A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century


In “A Distant Mirror,” Barbara W. Tuchman explores the contrasting realities of the 14th century, with its glittering crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry, juxtaposed with a world of chaos and spiritual agony. The book delves into the daily lives of people from all walks of life, including serfs, nobles, clergy, and merchants. Tuchman vividly portrays their loyalties, treacheries, and passions, providing insight into the complexities of medieval society. The book features accounts of cardinals, scholars, mystics, lawyers, and knights, revealing the latter’s valor and follies.

Editorial Review

Barbara W. Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror” is a sweeping historical masterpiece that offers readers a fascinating look at the contradictions and complexities of the 14th century. The book is a remarkable achievement, weaving together a wide range of historical sources and personal accounts to create a vivid and detailed portrait of medieval society.

At the heart of the book is Tuchman’s exploration of the contrasting images of the 14th century. On the one hand, the period was marked by glittering crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry, while on the other hand, it was a time of chaos, political upheaval, and spiritual turmoil. Tuchman deftly navigates these contradictions, showing readers the many layers of life in medieval Europe.

One of the most striking features of “A Distant Mirror” is Tuchman’s ability to provide a nuanced and detailed account of the lives of people from all walks of life. She delves into the daily routines and struggles of serfs, nobles, clergy, and merchants, providing readers with a vivid sense of the realities of life in medieval Europe. At the same time, she explores the loyalties, treacheries, and guilty passions of various individuals, offering a rich and complex portrayal of medieval society.

Tuchman’s writing is engaging and accessible, making this book a pleasure to read. She weaves together historical facts, personal accounts, and literary references to create a multi-layered and compelling narrative. Her descriptions of battles, political machinations, and religious conflicts are both vivid and insightful, providing readers with a deep understanding of the forces that shaped medieval Europe.

One of the strengths of “A Distant Mirror” is Tuchman’s attention to detail. She provides readers with a wealth of information about the daily lives of people in medieval Europe, from the foods they ate to the clothes they wore. She also explores the many different forms of power and authority that existed in medieval society, showing how these dynamics shaped the lives of people at all levels of society.

At the same time, Tuchman does not shy away from the darker aspects of medieval life. She explores the violence, disease, and suffering that were endemic to this period, offering readers a sobering reminder of the realities of life in the Middle Ages. However, she also shows the resilience and creativity of medieval people, highlighting the many ways in which they were able to cope with the challenges of their time.

Overall, “A Distant Mirror” is a remarkable achievement, offering readers a rich and detailed portrait of the 14th century. Tuchman’s careful research and engaging prose make this book a must-read for anyone interested in medieval history. It is a testament to the power of historical writing to transport readers to another time and place, and to help us better understand the complexities of the human experience.

A Distant Mirror The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman
A Distant Mirror The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman
Genre: Non-fiction history
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.6 stars
Publication Date: 12th July 1987
ISBN13: 978-0345349576

Author: Barbara W. Tuchman

Barbara W. Tuchman

Barbara W. Tuchman

Barbara W. Tuchman was an American historian and author who was born on January 30, 1912, in New York City. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1933 with a degree in history and literature. Tuchman’s writing career began with her work as a journalist for The Nation, and she later worked for other publications including The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post.

Tuchman’s first book, “The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700,” was published in 1938. However, it was her later works on history that would earn her widespread acclaim. In 1962, Tuchman published “The Guns of August,” a detailed account of the first month of World War I. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1963, bringing Tuchman international recognition.

In 1978, Tuchman published “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century,” which explored the contradictions and complexities of medieval society. The book was another critical and commercial success, earning Tuchman the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1980.

Throughout her career, Tuchman was known for her meticulous research and engaging prose. She had a talent for bringing history to life, making it accessible and interesting for readers of all backgrounds. Her books were widely read and continue to be influential today, shaping our understanding of some of the most important events in world history.

Tuchman passed away on February 6, 1989, in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the age of 77. However, her legacy lives on through her writing and the impact that it continues to have on our understanding of the past. Barbara W. Tuchman remains one of the most celebrated historians and authors of the 20th century, and her contributions to the field of history continue to be recognized and celebrated today.


  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2022, December 26). Barbara W. Tuchman. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_W._Tuchman

  • The, M. (2011, February 27). Alex’s review of A Distant Mirror. Goodreads.com. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/151053709?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=19‌

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