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A Distant Mirror

The Calamitous Fourteenth Century
Narrated by: Wanda McCaddon
Length: 28 hrs and 38 mins
5 out of 5 stars (17 ratings)
Non-member price: $51.21
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Publisher's Summary

The 14th century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and the exquisitely decorated Books of Hours; and on the other, a time of ferocity and spiritual agony, a world of chaos and the plague.  

Barbara Tuchman reveals both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was lived. Here are the guilty passions, loyalties and treacheries, political assassinations, sea battles and sieges, corruption in high places and a yearning for reform, satire and humor, sorcery and demonology, and lust and sadism on the stage. Here are proud cardinals, beggars, feminists, university scholars, grocers, bankers, mercenaries, mystics, lawyers, and tax collectors, and, dominating all, the knight in his valor and "furious follies", a "terrible worm in an iron cocoon".

©1978 Barbara W. Tuchman (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"Beautifully written, careful, and thorough in its scholarship.... What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was.... No one has ever done this better." (New York Review of Books)

"Barbara Tuchman at the top of her powers.... A beautiful, extraordinary book.... She has done nothing finer." (Wall Street Journal

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely loved this!

I've listened to many audiobooks on medieval history, and this is definitely now one of my favourites. The author follows the life of rich, French nobel whilst delving into the details of the medieval he lived in - both rich and poor lives. I was completely lost in this book and sad when it was over. The narrator also brings the history to life. Excellent value for money too. I highly recommend this for anyone into history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent

What made the experience of listening to A Distant Mirror the most enjoyable?

I've been listening to this one audiobook more often over the last eight years than any other. Fascinating writing. Great narration. Can one 're-read' an audiobook?

What about Nadia May’s performance did you like?

A friendly, intimate, voice. Clear enunciation and diction. Very expressive.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great overview of medieval life

This was a great listen. Lots of detail about historical events of the 14thcentury along side a description of everyday life. Learnt lots that hadn’t read elsewhere about this period.

Narration is very good, easily to listen to and engaging.

Definitely recommend.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Annelli
  • 16-02-2007

A Distant Mirror

Okay, this is a very long book and, as the previous reviewer remarks, it is certainly full of information. Precise information, at that. He also calls it 'dry' but I disagree. I found myself quite absorbed by the parallels between present-day politics and warmongering and those of our ancestors. I'm not an academic and I admit I would have found sitting and reading so much detail hard going at times but (and isn't this the whole point of Audible?) when busy with mundane tasks that keep the hands occupied but leave the brain free, my ipod-transmitted history lesson worked very well. And I truly enjoyed it.

29 of 29 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jim
  • 14-07-2011

Outstanding

Brilliantly conceived to combine the life of a central character with an overview of the peak and decline of European medieval culture. It's well narrated (don't care about her accent; she's always as clear as a bell) and at just north of 24 hours duration, excellent value.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Caro
  • 14-12-2007

More please

Fascinating, with wonderful illuminating detail. I enjoyed it immensely.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • J NEILL
  • 12-07-2007

Scholarship at it's best

An amazing work of perspective and scholarship. I enjoyed every minute of it. It?s not ?light? by any means, and justly it doesn?t claim to be, but it so engages you that its length becomes an irrelevance. And the characterisation is a brilliant ploy. Will Done Mrs Tuchman!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Geoff_Cockayne
  • 11-10-2009

Outstanding reflection of the central Middle Ages

I am slowly working my way through all of Audible's historical offerings. This book is so far the most rewarding I have listened to. It combines a high scholarly standard with an approach that engages the listener throughout. Speaking as a working-class, male Brummie, I find the narration is excellent.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • markw
  • 02-04-2007

Worth the investment of both time and money

When you buy this, you're signing up for (if you download the richest format) 4 100MB downloads, read by a lady with a middle class English accent and of a certain age. So be aware of what you're lettting yourself in for.

However, I found the book rewarding of the extended attention. Essentially, it tracks the career of one French nobleman, Enguerrand de Coucy, against the wider tapestry of the period of the black death of the papal schism and of the hundred years war. Somehow, de Coucy, the existence of whom I'm pretty sure nobody learned during their school history lessons, happened to be present, sometimes on the English side, latterly on the French, at almost all of the events you did hear about.

It's a clever device, and an effective retelling of Froissart's chronicles in the light of what we now know. It turns what starts out seeming dry into something thrilling and absorbing. I dearly wish, now, there was a volume from Tuchman to take us into the of the renaissance and the reformation.

More like this, please, Audible.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Rogayah
  • 26-07-2009

Great overview of Middle Ages

This book has had excellent reviews and I can only add mine to the list. It is a good introduction to the Middle Ages up to the beginning of the late Middle Ages; how society functioned and how wars were fought and many other aspects of life in this period. The 15th century is such a busy century; wars, changing patterns of warfare, the black death's first appearance, a dramatic fall in population in the second half of the century and its repercussion. Even the continual political rivalry between France and England is brilliantly illustrated by the De Courcey family's allegiences and diplomacy.

It is well narrated and it a book I shall enjoy listening to again as it has much to recommend itself.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • WILSON
  • 30-03-2012

OK, but too many lists, and a poor narration

Although I enjoy audiobooks, I think I would have preferred to read this in print, for two reasons. Firstly because I could have skimmed over the endless lists - everything has to be listed in excruciating detail, from meals to armour to knights in a battle to... and so on. Other than that, the content is actually fascinating, with much of interest about a very turbulent century that, in many ways, had a major impact on the following three or four hundred years.

The other reason I think I would have preferred to read it was the narration, which frankly appalled me. First of all, it's a constant sing-song, with no apparent reference to what is being said: it sounded like Joyce Grenfell on acid. And secondly, so many of the words were wrongly or bizarrely pronounced. It really interfered with what should have been an enjoyable listen.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • V. S.
  • 11-03-2013

Sublime

Had this book in my audible library for years and find myself constantly returning to it - a firm favourite. One of the best descriptions of the middle ages out there. I find it interesting that in all this time between then and now, nothing of a fundamental nature has changed very much. Calamitous times then - calamitous times now. Wonderfully woven, finely crafted, full of delicious detail - you get a real sense of the times and what it would have been like to live then. I don't normally like female narrators, but Nadia May was perfect for this book and she did a brilliant job. My favourite history book on Audible.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Clare
  • 22-02-2016

Can't recommend highly enough. Brilliant

Incredible details & very well researched & a very good insight, It's quite a ride & definitely worth it