Medieval Books for a Public Library

17 Jan

A librarian made a request on the mailing list mediev-l for suggestions for medieval books that would be good for a public library. I made the following post (without the html formatting) and thought I would include it here since he reads this blog. If you have any additions you’d like to make (or don’t care for something I’ve listed) please include them in the comments. If you’re interested in everything that’s been suggested, you can check the mailing list archives. Search for the thread titled, “A 10 foot Collection.” Go to the Mediev-L Web Page for instructions.

List message (with minor edits) follows:

I’ve used ISBN’s but can give full biblio refs for anything you might need. Quite a few of mine are Pb. Not sure if that works for a library.

General & Regional Overviews:
Barbara Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages: 9781551112909
Jacques LeGoff, Medieval Civilization: 0631155120
Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: 1577180925
David Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: 0226482316
Joseph O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain: 0801492645
Jean Verdon, Travel in the Middle Ages: 0268042233
Barbara Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound: 0195045645

Philip Contamine, War in the Middle Ages: 0631144692
Maurice Keen, Chivalry: 0300033605
Jim Bradbury, The Medieval Siege: 0851153577 – He also has a book, The Medieval Archer which I’ve not read but I’ve been told it’s good
Constance Brittain Bouchard, Strong of Body, Noble and Brave: Chivalry and Society in Medieval France: 0801485487
John France, Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades 1000-1300: 0801486076
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, A Short History: 0300047002
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple: 0521558727
There are a bunch of primary sources on the Crusades to choose from – Ashgate has published several in Pb and Penguin has some including Joinville and Villehardouin. You should also get something from the Arab perspective.

Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy: 0760707197
Malcolm Lambert, The Cathars: 063120959x
Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages: 0521312027
Regine Pernoud, Joan of Arc – I have one subtitled “By Herself and Her Witnesses” but she has some newer Joan books out
Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars: 0521457270

Eusebius, History of the Church: 0140445358 – This is the Penguin edition, there may be others that are considered better
Augustine, City of God: 0521468434 – This is very long and may not be the best choice for a public library but it was tremendously influential during the entire medieval period
Thomas Aquinas, The Shorter Summa: 9781928832430
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, A Biography: 0520014111
Stuart Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church: 0802806295
Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels: 0679724532
Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: 0192829122
This is weighted to the early part of the period – you need more information on the later Church, Investiture, Reformation, etc.

Philip Ziegler, The Black Death: 9780750932028
Rosemary Horrox, The Black Death: 0719034981 – This is a collection of sources
I have some academic books on the Justinian Plague but nothing for a public library – it would be nice to include if you can find something.

Late Antiquity/Early Medieval
Bowersock, Brown and Graber, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World: 0674511735
Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire, A New History of Rome and the Barbarians: 0195159543 – This book has some issues, mainly re Heather’s thesis of Hunnic pressure as an explanation for the 5th century invasions but it is also an excellent narrative of the years 350-500 in Western Europe and takes advantage of newer sources
Edward James, The Franks: 9780631148722 – There are newer books on this but IMO James would be best for a public library because of the use he makes of charts and figures
Michael Kulikowski, Rome’s Gothic Wars: 9780521608688
Thomas Burns, Rome and the Barbarians, 100 B.C. – 400 A.D.: 9780801873065
Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751: 0582493722
Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks: 0149442952
Chris Wickham, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000: 0472080997
Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000: 9780670020980 – My only knock on this is the absence of footnotes

Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne: 0140442138
Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne: Formation of a European Identity: 9780521716451 – I haven’t read this yet (it’s on my shelf) but the reviews are excellent and I have 6 other of her books and they haven’t disappointed
Pierre Riche, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe: 0812213424

Eastern Empire
Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society: 0804726302 – A large book but probably the best overview
Mark Whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025: 0520204972
Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453: 0521398320
Anna Comnena, The Alexiad: 0140442154
I’m assuming you want to concentrate on the West. Even so you should probably find something on the Arab conquest and the Fourth Crusade – Rome was sacked in 1204 by a Crusading Army

