I feel like the biggest history nerd for managing to sit through the entire 28+ hour audiobook of A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman. Y’all, medieval history is totally MY FAVORITE EVER so of course when I see a nice, juicy audiobook that’s very, very long and it’s all about my two favorite medieval events, I snap it up and eventually listen to it. Yet, I am of two minds when it comes to A Distant Mirror — I liked the content very much, but I found myself consistently zoning out while listening, unfortunately.
A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman covers the 14th Century which is kind of totally baller, in that THANK GOODNESS I WASN’T ALIVE THEN sort of way. I mean, okay there’s courtly love and chivalry and all of that which is awesome. But then you also have to think that it was probably smelly, people had bad teeth, plus all of the diseases. As some one who is so not a fan of being sick or being dirty, I found myself thankful for living in the twenty first century. Anyways, A Distant Mirror uses the historical figure of Enguerrand de Coucy who is this French noble guy to give the book some context and to put everything into a human perspective.
What really peaked my interest while listening to A Distant Mirror were the parts that focused on the Black Plague and the parts that focused on the various Crusades. Seriously, I bizarrely love reading about the Plague and how people didn’t know it was carried on fleas. Yo, some people blamed cats for it. They also blamed other things too. But anyways, every time she came to a part about the plague and how it decimated populations, I was like this feels like a dystopia but in real life. You see, there were like four different Black Plagues which messed up the population of Europe every time and it ended up screwing with the social structure because plenty of nobles died. THEN okay, the Crusades! So you guys instead of the French and the English fighting each other, one of the popes got the bright idea to fight for the Holy Land and unite Christendom and issues a papal bull. Then all these young men are like yeahhhh let’s fight because they were typically younger sons and thus not going to inherit, so going to Crusade meant they could make a name for themselves and find their fortune. Yah, I could go further into how cool all that bloody battle is, but chances are you are not nearly as weird as I am and thus don’t want to hear about it.
So, if you have a passing interest in the medieval era and maybe want to brush up on your history but don’t want to read a book that’s going to make you feel stupid because it has nothing but jargon, then you should definitely read A Distant Mirror. It’s very easy to read and never feels convoluted. Plus, it’s very human and pulls you right into the 14th century. You don’t feel like a distant observer while reading, ya know? I think the use of de Coucy helps with that because he provides this central figure to focus on.
Unfortunately, where I have to get a bit critical is in my evaluation of the audio portion. Y’all, I hate to cop to this, but I totally zoned out continuously during A Distant Mirror. It’s very long and I guess I have a hard time listening to one person speak academically for a very long time. Now, this is on me, not on the audiobook production. However, at times there would be a very weird, very faint sort of static when I was listening to the audiobook and I know it’s not my phone or my speakers so that definitely threw me off. Nadia May narrates this 28 hour 38 minute audiobook and it’s produced by Blackstone Audio. I think if you’ve got a lot of things on your mind or are easily distracted you should probably listen to something else. Honestly if you are like me as far as attention span goes, I’d actually recommend reading a physical copy rather than the audiobook, because the content is utterly fantastic but I can’t exactly sing the praises of the delivery.
Disclosure: Purchased on Audible
Other reviews of A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman:
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