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Books, Banks, Buttons: And Other Inventions from the Middle Ages
Once regarded by historians as a period of intellectual stagnation, the Middle Ages were actually a time of extraordinary cultural and technological innovation. This entertaining romp through the inventions of the period tells the story of the first appearance of dozens of items and ideas of lasting significance. From this misunderstood age we get our...
Once regarded by historians as a period of intellectual stagnation, the Middle Ages were actually a time of extraordinary cultural and technological innovation. This entertaining romp through the inventions of the period tells the story of the first appearance of dozens of items and ideas of lasting significance. From this misunderstood age we get our buttons, our underwear, and our trousers; we entertain ourselves with medieval playing cards, tarot cards, and chess. It was during the Middle Ages that domesticated cats first found their way into our houses, along with glazed windows, dining tables and chairs, and fireplaces. Numerous labor-saving devices originated then as well, including the wheelbarrow, the windmill and watermill, and the effective use of the horse. War became more deadly with the introduction of gunpowder, while travel over water became less so thanks to the compass and the rudder. Time itself emerged into recognizably modern form, with the advent of clocks -- based on the escapement mechanism -- that measured hours of equal length independent of the changing seasons. More cosmic notions of time developed as well, as the new realm of purgatory broke the traditional dichotomy of heaven and hell. Even Santa Claus first captured the imagination of children during the Middle Ages.Ranging from the invention of eyeglasses (by a now-forgotten layperson who sought to keep his methods secret, the better to profit from them) to the creation of the fork (at first regarded as an instrument of diabolical perversion but embraced when it helped people handle another invention of the age, pasta), this beautifully illustrated volume is a fitting tribute to an era from which we still benefit today.
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