The Thomas Cahill "Hinges of History" juggernaut continues to roll on with his latest work "Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe." Once again Cahill (whose past entries in the series include How the Irish Saved Civilization and the most recent Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea) offers an accessible overview "and revision" of a historical time period. Cahill, in typically bold fashion, wants us to rethink what we believed we knew about the Middle Ages. "Though often represented as a period of repression, heavy with superstition, the Middle Ages offered, at least in religious roles, more options than are now allowed," he writes. The intense worship of the Virgin Mary, for example, elevated the status of women, according to Cahill. The debate over how communion bread was transformed into the body of Jesus spurred intense philosophical debates that eventually broke new intellectual ground. Along the way we take trips to Rome, Paris and Florence and get snapshots of figures such as Francis of Assisi, the artist Giotto, and the early Franciscans, who are dubbed "the world's first hippies." It's not necessary to agree with all that Cahill says to enjoy "Mysteries of the Middle Ages." ($32.50 / 320 pages / Nan A. Talese)
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