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New Medieval Books: Beowulf to da Vinci

Five new books to take you on a journey back into the Middle Ages.

Leonardo da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson

Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781501139154

Excerpt: Around the time that he reached the unnerving milestone of turning thirty, Leonardo da Vinci wrote a letter to the ruler of Milan listing the reasons he should be given a job.  He had been moderately successful as a painter in Florence, but he had trouble finishing his commissions and was searching for new horizons. In the first ten paragraphs, he touted his engineering skills, including his ability to design bridges, waterways, cannons, armored vehicles, and public buildings. Only in the eleventh paragraph, at the end, did he add that he was also an artist. “Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible,” he wrote.

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Beowulf

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Yale University Press
ISBN: 9780300228885

Excerpt: The poem’s story is simple. Beowulf is the nephew of the king of the Geats, a people who lived in southern Sweden. When he hears that an allied, the Danes, have been attacked by Grendel, a huge, cannibalistic ogre, he volunteers to help them, sails to Denmark, and single-handedly kills Grendel and Grendel’s equally murderous mother. The second part of the poem takes place fifty years later, after Beowulf has become the king of the Geats. A slave steals a gold cup from a dragon’s hoard, and in retaliation the monster goes on a fiery rampage, destroying people, buildings, and the whole countryside. Beowulf kills the dragon, but in the fight he himself is mortally wounded. The poem ends with his funeral and eulogy.

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The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fates

By Malachy Tallack

Polygon
ISBN: 978-1846973505

Overview: Gathered in the book are two dozen islands once believed to be real but no longer on the map. These are the products of imagination, deception and simple human error. They are phantoms and fakes: an archipelago of ex-isles and forgotten lands. From the well-known story of Atlantis to more obscure tales from around the globe; from ancient history right up to the present day. This is an atlas of legend and wonder, of places discovered and then un-discovered.

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God’s Wolf: The Life of the Most Notorious of all Crusaders, Scourge of Saladin

By Jeremy Lee

W.W. Norton
ISBN 978-0-393-60969-1

Excerpt: Reynald’s bad press began in his own lifetime. The Muslim chroniclers wax vitrolic about him, and key crusader sources are also hostile; the greatest historian of the Latin East, Archbishop William of Tyre, who knew Reynald personally, was a political opponent and had other reasons to dislike him, as we shall see. The other main Frankish record is the chronicle of Ernoul, squire of the prominent crusader noble Balian of Ibelin, another bitter rival of Reynald. Still, there are other sources that provide different glimpses of the man and, despite the bias against him, we can piece together a picture of Reynald that is surprisingly positive.

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Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople

By Richard Fidler

HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780733335259

Overview: In 2014, Richard Fidler and his son Joe made a journey to Istanbul. Fired by Richard’s passion for the rich history of the dazzling Byzantine Empire – centred around the legendary Constantinople – we are swept into some of the most extraordinary tales in history. The clash of civilizations, the fall of empires, the rise of Christianity, revenge, lust, murder. Turbulent stories from the past are brought vividly to life at the same time as a father navigates the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son.

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