Headlines In History: The 1100’s, The 1200’s, The 1300’s, The 1400’s, and The 1700’s, by Bonnie Szmuski and Scott Barbour (editors)
This enjoyable book, part of a series (that is on my list of books to read in its entirety), serves as a worthy scholarly elaboration to the popular Timelines of History concept by examining contemporary history around the world during a given century in a single, manageable, volume. This particular volume examines the 1100’s, mostly focusing on Europe, but also examines the history of East Asia and the Americas with considerable flair. Chapters on Europe include: the rise of the Papacy, the Crusades, Courtly and Chivalric Love, and the oft-neglected Twelfth-Century Renaissance. Essays on Asia include ones on Chinese sea power, the development of the Kamakura government, and the rise of Genghis Khan. The essays on the Americas look at the Toltec, Chimu, and Anasazi peoples. In all, this book is a scholarly and enjoyable introduction to the historically significant trends and events of the 12th century AD, and is a worthwhile book to read for serious students of history, even including excellent translations of primary source material.
This book is a worthy member of the Headlines in History series largely on two exemplary counts. The first is its intriguing examination of the 13th century Renaissance, a period of cosmopolitan intellectuals and artists (among whom was the tragic French intellectual Adelbard, whose grisly mutilation is one of the more shocking stories here). The second is its treasure trove of primary sources, including fascinating translations of Aztec and Muslim literature. Though the book focuses mostly on Europe, as is the nature of sources, it also contains a lot of worthwhile information about Japan, the Mongol Empire, the Middle East, and Cahoika (!). The result is a work that manages to inform as well as provide a context to put historical events that is far more inclusive than most books written about the Middle Ages. The end result is a work that is supremely worthwhile, and leaves one wanting more, always a worthwhile achievement. If you want to find out more about the 1200’s, this is a great place to start.
A grimmer read than its immediate two predecessors in the Headlines in History series, this volume focuses more on social history (especially in Europe, but also in China, the Mali Empire, and the Aztec Empire). Also, this book covers the period of the Black Plague as well as the famines of the early 14th century, and the endless tales of woe about the suffering of the common people of Europe does not make for cheerful reading. Nonetheless, the volume (though long, given its social history essay focus) is a worthwhile one, even if less sparkling than the previous two volumes. The history of the rise of the Mamluks, the Mali Empire, and the travels of Ibn Battuta make for a fascinating read, even if it does not overcome the gloom of the rest of the volume. Fittingly, the book ends with a discussion of the rise of the Aztec and their practices of human sacrifice a theme of the 14th century as a whole.
This particular volume is notable in the Headlines in History series both for its breadth (in dealing with such disparate elements as the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the development of European racist views towards Africans, and the Ming Chinese treasure fleets) as well as its depth in examining aspects of the Renaissance such as the development of musical notation, Venetian tourism, and the printing press. Also notable is the discussion of the social life of people in the 15th century, whether in the Inca or Aztec Empires (in the Americas) or in examining the life of women, citizen soldiers, and clergy in Europe. The end result is an easy-to-read and very informative work that serves to connect elements of history often kept separate, leading one to consider the fascinating tapestry of the times, and what elements of life remain an influence on us today. In short, this book is a good read.
This is the first disappointing volume in this series I have read, largely on account of its focus on Western Europe and the United States to the exclusion of all other aspects of world history going on at the same time. The book basically consists of an examination of the following areas of 18th century: the war of Spanish Succession, the French & Indian War, the American Revolution (and constitutional convention), the French Revolution, and enlightened despots (not in that order). This myopic focus loses a lot–both by focusing on what most historically inclined people already know about the 18th century as well as failing to present the events in Western Europe and the United States in their proper global context. While I was reading this book I thought of topics I wished the book had focused on more–the expansion of the Manchu Empire into Central Asia, Vietnam, Burma, and Tibet, the explorations of Captain Cook into Hawaii and the simultaneous development of the Hawaiian kingdom, and even the Great Northern War (between Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Denmark, which is barely referred to in the book in the context of Russia’s rise without the larger context). Adding these elements may have added 50 to 100 pages to the book, but they would have made it a much better one, given that it was only about 200 pages to begin with. This book just feels incomplete.