Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XIV)

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mesmerism is once again the focus as well as the transition from life to death, the narrator is a practitioner of the mesmerism and the titular character is the dying man who is mesmerized on the edge of death and stays like that for seven months before being taken out and his body decays rapidly.

The Sphinx
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Every once and a while Poe springs a surprise by thinking he’s going to do down the same path with the only difference being the scenery when he twists things just at the end to make you enjoy the story though wishing he hadn’t waited until the end. The narrator’s eyes play tricks on him and makes him believe he’s going insane until his friend sets him straight.

The Cask of Amontillado
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This revenge classic is one of the highlights of the book, hardly any meandering for the narrator, just a plain straightforward story of a man getting revenge and never regretting it.

The Domain of Arnheim
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a piece on a garden and the wonder of nature, even if it is created by man, but the beginning is bogged down by a biography of the narrator’s friend who shaped it. If it had been a straight piece and a fantastical garden I would have enjoyed it more.

Mellonta Tauta
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A journal written a 1000 years in the future describes the person’s view of their present and what they think of the past, overall a nice little piece.

Landor’s Cottage
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A “sequel” to The Domain of Arnheim, frankly it was over the top and made me glad to see the end.
Hop-Frog
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fat dwarf jester, the titular character, gets his revenge on a King and his council after he embarrasses the jester’s only friend, his countrywoman who is also a dwarf.

Von Kempelen and His Discovery
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The narrator spends over half the piece talking about other people instead of Von Kempelen, but once he does we learn that the discovery was the philosopher’s stone and that value of lead and silver have increased as gold’s has decreased.

“X-ing a Paragrab”
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A newspaper starts up in a town with the editor attack the editor the rival established paper, who then retorts back. The new editor then works to make an excellent comeback but somehow the letter O is missing from the press and X is inserted instead making the comeback unintelligible. The public reaction is anger and the new editor is gone. All I can say is this was supposed to be funny, it wasn’t.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XIII)

The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An “autobiographical” account by Mr. Bob about how he began his literary career, which is basically Poe satirizing the American literary landscape of his time.

The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

After her husband does away with his law about killing his wives, Scheherazade begins telling the further adventures of Sinbad by describing things around the (then) modern world but the sultan can’t believe what he’s hearing and decides to kill her. Honestly when you start reading, you know how Poe is going to end the story but the Sinbad tale is pretty well crafted.



Some Words with a Mummy
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A narrator gets a message from his friend that he is going to unwrap a mummy; the narrator accounts their progress when they decide to use a battery on him only it wakes him up. The mummy then proceeds to have a Q&A about the past and the present with the four men who unwrapped him.

The Power of Words
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Another afterlife dialogue, this time about God and creation, the few words about this the better.

The Imp of the Perverse
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A long introduction about phrenology before the narrator details killing someone and how it didn’t bother him until it does and he screams out his confession on a crowded street.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XII)

The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man visits a famed private insane asylum to learn about its “soothing system” from the asylum’s founder and director, but it turns out a new system is in place because the inmates (including the founder who went insane) have taken over the asylum. Although it was pretty obvious as the story went along that the inmates had taken over, it was somewhat humorous.

Mesmeric Revelation
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A conversation between a doctor and his mesmerized patient in which “the big questions about life, the universe, and everything else” are asked and given philosophical answers; couldn’t tell if it was a satire of the claims of mesmerism or a support, either way wasn’t impressed.

“Thou Art the Man”
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A wealthy citizen of Rattlesborough disappears and his neighbor leads the investigation into his death which leads to the conviction of the man’s nephew who was thought about to be disinherited by his missing uncle. But the narrator of the story figured out something was wrong and investigate on his own, find the deceased man’s body down the neighbor’s well and springs a trap on the murderous fraud.

The Balloon-Hoax
My rating: 2.5 out 5 stars

An account of a crossing of the Atlantic by balloon, although obviously a fake it was a nice little story with made up scientific facts and such.

The Angel of the Odd
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A well-read businessman comes across an article about a man dying a odd way making him upset about the ridiculousness of newspapermen, which upsets the titular being that causes odd things to happen to people. The man insults the entity and then has a series of odd and humiliating incidents before apologizing to the entity to find relief. If the Angel of the Odd hadn’t been written with a heavy German accent making for slow reading, this would have been rated higher.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XI)

The Spectacles
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A humorous story of a young gentlemen who “marries” his own great-grandmother because he doesn’t want to wear spectacles because of how they look, which is great-grandmother and his friend use to their advantage to play this ruse on him. Overall the story was meh, but I might have enjoyed it more if the ending hadn’t been ruined by the anthology’s introduction but I might have figured things out at the story’s beginning anyhow.

