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Hardcover Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages Book

ISBN: 0060165901

ISBN13: 9780060165901

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

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Book Overview

From bestselling historians Joseph and Frances Gies, whose books have been used by George R.R. Martin as source material for Game of Thrones, comes a classic book on innovation and technological... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Inventions are useless unless the government allows them to be used!

These reviews give a good presentation of the book, which is a fine survey of the great advances made by modern mankind, even during the Dark Ages. However, although the comments touch on why those advances appeared mostly in Europe, they do not explain why the West advanced so much more than the rest of the world. Why was it, that from 1100 AD to WWII in 1945, for almost three-quarters of a millennium, the West far surpassed all other regions in technological advances and developed a huge advantage in the standard of living for its inhabitants? What started in Ancient times, and then in the Dark Ages, and accelerated after 1100 AD, to make Western nations the richest and most powerful nations on earth? Rodney Stark points to Christianity, which was a liberating force that allowed many of the people in European nations to apply their talents to innovative activities. That explanation is at least partly correct, but the liberating ideas of Christianity were largely based on the Judaic-Greek traditions of humanism, where the individual citizen was respected and given a degree of freedom to act on his own behalf. That tradition was buttressed by the fractured small states of Europe, competing with each other economically, with some succeeding by giving their people some latitude in economic and social affairs. The West won those advances largely because the rest of the world's people were held in servitude and never allowed to use the inventions they did make and certainly weren't about to copy innovations the Western people made. For example gunpowder, paper, the Arabic numerals, and the printing press were all Eastern and Middle Eastern inventions that the Western people copied, improved, and actually put into use. The people in those other countries, however, were not allowed to use them. Their autocratic rulers severely suppressed their people, denying them the opportunity to use innovations to better their lives and well-being. Even in Europe, many rulers stood in the way, Church leaders burned some innovative thinkers at the stake, and freedom had to be struggled for. Fortunately, the lowly Monks and Nuns of the Catholic church, were a positive force in the many Universities that sprang up in Europe in the Middle Ages. With other scholars and scientists, those universities added to the education and advanced the ideas of their people. So actually, the West won by default---the fault of the oppressive elites everywhere else. Even in Europe, it was a long gradual process, but the continuing advances, from horse collars, to the printing press, to the steam engine, and rocket ships, appeared most notably in Europe and eventually in America, and currently throughout the world. It was that tad of liberty for the common people that allowed them to create and build on an accumulating body of advances that lifted us from the "old days" to the present. It should be obvious that if you have the mass of a population both motivated and at liberty to think up new ideas, that country will advance faster than a nation where the people are not allowed to act creatively, and are suppressed if and when they might try to act positively. Thus it was freedom for the people that powered technical and industrial advances, and the Christian churches did provide some of that impetus by its unique respect of, and compassion for, the common people. After all, leaders, rulers, and most elites don't produce anything, have no motivation to do so, and in fact they usually object to advances being put in place that might give added power to those beneath them. That is why history's great success stories were operated at least partially with democratic political systems, an open and free marketplace, widespread educational opportunities, and a welcoming economic system that encouraged upward mobility. That is also why communism, socialism, fascism, emperors, Kings, and excessive aristocracies all stand in the way of progress for us all. They all

An excellent review of medieval technology

Reacting to the perception that the medieval period was one of technological stagnation, Frances and Joseph Gies have written a fascinating review of innovation in that period. Starting with a review of ancient technology, the authors then go into innovations made during the so-called Dark ages. After that, the pace quickens, as the authors report on the later Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance. I was impressed that the authors gave full credit for innovations that migrated from Asia to Europe, even attempting to discover the path that the innovation took. Overall this is an excellent review of medieval technology.

From Roman Stagnation to Renaissance Dynamism

This book by the husband and wife team of Joseph and Frances Gies is a labor of love, and it shows. It provides an overview of the history of technology from pre-classical times to the Renaissance. It is a secondary source textbook, which guides the reader to whatever primary source material may interest him. I can keep this text on my shelf at home, and if I wish to seek out some more detailed account of a contentious point by historians such as Edward Gibbon, Henri Pirenne, Lynn White, or Joseph Needham, the Gies' book will direct me to these more extensive works at my public library. I was led to this book by the argument over whether there ever was a "fall of Rome" of the sort described by Gibbon. Rodney Stark, for example, denies it in his "The Victory of Reason." Bryan Ward-Perkins, on the other hand, insists there really was a catastrophic collapse in the levels of population, literacy, and economic activity in the 5th Century Western Roman Empire. I am convinced by Ward-Perkin's evidence, yet I must agree with Stark that the Frankish "dark ages" were far more productive of inventions than was the entire world of classical civilization from 500BC to 500AD. The Franks invented (or at least perfected) the horse collar, the wheeled moldboard plow, three-field crop rotation, the stirrup, and the water wheel. The only original thing the Romans invented was concrete. The Gies' provided me with a way of putting these seemingly paradoxical facts into a consistent whole. The structures of high culture which would support populous urban centers and a literate Senatorial Roman class disappeared after the 5th Century. But the abolition of slavery and the efforts among lower class farmers to survive the chaos of the 6th and 7th Centuries motivated them to produce an astonishing amount of technological inventions. The Romans had no need for waterwheels, for example, since they had an almost limitless supply of slaves. The 6th Century Franks had to be more clever than that. This may explain the inventiveness of the Franks compared to the Romans. But what about the Muslims? The Muslims served more as transmitters of technology from East to West than as innovators in their own right. Why did they fall so far behind the West after their brilliant start during the 8th to 10th Centuries? I am grateful to the Gies' for showing me the continuities of technological development through the entire Middle Ages from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. This has enriched my understanding of the discontinuities emphasized by Gibbon and Ward-Perkins. But much more needs to be done to explain the modern dominance of the West among world cultures. (Non-Western cultures have participated in this dominance only to the extent that they have successfully "Westernized.") Rodney Stark tried to explain this dominance of the West by reference to the alleged virtues of the Christian religion. I argued in my review of his book that his effort failed. But one needs a book like

Fascinating view of how technology affects society

Wonderful, totally entertaining history that opens your mind to the connections between technology and society while dispelling the myths we have of the "Dark Ages".
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