A Travel Guide to the Middle Ages: The World Through Medieval Eyes

Norton. Apr. 2024. 320p. ISBN 9781324064572. $29.99. HIST
In this breezy and engaging popular history of medieval travel, Bale (medieval studies, Univ. of London; Margery Kempe: A Mixed Life) recounts the journeys of 14th- and 15th-century Europeans. His book follows numerous individuals as they travel for religious pilgrimage, trade, military conquest, or simple curiosity. Rather than evaluating the accuracy of medieval accounts, Bale relates what the explorers believed they encountered including fantastical creatures, nonexistent lands, and cultures that may have never existed, alongside actual places and people. Chapters on the mythical Christian king Prester John, Ethiopia, and the Mongol conquest of China are particularly strong. But some of the psychologizing of medieval personages and analogies to present-day attitudes toward travel may be a stretch for some readers. Additionally, the inclusion of a glossary and maps would have greatly aided casual audiences.
VERDICT An informative and entertaining account of medieval travel that will be appreciated by readers of both popular history and travel stories. Those more interested in relics should consult Patrick J. Geary’s Furta Sacra.
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