Book Recommendation: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England

So you’ve begun to plot your high fantasy, creating your world from scratch, going for that classic, old feel with little technology and a monarch on the throne. And then you realize you have nowhere to start. All you have to go on is the extensive selection of novels you’ve read, and while that’s definitely necessary and helpful, you think your world building is lacking the reality element that helps readers connect to it in an easy, organic way. Sounds like you need to do some research. Allow me to introduce to The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.

time traveller's guideThe past is a foreign country; they do things differently there…

Imagine you could travel back to the fourteenth century. What would you see, and hear, and smell? Where would you stay? What are you going to eat? And how are you going to test to see if you are going down with the plague?

In The Time Traveller’s Guide… Ian Mortimer’s radical new approach turns our entire understanding of history upside down. History is not just something to be studied; it is also something to be lived, whether that’s the life of a peasant or a lord. The result is perhaps the most astonishing history book you are ever likely to read; as revolutionary as it is informative, as entertaining as it is startling.

This book rocks. It’s an awesome introduction to the High Middle Ages in England, and breathes life into the people that lived then. It’s advertised as a medieval travel guide, and though there are times where it reads that way (mainly in the introduction) I wasn’t very convinced by that description by the end. That said, I didn’t mind at all. This book is so full of fun, fascinating anecdotes and detailed knowledge conveyed in a casual way that it’s worth just getting lost in your imagination as it describes the schooling, housing, medicine, or clothing of 1300s England.

The best part about it is that it’s a fantastic superficial resource. World-building, as we’ve said countless times on this blog, benefits ridiculously from research, and even if you’re creating a totally new land not based on Western society, it still doesn’t hurt to know that in England in the 1300s if you’re old and on foot, or travelling in a large group with a bunch of packhorses, covering ten to fifteen miles a day is very respectable. But if a person is fitter and alone, that number can jump up to twenty or thirty. That kind of information transcends geography and societal constructs.

Seriously, you can take inspiration from every little part of this book. Want to know how they treated fever back then? Check out the ‘Health and Hygiene’ section. Trying to come up with a hairstyle for your princess? Look at ‘What to Wear’. Need more details on courtesy than Mortimer gives you? Flip through the fifty pages of notes and citations at the back of the book. Could there be a better starting point?

All in all, this is a great collection of general information on life in the Middle Ages in England, and if you’re stuck with your world building, or unsure of some details, give it a shot. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a cool history read, pick it up and flip through it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Enter to win a copy below!

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31 Responses to Book Recommendation: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England

  1. Christina K. Aug 14 2013 at 4:24 am #

    I don’t usually read history book, and any research I do is on the web, but this one would be perfect! Love how it’s about making the people feel alive, not mummified, fake caricatures:)

    Thank you:)

    • Biljana Aug 15 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      Web research is awesome but finding books that have almost everything you need (especially when they’re peer-reviewed) is so freaking precious. Hope you get around to reading it!

  2. Stela Brinzeanu Aug 14 2013 at 6:31 am #

    Great presentation of the book. I am hooked!

  3. tracikenworth Aug 14 2013 at 7:23 am #

    This sounds like an amazing read!! I would LOVE to know more about Medieval life!!

  4. Jessica Lawson Aug 14 2013 at 8:48 am #

    This sounds like a fabulous resource and a fun read! Very, very cool. Thanks for the giveaway 🙂

  5. Ellie Aug 14 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Haven’t read any history books lately. But I would be all up in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. I LOVE going to King Richards Faire (The Renaissance fair here) This would totally help with my fantasy MS too. *goes to add to wish list*

  6. Bailey Aug 14 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Sounds cool!

  7. Angelica R. Jackson Aug 14 2013 at 9:38 am #

    I Love this book! A friend recommended it and it has such great details, and a light touch of humor. Did you see he has one for Elizabethan England now too? Can’t wait to read that one.

