Medieval History Book List

My former students sometimes come back to visit at the university and say that now that they have aged a bit, they have developed a greater taste for history than they had as undergraduates.  So here is a menu to feed that taste. The middle ages still suffer from terribly inadequate stereotypes in our current understanding. The following list is long, but still barely touches on several of my favorite topics.  I have included some on medieval Islam and Central Asia, areas of current concern and newer writings.

J. H. Bentley, Old World Encounters, a survey of Central Asia in the middle ages—new to most of us.

C. and R. Brooke, Popular Religion in the Middle Ages, deceptively simple

A.H. Bredero, Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages, a useful recasting and reassessment of traditional themes, from theologians to the peasantry.

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom.  Similar to Dawson below.

 C. W. Bynum, Jesus as Mother, much more than the trendy title, on 12th.c. spirituality.

M.D. Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century, all of the topics of the title, spiritual and theological culture.

G. K. Chesteron, Aquinas, the Dumb Ox, and St. Francis of Assisi.  Classics.

Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, and The Making of Europe. Old classics with a profound vision.  See also Dawson’s Mission to Asia on the various religious missions from the Papacy to the Mongol Khans in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Georges Duby, The Knight, The Lady and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France.  See also C.S. Lewis below.

Ross E. Dunn. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta.  A telling of the story of the Moslem Marco Polo and his travels throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

Joan Ferrante, Woman as Image in Medieval Literature, on the perception of women in the high middle ages, avoiding the sterotypes.

Richard Fletcher, The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam form Mohammed to the Reformation.  A topic that is once again very current.

E. Gilson, Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, and The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, old classics with a strong argument still worth considering seriously.

Jean Gimple, The Medieval Machine, on the technological culture of the middle ages.

Gustave E. Von Grunebaum. Medieval Islam. An introduction to the other medieval culture.

Aron Gurevich, Medieval Popular Culture, on the problem of the relation of high theological culture to church life and preaching.

C.H. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century.  If you thought there was only one Renaissance, think, and read, again.

Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, or the same volume in another translation as The Autumn of the Middle Ages, an older classic on the later middle ages.

David Knowles. The Evolution of Medieval Thought.  A very readable introduction.

J. Leclerq, Love of Learning and the Desire for God, first defined the character and focus of “monastic theology.”

J. Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory or Your Money or Your Life, problematic, but interesting.

Edward Grant, Physical Science in the Middle Ages. The scientific revolution grows out of medieval science.

Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West.  We are learning that there is contact between Central Asia and Western Europe.

C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love.  A classic, still debated on “courtly love.”

L. K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe, seemingly incongruous set of topics.

Thomas Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades, describing the crusades as they were, but noting how they are and are not important on today’s political stage—one of the best on this subject.

B. P. McGuire, Friendship and Community: The Monastic Experience, 350-1250, on the human qualities of monastic life.

David Morgan, The Mongols. Current understanding of the effect of the Mongol empire on the middle ages.

Francis Oakley, The Medieval Experience, and The Western Church in the Later Middle Ages.  A good introduction and a sensitive interpretation. 

Thomas O’Meara. Thomas Aquinas, Theologian.  A newer introduction that expands our understanding of one of the greatest theologians and philosophers of the church.

Erwin Panofsky. Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism.  A way into the medieval mind.

J.R.S. Phillips, The Medieval Expansion of Europe, on Europe’s connection with Asia, Africa and the Atlantic world.

Josef Pieper, Scholasticism, and The Silence of St. Thomas.  Always worth reading.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades.  A good introduction to an old topic that has become very contemporary.

R. W. Southern, St. Anselm–A Portrait in a Landscape, The Making of the Middle Ages, or Medieval Humanism, three classics by one of the masters.

J. Sumption, Pilgrimage, detailed treatment of the central “image” of medieval religion.

Brian Tierney, The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300. And introduction with historical texts that reveal the uniqueness of the Western political tradition.  Anything by Tierney is good.

Marecelle Thiebaux, trans. and intro. The Writings of Medieval Women. Some of the most unique voices of the period.

Andre Vauchez, The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Belief and Devotional Practices. We always hear about the priesthood, it seems, in medieval history—here is an introduction to the rest of us.

B. Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind, takes seriously a neglected topic.

Lynn White, jr. Medieval Technology and Social Change, and Medieval Religion and Technology.  White virtually created our understanding of the dynamism of the middle ages.

One could do no better than to pick up the “Tales” of Chaucer, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or William Langland’s Piers Plowman for understanding the vibrancy of, as well as what we can learn from our ancestors.

  • Thanks for sharing the list…

  • This is a great list with some favorites of mine. I would love to add my recent book to this list “How the Grail Became Holy”, which is both an introduction to the history of Grail literature as well as a critique of the various scholarly theories of the legend’s origin.