cover image The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages

Johannes Fried, trans. from the German by Peter Lewis. Harvard/Belknap, $35 (642p) ISBN 978-0-674-05562-9

This beautifully written and well-translated overview of the period between 500 and 1500 C.E. examines concepts and perceptions rather than kings and battles. Fried, professor of medieval history at the University of Frankfurt, begins with Boethius, whose work bridged classical and late antiquity. The development of new attitudes toward liberty and the beginnings of the division between church and state are described with a lucidity that is rare in historical overviews. Fried considers Jews, Muslims, and women as integral parts of society. He also addresses the development of natural science in the 13th century, noting that its monastic adherents had no problem with trying to discover how God’s creation worked. The politics of absolutism are presented in the context of the nature of governance and the rise of the power of commerce. As Fried reaches the plague years of the 14th and 15th centuries and the Renaissance, he analyzes the “eruption of the supernatural into the real world” through new modes in art and the rise of witch hunts. Fried’s conclusion that the “Middle Ages... crossed seamlessly over into a similarly constituted Early Modern period” is aimed at dispelling the myth of a “dark” age between antiquity and modernity. (Jan.)