    • Biljana Aug 15 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      I did! I saw it came out a few months ago, but didn’t get a chance to check it out yet. Here’s hoping it’s as good as this one!

  8. Patchi Aug 14 2013 at 10:42 am #

    This sounds like a great reference guide for world-building. I bought the collection “A History of Private Life” and I highly recommend it to anyone writing historical or speculative fiction.

    • Biljana Aug 15 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Ooooh thanks for the rec.

  9. Andrea Aug 14 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Ouu, thanks for the rec!! It sounds amazing – I’ll definitely have to check it out! My favorite, though specific, history book is Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations by J. Edward Chamberlin. It’s a phenomenal book that follows horses and their impact through history and it’s an entertaining read that makes you stop and think quite a few times.

    • Biljana Aug 15 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      That actually sounds really freaking interesting. Will have to check it out!

  10. Leigh Smith Aug 14 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    I can’t say that I’ve read any history books lately but I am currently putting together my world for a high fantasy and this book sounds awesome. Thanks for the recommendation and giveaway!

  11. Amie Kaufman Aug 14 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Oh, the history nerd in me LOVES this!

  12. Alyssa Susanna Aug 14 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    I don’t read a lot of history books, like, the non-fiction ones. But my latest WIP is medieval fiction. I read Fiona Paul’s Starling – that is set in Renaissance Italy though. It was really good! I beta read it (sort of), to check for anachronisms.

    Thank you! I’ll have to check out some of the titles 🙂

  13. Jessica Aug 14 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    I really liked Eric Jagr’s The Last Duel. In 1386, Jean de Carrouges accused his former friend, Jacques LeGris, of raping his wife and the king orders them to settle the dispute via combat in Paris. It was an interesting read. I also really enjoyed Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse by Jay Rubenstein.

    I do read a lot of Medieval books since it’s my area. 😉

    • Biljana Aug 15 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      And isn’t it the best area? 🙂 Thanks for the recs!

  14. Dara the Writer Aug 15 2013 at 6:48 am #

    I love history, though Medieval Times I’ve never been a huge fan of (unless we’re talking about the restaurant, then heck yeah). Yet the approach this book seems to have I would TOTALLY dig! Here’s hoping more time periods are offered with this theme!

    • Biljana Aug 15 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Oh I have SO many issues with the restaurant, haha! For starters, potatoes and tomatoes totally did no exist in Europe before the Spanish Conquest. And I saw that he published a book in the same vein about the Elizabethan Era, so that might be as good a read!

  15. Sue Aug 15 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    Oh, this would be great for research!

  16. Jessica Aug 15 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    I haven’t read any history books lately except for those that I need for school projects, although I’ve read historical fiction. 🙂

  17. Brooke Aug 16 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Extracted (The Lost Imperials #1) (uncorrected proof) by Sherry Ficklin and Tyler Hall Jolley. EXCELLENT!

  18. Tammy Aug 17 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    The Seven Ages Paris

  19. Marie Andreas Aug 17 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    This book looks great! Although, I might end up spending more time on it that writing ;). But, it’s a risk I’d take.

  20. Marie Andreas Aug 17 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    OOPSSS– forgot to list a recent history book that I read. hmmm, does the book, Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries count as historical?

  21. Shannelle C. Aug 18 2013 at 12:53 am #

    I’m slightly fascinated by history, but I can’t bear with trudging through so many dates. But mundane little facts on lifestyle? Now that sounds interesting. Thank you for this giveaway!

  22. Christina Aug 18 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Oh, awesome!

  23. Cailtin Vanasse Aug 18 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Biljana! You’re back! This seems like a great book. I haven’t actually read any history books lately but in the past I’ve loved the work of Laura Hillenbrand. She writes the most amazing biographies.

  24. Madeleine Aug 20 2013 at 12:37 am #

    The best nonfiction book (I don’t know if you’d want to call it a history book, but I think it counts) in a while is Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson. It’s an easy-to-read, entertaining, and comprehensive biography of Shakespeare and so much fun to read.

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