Sources & Source Collections
Emily Amt, Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook: 0415906288
Amt & Allen, eds., The Crusades: A Reader: 1551115379
Carolinne White, ed., Early Christian Lives: 0140435263 – This is a collection of Saints’ lives – hagiography – and would be a decent introduction to the Cult of the Saints

Medieval Literature:
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy: 9780140447804
Beowulf – You should check and find what’s the best edition of this. Mine is Chickering, ISBN: 0385062133
The Song of Roland: 0140445323
Dante, The Divine Comedy: 0679433139
Boccaccio, The Decameron: 014044629X
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales – My edition is old – pre-ISBN
William Langland, Piers the Plowman: 0140440879

I consider the following books very good and important but they may be too dense and “heavy” for a public library:
AHM Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602
Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages
Michael McCormick, Origins of the European Economy
Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals

This lacks various areas – economic history, the Renaissance, Reformation, Ottonian, Capetian France, Central & Eastern Europe, Anglo-Saxon, Britain, etc. I’ve stayed away from biographies though they can be very useful. I’m a big fan of the Yale English Monarchs Series and while the whole series would drain your budget and space, maybe the William the Conqueror biography would be worth picking up as a starter – I have the David Douglas one but I understand they have or will soon have a new one.

Hope this helps. I’m going to post this to the blog too and see if anyone there has any additional suggestions.


Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to “Medieval Books for a Public Library

  1. Jonathan Jarrett

    January 19, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Wow, so much to play with here :-) For the Crusades I would recommend Jonathan Phillips's new overview, The Crusades, 1095-1197 over Riley-Smith, though both are important and have something to say. Phillips is just more fun (and newer). Religion, I don't know the later stuff so well but Ute-Renate Blumenthal's The Investiture Controversy is designedly entry-level and now in a cheap paperback. Plague, Stephen Mitchell's recent A History of the Later Roman Empire 284-641 (which I would recommend in itself over Jones's mighty work for a library purchase, anyway) refers, with due caution, to David Keys's Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world for a readable account of the actual spread of the diseas, albeit with some rather outlandish conclusions. Haven't read it myself but it exists. Eastern Empire: Michael Angold's The Byzantine Empire 1025-1204 covers the bit after Whittow's volume but for some reason is really expensive; in Amazoning it up, however, I find that Angold has a new account, Byzantium: the bridge between antiquity and the Middle Ages which may also be worth considering. For the Muslim East almost the only useful book in English is Hugh Kennedy's The Propher and the Age of the Caliphates, still. Sourcebook: I would suggest Patrick Geary (ed.), Readings in Medieval History. Others I might suggest from your list at the end there are James Campbell et al, The Anglo-Saxons, and the doublet Timothy Reuter, Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800-1056 and Horst Fuhrmann, Germany in the High Middle Ages 1000-1200. I'm sure you could go later in that series too but who would want to? >:-)Of course, it's not for you I'm meant to be producing reading lists right now, but who's counting?

  2. Anonymous

    January 20, 2011 at 6:45 am

    Might I add Richard Fletcher's "The Quest for El Cid"? Timely – and as with all Fletchers books – elegantly written and accessible.I'd echo the recommendation of Geary's "Readings in Medieval History".I'd hope a few of the books you suggest are already standards in most public libraries – but just in case – Augustine's "Confessions".If you will do epics – really must have The Mabinogian as well as The Tain Bo Cuailnge.Cecelia

  3. Curt Emanuel

    January 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks to both of you for the suggestions. I haven't read Mitchell for some reason (I recall thinking it very expensive which must mean I last checked before the paperback was released). Geary is quite good. For people just starting out in Late Antiquity I recommend reading his Before France and Germany along with Wood's Merovingian Kingdoms as a great example of how to historians can examine the same evidence and reach substantially different conclusions. One of the last books I took off my recommended list was Fletcher's The Barbarian Conversion simply because of the number of books I'd already listed covering the evolution of Christianity.Thanks again.


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