A Distant Mirror - by Barbara W. Tuchman

A Distant Mirror - by Barbara W. Tuchman Famous Historical Events Medicine Medieval Times Social Studies World History Disasters

A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century, by Barbara W. Tuchman.

Barbara Tuchman, the highly respected historian, analyzes life in the fourteenth "tortured century," drawing parallels to our own time.

People who lived at that time endured all types of calamities - from natural (such as the Black Death) to man-made disasters (like the Hundred Years' War, the Crusades, all types of insurrections, lawlessness, the Schism of the Church and massacres - especially of Jewish people).

Tuchman introduces a nobleman, named Enguerrand de Coucy (1340-1397), whom she calls a "whole man in a fractured time," to take the reader through a century of despair.  His commentary helps to provide context so modern people can better understand the events and attitudes of another age.

A Distant Mirror analyzes the psychology of the time, following its hero - Enguerrand - from place to place and battle to battle.  Along the way, bankruptcies, crop failures, revolts, and other maladies start to sound agonizingly familiar.  Taken as a whole, the calamities negatively impact people so that "emotional response, dulled by horrors, underwent a kind of atrophy..."

Notwithstanding the troubles of the century, and the pessimism which soon followed - for "man had lost confidence in his capacity to construct a good society" - Tuchman's rendering of a difficult time also provides meaningful insights and hope for the future.  This book is just one reason why so many historians greatly admire her work.

Media Credits

Book cover image, courtesy Amazon.com.


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