I finished reading Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror a couple days ago.

I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when I started it. I wasn’t expecting a 600-page book in 8-point type in oversized paperback format. This is a long read.

And that length is put to good use. A Distant Mirror is indeed a history of just about the entire 14th Century, mostly focusing in France. Politics, peasant rebellions, the Black Death, knights, religious peculation, schism, it’s all there; it was a busy time. This is very good narrative history. It’s not a very ‘scholarly’ treatment of the time, but it pours out page after page of people, events, and quotes of contemporary chronicles, and fills you with a distillation of the events of a place which is revealed to be every bit as complex as today.

The central conceit of the book is that it follows the life of Enguerrand VII of Coucy, a fairly prominent figure of his time about which little is known past the facts of the places he shows up. This makes it resemble the book Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine wanted to be. Her book was supposed to be a biography, but due the lack of information about Eleanor herself, it is not satisfying as such. A biography of Coucy would be just as unsatisfying, but as he is is just the focal point, the point through which the world is viewed, instead of the actual subject of the book, it works quite well.