Book Review: The Medieval Fortress by J.E. & H.W. Kaufmann

The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, And Walled Cities Of The Middle Ages is a good study of the art and methods of fortifications and castles built in Eastern and Western Europe during the Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the early modern period.

The book is right around 300 pages long and includes many illustrations.  It also includes a glossary, which is very helpful to those that are not familiar with the technical terms for elements of castles and fortifications. It is separated into 5 chapters, the first deals with the elements of fortification, the next three are chronological about the development of castles and the final chapter covers the significant castles of Europe by country of location.

The layout and organization of this book is very good, but one of the things I like the best about it is the way in which the information is presented.  This book is written for the layman but the authors manage to maintain the scholarly feel of the writing without putting the reader off the subject.  that is a very difficult balancing act with any subject but particularly so with something as inherently technical as the design of castles and fortifications.  The authors manage to both inform and entertain in this book.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the author’s use of castles that are not famous as well as those that are to illustrate their points.  What I discovered while reading this book was that many of the less famous castles are more interesting than the ones we have all heard of.  It is interesting to read about the history of the White Tower in London but most people have heard of it.  What most people have not heard of who do not study fortification or the medieval world are Vincennes Castle in France or Doonagors Castle in Ireland, both interesting takes on tower construction.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the descriptions of significant forts and castles of the countries in Europe.  I got several travel ideas from reading this section of castles I would like to visit when I get the chance. The only drawback, if you can call it that, is that there are no color illustrations in the book, everything is black & white.  That is only a minor complaint though and the lack of color photos does not really detract from the value of the book.  This is an excellent book on medieval fortification that should be of interest to both the medievalist and those who just think castles are cool.  I highly recommend this book.