Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages by Frances & Joseph Gies

Title: Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages
Series: n/a
Author: Fances & Joseph Gies
Source/Format: Purchased; Paperback
More Details: Nonfiction; History; Medieval Technology
Publisher/Publication Date: First published January 1, 1994

Synopsis from Goodreads...
In this account of Europe's rise to world leadership in technology, Frances and Joseph Gies make use of recent scholarship to destroy two time-honored myths.

Myth One: that Europe's leap forward occurred suddenly in the Renaissance, following centuries of medieval stagnation. Not so, say the Gieses: Early modern technology and experimental science were direct outgrowths of the decisive innovations of medieval Europe, in the tools and techniques of agriculture, craft industry, metallurgy, building construction, navigation, and war. Myth Two: that Europe achieved its primacy through Western superiority. On the contrary, the authors report, many of Europe's most important inventions--the horse harness, the stirrup, the magnetic compass, cotton and silk cultivation and manufacture, papermaking, firearms, Arabic numerals--had their origins outside Europe, in China, India, and Islam. The Gieses show how Europe synthesized its own innovations--the three-field system, water power in industry, the full-rigged ship, the putting-out system--into a powerful new combination of technology, economics, and politics. From the expansion of medieval man's capabilities, the voyage of Columbus with all its fateful consequences is seen as an inevitable product, while even the genius of Leonardo da Vinci emerges from the context of earlier and lesser-known dreamers and tinkerers.

Every so often I need a break from even my favorite genres of fiction, and, more often than not, I fill the void with nonfiction, as a pallet cleanser. Sometimes it’s true crime (Cult of We), history (Daughters of Chivalry, Meet Me by the fountain: An Inside History of the Mall), or science with a focus on nature (Entangled Life, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, The Brilliant Abyss). I’ve once again returned to the subject of history with my latest nonfiction read, Frances and Joseph Gies’s Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages.

“A spirit of otherworldliness and a preoccupation with theology were perceived as underlying a vast medieval inertia.” Page 1

The book sets out to disprove that notion, and does so in a very technical manner. The bulk of the chapters break down the Middle Ages into chunks, either by “early Middle Ages” or by dates such as for example “900-1200” or “A.D. 500-900.” And it goes into detail about the notable achievements and the way the technology—such as the waterwheel, armor, weapons, bridges, cathedral building, and advances in textile manufacture, ship building, and navigation—were invented and found their way into different corners of the medieval world through various channels (trade was often mentioned). It often revealed the fascinating processes—and ingenuity—behind actually making these inventions (or improving on earlier discoveries) and how they were applied for practical purposes.

Some of my favorite passages had to do with cathedrals, paper, the printing press, and early clocks. But there was much-much more than that, and all of it was interesting to read about.

And, even though some of the descriptions could be frank and sometimes a little dry, overall I enjoyed this book for the sheer volume of information it had. And I’d recommend it for anyone who is curious about the subject.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are appreciated and always welcome. :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...