[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]
I expected this book to be somewhat similar to the classic “A World Lit Only by Fire” by William Manchester. It is in that it describes medieval life and it is different in that it presents a more realistic appreciation of what life was actually like in the Middle Ages vice the depressing picture painted by Manchester.
First, the stats. The book is 117 pages of text divided into six topical chapters. There are no notes in the text but there is a ten-page bibliography and a short notes section postscript that suggests sources for further information on the chapter topics as well as an index. The work is well written in an easy style that is enjoyable to read and provides good information without getting bogged down in detailed descriptions.
The book paints a picture of the medieval experience as being both fundamentally different from modernity but also having surprising similarities. The descriptions of daily life, practices, and belief are very good. It is refreshing to finally see a book that puts to bed all the false impressions and caricature of medieval life as depicted in so much popular media.
Overall, I find the book to be excellent except for one bone of contention I have. In the section on faith the author falls into the contemporary trap of denigrating western scholarship and essentially attributes everything good that survived the fall of the Roman Empire to Muslim scholars saving it while western barbarians forgot or actively destroyed their heritage. I cannot really fault the other for this as this view has become something of a trope in post-9/11 scholarship. First, this is not true, while Muslim scholars from the 7th-10th centuries were very innovative and did preserve some works lost to the West, Western scholars and clerics were not idle either and the truth of the matter is much more nuanced but that truth is forgotten in scholarship of the last 20 or so years.
All in all, this is an excellent book to put to bed many of the myths surrounding medieval existence that persist in the popular imagination. Easy to read and well worth the time to read it. I highly recommend this book if you want to get a mostly unbiased view of medieval life.