The Oblong Box
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man traveling by ship to New York from Charleston and discovers his artist friend is taking the same ship with his new wife and with his many rooms believes his friend has a fabulous new piece of art he has purchases. After unexpected delay, the ship sets off but the man’s friend was acting strange and his new wife was really beneath his standing but the man is happy to figure out his friend has a new piece of art in the large titular object that he has put in his room. It is only when a storm damages the ship that it begins sinking that the man discovers that his friend is obsessed with this box and dies with it only to later learn that it contained his actual wife. Another young woman who suddenly and tragically dies…at least it focused on what happens after.

The Tale of the Ragged Mountains
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man with a certain condition goes on his daily walk and takes longer than he usually resulting in his personal doctor and servants to worry and collect the man’s friends to help search for him. But the man returns just as they are about to set out and gives everyone a most enchanting-turn-morbid tale that nearly all the listeners believe was a dream, except a doctor who relates the man’s dream is exactly how his friend died in India. Within a week, the doctor’s patient simply falls over dead.

The Premature Burial
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Before reading this anthology of Poe’s work, the only person I knew from all my reading of not wanting to be buried prematurely was George Washington. The narrator of his story gives several “well known” incidents of premature burials with “happy” and “horrible” endings then proceeds to relate how he has a disease that makes it almost seem as if he has died if anyone who doesn’t know about it were to see him during an attack then relates his fear of being buried alive and measures he’s taken to survive. Young women tragically dying and premature burials, there is a reason Poe is stereotyped.

The Purloined Letter
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The third and unfortunately last Auguste Dupin detective story finds the Prefect of the Paris Police coming in search of Dupin’s aid. A letter has been taken by a Minister from a young royal woman that has given him significant political influence by just having it while not admitting he has it, the Prefect has been asked to recover it but after investigating the Minister’s home every night for a month hasn’t been able to find it. After Dupin tells him to investigate the entire home again, the Prefect returns shaking his head when Dupin gets the man to pay him his share of the reward money then gives the Prefect the letter. After the Prefect leaves without asking how Dupin got it, his unnamed friend (the narrator) asks how and Dupin gives his analysis of where the Minister would have hidden it then how he got it. While not as good as Rue Morgue, this story was significantly better than Marie Roget and sadly the last time we’ll see Dupin.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part X)

Morning on the Wissahiccon
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A romantic description of a piece of nature far enough away from civilization to be isolated, but close at hand to society as well.

The Tell-Tale Heart
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man commits murder and is betrayed by his own imagination while the police are investigating a scream his victim uttered before his death. One of the classic Poe stories that upon reflection and with a subsequent story fails to live up to the hype.

The Gold Bug
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A pirate treasure short story on a small island off the coast of South Carolina near Charleston featuring a eccentric man without his former wealth, his almost inarticulate speaking old slave, and his friend the unnamed narrator. The title is a reference both to the insect that starts the chain of the events and what the narrator believes his infected his friend and later himself. A great story, unfortunately the racist speak for the slave has to deduct from the rating.

The Black Cat
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man who loves animals, especially the titular pet, is unfortunately an alcoholic that has rages after he drinks including animal cruelty and eventual murder of his wife. The later event is discovered just like the Tell-Tale Heart, which deducts a lot from the rating even though this is definitely the better story.

Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Poe writes about the actions of con-men and their scams, the titular diddling, which is a very well written instruction guide to future con-men and for people who don’t want to be their marks.

Byron and Miss Chaworth
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A short piece about Poe’s hero Lord Byron and, I assume, his mistress which is only a page and a half long. Wondering what the point was really.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part IX)

The Pit and the Pendulum
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A man in the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition in locked in a cell with a pit in the center of it and after avoiding falling in, he is drugged and strapped to a bed as a razor slowly descends towards him. Barely escaping the razor, the man wonders what will be next when he hears the French entering Toledo to bring him freedom. This is a fantastic piece of writing by Poe that had me glued to each page while reading.

