagues in World History provides a concise, comparative world history of catastrophic infectious diseases, including plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, influenza, and AIDS. Geographically, these diseases have spread across the entire globe; temporally, they stretch from the sixth century to the present. John Aberth considers not only the varied impact that disease has had upon human history but also the many ways in which people have been able to influence diseases simply through their cultural attitudes toward them. The author argues that the ability of humans to alter disease, even without the modern wonders of antibiotic drugs and other medical treatments, is an even more crucial lesson to learn now that AIDS, swine flu, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and other seemingly incurable illnesses have raged worldwide. Aberth’s comparative analysis of how different societies have responded in the past to disease illuminates what cultural approaches have been and may continue to be most effective in combating the plagues of today.

Books: The Greatest Knight - Thomas Asbridge

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The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones

Author: Thomas Asbridge

Publisher: Ecco (November 10, 2015)

Summary
A thrillingly intimate portrait of one of history’s most illustrious knights—William Marshal—that vividly evokes the grandeur and barbarity of the Middle Ages

William Marshal was the true Lancelot of his era—a peerless warrior and paragon of chivalry—yet over the centuries, the spectacular story of his achievements passed from memory. Marshal became just one more name in the dusty annals of history. Then, in 1861, a young French scholar named Paul Meyer made a startling discovery during an auction of rare medieval manuscripts. Meyer stumbled upon the sole surviving copy of an unknown text—the first contemporary biography of a medieval knight, later dubbed the History of William Marshal. This richly detailed work helped to resurrect Marshal’s reputation, putting flesh onto the bones of this otherwise obscure figure, yet even today William Marshal remains largely forgotten…

A renowned scholar brings to life medieval England’s most celebrated knight, William Marshal—providing an unprecedented and intimate view of this age and the legendary warrior class that shaped it.

Caught on the wrong side of an English civil war and condemned by his father to the gallows at age five, William Marshal defied all odds to become one of England’s most celebrated knights. Thomas Asbridge’s rousing narrative chronicles William’s rise, using his life as a prism to view the origins, experiences, and influence of the knight in British history.

In William’s day, the brutish realities of war and politics collided with romanticized myths about an Arthurian “golden age,” giving rise to a new chivalric ideal. Asbridge details the training rituals, weaponry, and battle tactics of knighthood, and explores the codes of chivalry and courtliness that shaped their daily lives. These skills were essential to survive one of the most turbulent periods in English history—an era of striking transformation, as the West emerged from the Dark Ages.

A leading retainer of five English kings, Marshal served the great figures of this age, from Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Richard the Lionheart and his infamous brother John, and was involved in some of the most critical phases of medieval history, from the Magna Carta to the survival of the Angevin/Plantagenet dynasty. Asbridge introduces this storied knight to modern readers and places him firmly in the context of the majesty, passion, and bloody intrigue of the Middle Ages.

Books: Merchant Writers: Florentine Memoirs from the Middle Ages and Renaissance

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Merchant Writers: Florentine Memoirs from the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Author: Vittore Branca

Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division (October 30, 2015)

Summary
The birthplace of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and the powerful Medici family, Florence was also the first great banking and commercial centre of continental Europe. The city’s middle-class merchants, though lacking the literary virtuosity of its most famous sons, were no less prolific as writers of account books, memoirs, and diaries. Written by ordinary men, these first-hand accounts of commercial life recorded the everyday realities of their businesses, families, and personal lives alongside the high drama of shipwrecks, plagues, and political conspiracies.

Published in Italian in 1986, Vittore Branca’s collection of these accounts established the importance of the genre to the study of Italian society and culture. This new English translation of Merchant Writers includes all the texts from the original Italian edition in their entirety. Moreover, it offers a gripping personal introduction to the mercantile world of medieval and Renaissance Florence.

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