Discussion Topic: Top Five Foundational Books of Medieval History

Given the vast timeline and myriad of topics covered in the medieval period, it’s often difficult to determine which books should be at the top of your bookshelf. If someone asked you for a list of five works that are essential for every medievalist to read — no matter the time period they cover — which books would you choose?

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My life has been pretty simple. I grew up in Alabama and graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor's in Advertising. I have spent about the last ten years in web development. In 1998, a friend of mine and I started a web design company we ran for three or four years before deciding to close it due to the demands of school. Since then, I stayed in the web working with various companies in Alabama. I worked for a brief period with Southern Progress, namely with Southern Living magazine and Health magazine, in their web departments. While there, I also wrote for Southern Living magazine, Health.com., and the company's internal newsletter. I write as much as I can. For the last five years, I have been working on my first novel. I am on the third revision now and hope to be finished with this draft by the end of the year. I also write short fiction, though not as frequently as I used to due to the time I spend on the novel. My goal is to have my novel published in the next three years. Other interests include: History (particularly medieval and ancient civlizations), Reading, Foreign Language (I currently speak Spanish but plan to learn as many as I can), Landscape Photography, the outdoors, sports (especially college football), and Travel.

19 thoughts on “Discussion Topic: Top Five Foundational Books of Medieval History”

  1. Froissart, Chronicles
    The Waning of the Middle Ages, Huizinga
    The Wars of the Roses, Alison Weir
    The Hundred Years War, Desmond Seward
    The Murder of Charles the Good

    My main interest regards Medieval Britain, so that colors these choices. Some may have fallen out of favor, not being an academic, I don’t know if any have.

    Enjoyed answering.

  2. I really wish I knew what my top 5 was! The truth is that I’ve read mostly fiction from a variety of periods throughout the middle ages, but none that would qualify as a “foundational” book. I’ll keep my eye on this topic for ideas.

    Steven, I’d love to see your list.

  3. I’m still thinking on mine as well. Some of my choices would probably not appeal to academics, but I want to have a balance for students as well as academics.

  4. The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe (Moore)
    Communities of Violence (Nirenburg)
    The Medieval World View: An Introduction (Cook)
    Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths (Pernoud)
    Basic Documents in Medieval History (Downs)

    Not all of these are ‘basics,’ but I think they contain some critical concepts…

  5. Here’s my list. Hopefully these can be enjoyed by the student as well as the academic of medieval history.

    > The Civilization of the Middle Ages by Norman Cantor
    > The Story of the Middle Ages Box Set by the Folio Society Editors (includes The Making of the Middle Ages, The Birth of the Middle Ages, The Crucible of the Middle Ages, The Waning of the Middle Ages, and The High Middle Ages)
    > Feudal Society by Marc Boch
    > Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (primary source)
    >A Short History of the Crusades by Johnathan Riley-Smith
    And then I’d like to mention a personal favorite of mine, though not an essential read: Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman (a personal favorite, more for the student than the academic)

  6. I forgot about Norman Cantor and his work – and I now want to read “The Formation of a Persecuting Society” as suggested by Raven, and of course Marc Bloch is a classic fundamental work. This was a good exercise –

  7. Judy and Julie, glad you enjoyed the exercise. If you think of any more, feel free to add them to the list. I’m always looking to expand my library.

  8. The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe (Moore) — I wrote a fan letter to Moore when I read it soon after publication. In reply he said that older scholars seemed very puzzled by it, while younger ones — around 1989 — had no problems with it.

  9. Great question. Led me to add a couple to my wish list. Here is my answer:
    The Oxford History of Medieval Europe Holmes
    The Art of Cookery in the Middle ages T. Scully
    Medieval Children N. Orme (my new favorite)
    In the wake of the plague N. Cantor

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