Mysteries of the Middle Ages: too mysterious for me

Mysteries of the Middle Ages is Thomas Cahill’s 5th book in his Hinges of History Series.  Cahill is better known for his earlier works How the Irish Saved Civilization (thanks, A, for recommending it to me many, many years ago) and The Gifts of the Jews

I’m not sure how to describe this book.  Apparently, the intent of this book is to focus on the rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe (according to the subtitle) but actually focuses on mainstream Catholic thought and how it leads eventually to our own modern thought (according to Publishers Weekly).  The book begins in Alexandria and Ancient Greece and jumps to Europe to introduce us to Abelard, Hildegard, Thomas Aquinas, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Dante.  Throughout the book, Cahill inserts many footnotes in to each chapter to elaborate more on a specific point. 

Well…the book was beautifully designed.  It was illuminated almost in the Medieval style and has beautiful illustrations from many churches and their artwork.  Honestly, that may be the most positive thing I can say about this book.  It was a mess!  The scholarship seems up to par with his previous works, but his argument is lacking if not incoherent.  Instead of supporting a central thesis, each chapter seemed like a completely new focus, which would have been fine if I were reading a collection of essays instead of a supposedly seamlessly-integrated book.  Even worse, his personal biases come through.  One of his footnotes is a somewhat random denunciation of The Da Vinci Code, and another discusses his innocent friend on death row.  Huh? 

I have enjoyed Cahill’s previous works but felt that he started to go downhill with Sailing the Wine Dark Seas, his exploration of Ancient Greece and the book immediately preceding this one.  With 2 or 3 more books to go in the series, I hope the deterioration in quality does not continue.



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