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New Medieval Books: Beatrice’s Last Smile

Beatrice’s Last Smile: A New History of the Middle Ages

By Mark Gregory Pegg

Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-019-976648-2

A look at medieval Europe through a series of accounts of individuals’ lives and actions. Covering a wide range of times and places, it aims to show the scope of the medieval world through many different stories.


This book follows these fluctuations between the divine and the human through an interweaving of stories about men, women, and children living and dying between the third and the fifteenth centuries. It opens and closes with the martyrdom of two young women: a twenty-two-year-old mother in Carthage in 203, Vibia Perpetua, and a nineteen-year-old girl in Rouen in 1431, Jeanne la Pucelle (or Jeanne d’Arc). Their deaths, while horrible and heartrending, nevertheless shine with the density of life. But these lives were in the past, and whatever we may wish— and such wishes are worthy— there is nothing at all similar between us and them. The past has never been another country; it has always been another universe. Yet trying to evoke lives long gone, such as Perpetua’s and Jeanne’s, and maybe capturing some part of their incandescent reality, is what is so wonderful about being a historian.


Who is this book for?

This book could be best appreciated by those who enjoy good stories. Essentially, the book breaks down into over a hundred different tales, each just a few pages and ranging from Bede to the First Crusade. Mostly about Europe with a few sections on the Islamic world, the book can be seen as a way to introduce people to the mosaic of lives and stories in the Middle Ages.

The author:

Mark Gregory Pegg is a ​Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis, and he has previously written about the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade.


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