The Mystery of Marie Roget
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A “ripped from the headlines” Auguste Dupin deduction mystery is unfortunately not as engaging as the first Dupin story. This story is mostly Dupin using his deduction to undermine all the theories that newspapers were putting out about the young ladies death, while it was good writing but sometimes in a detective story—yes even before the word was created—you want to see the main characters move.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VIII)

A Descent into the Maelstrom
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A hiker and his guide climb to the top of Norwegian mountain to see the Moskoe-strom then the guide relates his escape from the whirlpool that killed his two brothers. Overall this is good story that meanders here and there pulling down the rating.

The Colloquy of Monos and Una
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A dialogue between a married couple in the afterlife. This is the second dialogue of this kind that Poe has written, but the first was why better even though this one is more romantic.

Never Bet the Devil Your Head
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This is a “straightforward” moral tale that is also a little humorous even though the set up was obvious from the beginning. Could have been better if there wasn’t a introduction about the author not writing tales with a moral.

Eleonora
My rating: 0.5/5

Another first cousins growing up and marrying story with the young woman dying young, it was pretty obvious were this story was going from the beginning so this was quickly read.

Three Sundays in a Week
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was a humorous little story in which a great-uncle can’t just willing do something even though he’s inclined to do so. Unable to get his consent to their marriage until there were “three Sundays in a week”; the two don’t know what to do until two sailor friends arrive back in the country after traveling around the world in opposite directions.

The Oval Portrait
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A young nobleman and his valet break into a cottage after he is injured during a hunt, the cottage has many portraits along with a little guide book for them. He comes across an oval portrait that feels like it’s alive and then reads the description, which gives credence to his unease that it’s alive.

The Masque of the Red Death
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

While this is a well written story, whether you’ve been spoiled or not before reading it, there is only one obvious outcome and frankly that takes away from the stories overall impact.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VII)

The Man of the Crowd
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

While watching the crowds walk along London’s busiest street, the observer sees an old man that attracts his attention then follows him through the night and far into the next day before finally stopping. A nice piece that in the long run means nothing, but at least it was too the point of just following someone.

The Island of the Fay
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

An enthusiast describes the wonder of nature and then while enjoying a glade that has a view of an islet, he imagines seeing one of the last of the fay paddle on a boat around it. Another nice little piece with great descriptions that is almost completely different from anything Poe had written before.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The first Auguste Dupin detective story even before the word detective was created. Written as a study of deduction by an anonymous narrator who’s Dupin’s friend, he describes how Dupin deciphered his train of thought to the narrator’s amazement. A few days later, the Paris papers are filled with the ghastly details of a double murder in which none of the witness differ in their accounts. After a friend of Dupin’s is arrested, he uses his connections to study the crime scene and using his deductive skill figures out what happened and getting his friend released. So far this is THE best story so far the complete collection and the only reason it wasn’t a perfect five was the introductory essay which while giving background to the narrator’s thought process, just wastes the reader’s time.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VI)

William Wilson
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man recounts his life-long rivalry with person with the same name as him, the titular William Wilson, through various schools and across Europe until one day he confronts him, only to realize as he’s dying that it was always him. A 19th-century story on schizophrenia, which was obvious after William introduced the other William but was still very well written nonetheless.

The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Charmion asks Eiros how he died, Eiros describes a comet impact that killed everyone on Earth because the chemical makeup of the air was changed. Interesting afterlife story version of an apocalypse, science is completely wrong but given when it was written pretty well.

Some Account of Stonehenge, the Giant’s Dance
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A short article speculating on Stonehenge.

Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Written like the worst type of stereotypical Irishman, I could slowly read but decided I didn’t want to know about the Frenchman.

Instinct vs Reason—A Black Cat
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I have no idea what the purpose of the piece was really.

The Business Man
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

A man describes his various business ventures that are basically illegal or corrupt and is proud of it.

The Philosophy of Furniture
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

An interesting article on different cultures’ interior d├ęcor that then goes off the rails in the last quarter.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part V)

How to Write A Blackwood Article
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Signora Psyche Zenobia meets Mr. Blackwood to learn how to write his type of entertaining articles and afterwards goes and follows his advice to write an article. While the first part of the story was funny and entertaining, the second half just wasn’t because Psyche was too literal in following Blackwood’s advice.

