I’m reading A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman at the moment. It’s an amazing read, and perfectly suited to our pandemic present.
It’s a long book, so I feel justified in skipping over the occasionally-lengthy descriptions of battles and campaigns, in favour of the much more interesting economic, social, and cultural history.
As a former History teacher (and someone with an MA in the subject) I’ve always found the undue focus on political and military history a bit boring, which is why I appreciate Tuchman’s comment on how it’s the extremes of time periods that tend to be recounted by historians.
In individuals as in nations, contentment is silent, which tends to unbalance the historical record.Barbara Tuchman, ‘A Distant Mirror’
Tuchman throws in all kinds of interesting tidbits of information, such as two-thirds of the population of Europe being under the age of 21 throughout the 14th century. Half were under 14! She uses this to explain the general lack of maturity in everyone from peasants to nobles.
Some might wonder why I’d want to read something so ‘depressing’ as the population of Europe being reduced by a third during the Black Death. After all, isn’t that a bit close to home right now? I’ve actually found the opposite is true: reading things like this make you realise that we live in much more pleasant, civilised, and reasonable times, and that things could be far, far worse