Book Review: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

This is a history book with a difference. Written literally as a traveller’s guide (with sections “what to see”, “the people”, “customs”, “what to eat” etc), this is an informative yet funny look at our medieval ancestors.

Dr. Mortimer has a superb way with words and conveys his subject with passion without the text feeling dumbed down, and detailed enough without feeling heavy. First obstacle over then, as some writers… especially academics… used to writing for the academic press tend to be information heavy with very little regard for entertainment. On the other side, those who write for entertainment are less concerned with detail, research is sparse and rarely as well versed in the subject as they like to pretend.

Mortimer, who has a BA and PhD from Exeter is very keen to make the people in this book feel alive and as real as the modern age. He conveys their sense of humour, typical jokes, the risque of plays and fiction, Chaucer and tales of Robin Hood. He describes social structure, dispels myths about “serfdom” and delights with anecdotes of kings and lords, of abbots and of paupers.

But there is a serious side and Mortimer also adds the human element to the widespread tragedy that came with The Black Death and how deaths in WWI pale in comparison.

Just occasionally it slips away from travel writing and delves into pure history, but it isn’t long before Mortimer regains his composure and gets back to writing as though for the travellers.

The only complaint is that at 290 pages (paperback) it really could have done with being longer.

4.5/5

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