The Devil in the Belfry
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This story is about a Dutch small town, with a really long name, with a big clock that is always on time. Then one day stranger walks into the clock tower, assaults the bell-ringer, and then suddenly beginning banging the bell whenever he wants and how many times he wants. Great descriptions at the beginning, but when the plot happens at the end it was pretty obvious what the stranger was going to do.

The Man That Was Used Up
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man meets a famous general, but doesn’t know the details about the general’s campaign against the Bugaboo and Kickapoo Indians. The man goes around town to all his friends and acquaintances to learn about the general, but the conversations always turn away from the opening. Finally the man goes to the general’s residence and finds the man is literally “used up. “

The Fall of the House of Usher
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Unfortunately the ending was ruined by the individual that had written the collection’s introduction and even though I was looking for foreshadowing, this was a nicely paced and suspenseful story. The climax of the story will stick in your mind and might have (and will in the future) inspired numerous scenes in stories, plays, and movies since.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part IV)

Berenice
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Okay, a man with some sort of blackout disorder has an episode around the time of his cousin-wife’s death while focusing on her teeth. A little time later, the man learns that her grave had been disturbed then finds a shovel in his room and a container with her teeth. Um, I might have overrated this.

Morella
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Short story of a man whose wife is named Morella, who gives birth to a daughter that he is afraid to name Morella because when he does she dies as well. I’m starting to understand why there is a stereotype for Poe’s writing.

King Pest
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This could have been something interesting especially with the Pest Royal Family descriptions (thus why it’s higher rated than Morella), but then it fizzles.

Mystification
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

College practical joker Baron Von Jung sets up a duel enthusiast into a confrontation then defuses it by referencing a duel manual that appeases the enthusiast. Only it turns out Von Jung gave the man the book, which is actually a joke about two baboons having a duel when reading every 2nd or 3rd word. Nice funny twist to the story that makes it better overall than what it was trending.

Ligeia
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man’s first wife, Ligeia, is a smart woman who helped him in his research but early in the story dies. The man remarries but his second wife has health issues until just before she dies he notices something putting drops in her medication. After her death, he is the only one at her all night wake but over the course of the night it almost seems like she’s still alive, but then suddenly the body of his second wife rises looking different before she says she’s “Ligeia!”. A bit meandering, but rather good nonetheless.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part III)

The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

An obviously fake news story written as a journal, but one that is entertaining even with the bad science. The titular character claims to have flown a balloon to the moon, but it crashes there leading to the question of how he got his account back to his native Rotterdam…but still really entertaining.

Lionizing
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Funny morality tale? Or something close? No idea.

Shadow—A Parable
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A funeral party by a bunch of friends for a fellow who died of a plague gets visited by the Shadow of Death. Very short and sweet.

Silence—A Fable
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A demon details how he challenged a man with various things to make him run and in the end it was complete silence that scared him. An interesting little tale, but nothing really special.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part II)

Bon-Bon
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The titular philosopher-restaurateur has a conversation with the devil about the souls of past philosophers that he’s eaten in the past millennia before they have an argument and Bon-Bon kicks the devil out of his establishment and then in anger accidently causes his own death. The conversation and the twist ending is pretty interesting, though the long set up of establishing Bon-Bon’s credentials at the beginning makes the reader wonder what the point is for half the piece.

Four Beasts in One—The Homo-Cameleopard
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A journey to Antioch during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes during which a festival takes place during which the King appears amongst the revelers dressed as the titular Homo-Cameleopard and acting like the fictional animal. But then the carcasses of the dead animals he’s wearing attract the dangerous pets of the city and he sprints to safety to the amazement of the crowd. Overall the story is a tad weird and a little interesting, but not good enough to be average.

MS. Found in a Bottle
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A well-educated traveler is going from Java to the Sundra islands when his ship encounters a supernatural storm that takes the crew from his ship except for an Old Swede and himself. The two survive as best they can on the derelict vessel until a huge ship bears down on them and the traveler jumps from ship-to-ship just in time and hides. He later finds the crew is very old sailors who don’t seem to care if he is on board and continue to sail through the supernatural storm towards the south. A very intriguing story written like journal entries before being thrown overboard at the last instant the traveler thinks he’ll be able to write.

