CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 40 . . . . June 23, 2017
"Destination: Middle Ages" examines life over the one-thousand-year period known as the Middle Ages. Unlike some information on this time period, "Destination: Middle Ages" looks beyond the traditional western European region to include glimpses of other lands and other cultures. Your Guide to the Islamic Golden Age, for example, highlights the achievements and influence of Islamic culture on Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The six books in this series are organized in a traditional format, with a table of contents, index, glossary, timeline, and web and book resources for further study. Each book begins with the same four chapters: "Before We Start", "Where in the World?", "Who We'll Meet", and "A Little Bit of History". The books then diverge into the individual topics unique to the theme of each book.
The main strength of this series is the inclusivity of the content. Each of the six books is well focussed around the specific topic of the book. Included in five of the books is a good quantity of information about western European life during the Middle Ages. Information about events and personalities in the Byzantine, Muslim, and Asian civilizations during the corresponding time period is included to give context to the usual western European perspective on the Middle Ages. The sixth book, Your Guide to the Islamic Golden Age, focuses primarily on the ideas being developed in the Islamic culture and the influence of those ideas on western Europe.
The main weakness of this series is the formatting. Many of the images chosen to accompany the text are medieval art work. Unfortunately, many of the images are small and dark, with very small figures or designs. Few students of the age of the readers of these books will have sufficient artistic appreciation to understand the significance of these images. The more successful layouts make use of clear, bright modern photos that illustrate the text more clearly.
Compounding the visual challenges of the medieval art work, some of the images are set at irregular angles overlapping the text boxes. The text boxes, usually two or three per page, each have a heading image, often looking like torn paper, overlapping the text box. The effect is too busy for me.
Another feature that I find jarring is titled "Breaking News". These are written in the present tense like advertisements, and seem stuck into the conventional text randomly.
A more successful feature is "My Medieval Journal". Open-ended activities are suggested for students.
Your Guide to Castles and Medieval Warfare focuses on advances in weaponry and defenses, and some of the famous warriors, such as Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin.
Your Guide to Knights and the Age of Chivalry examines the role of knights in medieval Europe in the age of chivalry. In addition, one chapter looks at warriors around the world: Japanese samurai, Mamluks who were slaves trained as soldiers for Muslim leaders, Scottish mercenaries in Ireland, and Aztec warriors.
Your Guide to Medieval Society looks at the differences between the life of peasants and the life of royalty. A key factor in everyone's life in the Middle Ages was the church. A chapter, "A Wider World", looks at leaders, travelers, and explorers from Mali, Morocco, and Mongolia, who expanded the Medieval Society.
Your Guide to the Arts in the Middle Ages focuses on the men and women who created, invented, and built spectacular works that still influence our world today. Credit is giving to China as the originator of gunpowder, moveable type, and the compass.
Your Guide to the Islamic Golden Age is the book in this series that will most likely fill a gap in your current collection. Chapters on the Islamic World, Islamic Rulers, Friends and Enemies, Islamic Learning, Islamic Medicine, Islamic Trade, Art and Architecture, the Spread of Islam, and the Islamic Legacy will add content and context to other information about the Middle Ages.
Your Guide to Trade in the Middle Ages looks at both the origin of towns and trades and the influence of trading and trade routes on the exchange of ideas and cultures.
It is difficult to know whether the weaknesses that I perceive in the formatting of these books will be viewed as weaknesses by others. It is very possible that the strengths of the books in this series will outweigh the overly busy layout of the information.
If you only have space or money for one book from this series, I highly recommend Your Guide to the Islamic Golden Age. The information in this book and the context that it brings to more Eurocentric discussions of the Middle Ages will likely add balance to your collection. Also, this book is illustrated with a good quantity of colourful photographs, and a lesser amount of art work from the time period.
Your Guide to Castles and Medieval Warfare - Recommended.
Suzanne Pierson, a retired teacher-librarian, currently instructs librarianship courses at Queen's University in Kingston, ON.
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