The Assignment
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A visitor to Venice witnesses an interesting scene between the goddess-like Marchesa di Mentoni and the famous English ex-pat living in the city after which he’s invited by the famous man to visit the next morning. As the two talk, the visitor can’t figure out why the famous gentleman is talking like he is until news arrives that the Marchesa committed suicide via poison and turns to his host to find him died by poison. A twisting tale that is nice, but not enough meat to be good.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part I)

Poems
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Frankly, I gave a better rating than the entirety of Poe’s poems deserves when really thinking back to everything I read the last few days. Honestly the highlight of the collection is “The Raven” and that’s probably were most of the rating comes from, but really besides a few other poems there isn’t really much here I enjoyed.

Politian
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This unfinished play is all over the place and one can barely make out the barebones of a plot. The highlight is some nice dialogue in a few spots beyond that, it’s an unfinished play with parts that don’t go together.

Metzengerstein
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Two noble rival families, a prophecy about both, and throw in supernatural horse. An intriguing short story that isn’t very coherent with an ending that weird. Probably over rated the story, but it felt painfully close to being good if only…

The Duc De L’Omelette
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

The titular French nobleman sees a bird fly over him and dies then beats the devil in a card game, I think. A lot of French in the text and since I don’t know the language I’m guessing on everything, glad it was a short story.

A Tale of Jerusalem
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Three priests go to the walls of a besieged Jerusalem to pay the besieging Roman army for animals to conduct their sacrifices, after dropping the money they haul up the animal which turns out to be a pig. The twist ending ALMOST makes up for the stereotypical Jewish characters that borders, if not crosses into anti-Semitism.

Loss of Breath
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A wife-beater literally loses his breath while hitting her, but doesn’t die though throughout the story people believe he is when not seeing him move. A satirical look at “life” from a living corpse that would have been better if the reader didn’t get confused several times about what was going on, oh and of course if the jerk wasn’t a wife-beater.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: Heretics and Heroes by Thomas Cahill

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern WorldMysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In popular imagination the medieval period is a time of ignorance and superstition, fear and violence, and crushing religious intolerance of anything the Church was against. Mysteries of the Middle Ages is the fifth volume of Thomas Cahill’s ‘Hinges of History’ series, focusing on the individuals in the High Middle Ages who shaped Western society that we know today. Over the course of 300+ pages, Cahill sets out to give his reader a new way to look at the Middle Ages.

Cahill begins the book not during the Middle Ages, but in the city of Alexandria in Egypt looking at how the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions began their long processes of synthetization began before exploring how the Romans became the Italians as a way to differentiate between the Greek East and Latin West for the rest of the book. Then beginning with Hildegard of Bingen, Cahill makes the reader look at the Middle Ages in a vastly different way by showing the power and importance of 12th century Abbess who would one day be declared a saint then turned his attention to a woman of secular power, that of Eleanor of Aquitaine who held political power in a significant way while also allowing the developing “courts of love” evolve. This evolving form of culture spread into the Italian peninsula and influenced a young man from Assisi, Francis who would shift this emphasis of earthly love into spiritual love. The focus of the spiritual then shifted to Peter Abelard and St. Thomas Aquinas who became to emphasis the thoughts of Aristotle over those of Plato in theological discussions while Roger Bacon used Aristotle to begin examining the world around him and thus science that we see today. Yet the world around those during the High Middle Ages began to influence art and literature in both secular and spiritual ways from the Cathedral of Chartres to the works of Dante and Giotto would have influences even to today.

Although Cahill readily admits that he could have and wanted to discuss more individuals from a wider swath of Europe, he does an adequate job in showing that the Middle Ages were not what the popular view of the time period was believed to be. Cahill several times throughout the book emphasizes that the Middle Ages, especially from the 12th to the early 14th centuries, were not a time of stagnate culture that the humanists of the Renaissance began calling it. However, Cahill’s asides about Islamic culture as well as the Byzantines were for the most part a continuation of centuries-long mudslinging or a product of today’s ideological-religious conflicts and ironically undermined one of his best arguments, the role of Catholicism in shaping Western society. Cahill’s Catholicism was that of all the individuals he wrote about, who were Christians, not the Church and its hierarchy that over the course of the High Middle Ages became a point of embarrassment to both lay and cleric alike.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages shows the beginnings of the synthesis of the two strains of Western society, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian, that Thomas Cahill has built up to in his previous four books. As a popular history it very well written, but its flaws of modern and centuries old prejudice undercut a central theme Cahill was developing and wrote about at the end of the book. Yet I cannot but call it a good book to read.

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