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Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition (Yale Intellectual History of the West Se) [Paperback]

Our Price $ 27.84  
Retail Value $ 29.00  
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Item Number 159480  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   400
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.27" Width: 6.12" Height: 1.17"
Weight:   1.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 8, 1999
Publisher   Yale University Press
ISBN  0300078528  
EAN  9780300078527  

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Item Description...
(PUBYale University)"Colish marshals a wealth of information in a clear and disciplined fashion. Her theme is the capacity of Western medieval civilization to renew itself through critical reflection on its own tradition. Heavily oriented towards religion and theology, it is a solid introduction,"---Journal of Religion. 388 pages, softcover.

Publishers Description
This magisterial book is an analysis of the course of Western intellectual history between A.D. 400 and 1400. The book is arranged in two parts: the first surveys the comparative modes of thought and varying success of Byzantine, Latin-Christian, and Muslim cultures, and the second takes the reader from the eleventh-century revival of learning to the high Middle Ages and beyond, the period in which the vibrancy of Western intellectual culture enabled it to stamp its imprint well beyond the frontiers of Christendom.

Marcia Colish argues that the foundations of the Western intellectual tradition were laid in the Middle Ages and not, as is commonly held, in the Judeo-Christian or classical periods. She contends that Western medieval thinkers produced a set of tolerances, tastes, concerns, and sensibilities that made the Middle Ages unlike other chapters of the Western intellectual experience. She provides astute descriptions of the vernacular and oral culture of each country of Europe; explores the nature of medieval culture and its transmission; profiles seminal thinkers (Augustine, Anselm, Gregory the Great, Aquinas, Ockham); studies heresy from Manichaeism to Huss and Wycliffe; and investigates the influence of Arab and Jewish writing on scholasticism and the resurrection of Greek studies. Colish concludes with an assessment of the modes of medieval thought that ended with the period and those that remained as bases for later ages of European intellectual history.

This book inaugurates an important new series that provides a chronological account of intellectual life and the development of ideas in Western Europe from the medieval period to the present.

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More About Marcia L. Colish

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Marcia L. Colish is Frederick B. Artz Professor of History, emerita, at Oberlin College and visiting fellow in history at Yale University.

Marcia L. Colish has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Yale Intellectual History of the West Se

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1Books > Subjects > History > Europe > General   [8439  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Dry and uninsightful, but somewhat useful nevertheless  Jan 1, 2005
My interest in obscure and esoteric subjects frequently leads me to read books written by academics, with whom I am sympathetic, since I am one myself. So it is unpleasant for me to concede that most academics can't write for beans. The current author's work is a nearly perfect example of this very sad fact, which says so much about the waning intellectual vigor of our age. The title provides a sufficient clue that this is a dry and plodding tome, and this impression is confirmed by each and every page, on which lengthy and opaque sentences coil about one another in pointless complexity without ever giving birth to a new idea or an important insight. The most challenging aspect of this book is not the subtle but intriguing new ideas its author places before us - since there are none of these to think about. Rather, the difficulty arises from the fact that the author's style is as unappealing as a cardboard sandwich.

Instead of new insights, she gives us only an exhaustive (and exhausting!) summary of the major books and intellectual traditions of the Middle Ages. And although she provides a slim but marginally satisfactory historical context, she never places medieval influences in new relationships that clarify their importance. Instead, this book grinds on like some college term paper on steroids. It is full of citations, paraphrases and summaries, but it is completely unstained by original thought. This underscores the dark side of academia's culture: "publish or perish".

Among its flaws, the book reflects a surprisingly poor understanding of the world that preceded 500AD, and the author's grasp of Christianity -- an omnipresent medieval theme -- is brittle and impoverished. Oh, the facts are there, all right, but there is no deep understanding of them. Also, the visual arts are not discussed at all -- a major flaw that must reflect the author's failure to recognize their relevance. And although science is mentioned, the author does not understand it well, so she can not fully appreciate its effects. This is an extremely serious shortcoming.

Still, the book has value. Having read it, I feel much better prepared to delve into the source material, whose scope I now better understand. And the author's summaries of medieval literature are among her best. She has an authentic gift for appreciating literature and for sharing her enthusiasm with her readers. As a result, I look forward to reading these works, which would not otherwise have interested me.

Finally, do not be deceived by the fact that a few commercial "reviewers" have said that this book is an "important intellectual achievement". These claims tell us more about the publishers' need to recoup their costs than about the book's merits. There is absolutely nothing in this book that will noticeably alter the world of ideas. And the alleged "central thesis" -- that our modern age stands upon the Middle Ages more than on the preceding Roman world -- must surely be a joke. To her credit, the author devotes almost no attention to this preposterous claim, and so I doubt that the reviewers actually read the book. After all, no thoughtful person can fail to see that the ancient world profoundly influenced the Middle Ages, which in turn influenced the Europe that emerged from them. As a result, these influences are intermingled, and there is no conceivable method by which the modern influence of Cicero, for example, can be separated from that of Ockham. In fact, the metaphor underlying this "thesis" is broken. Intellectual traditions do not stand upon a foundation as a building does. Instead, they are a river whose water inseparably mixes the contribution of its many enriching tributaries. We can appreciate them all, without pretending that one is the "foundation" and the others are not.
Fascinating and well-researched work  Mar 6, 2001
Colish's book is a tour-de-force in the Yale Intellectual History of the West. Her thesis, that the foundation of the Western intellectual mindset and tradition really began in earnest in the Middle Ages rathern than Greek antiquity is an interesting one, and one for which I beleive she gives good arguments. The way she suggests that the ideals of Greece were filtered through Rome and Latin Christianity befire they reached "Euorope" as we know it today comes off convincingly. For her, it is a matter of the development of ideas counting for more than their sources; as a historian, she knows that things didn't have to turn out the way that they did. Colish fleshes this out very nicely in the section of the book where she gives an evenhanded and scholarly account of the parallel cultures of the Latin West, Byzantium, and Islam. Her work in this volume shows that she has thought long and hard about these issues, and her conclusions deserve close attention.

In addition to her excellent discussion of European Medieval intellectual thought, Colish goes into the vernacular literature and day-to-day culture of the Medieval world and proves again that the "Dark Ages" were anything but in some very important ways. Her treatment of theology in dialogue with Medieval law, science, and literature is nothing less than inspired: as a theologian, I found myself wondering how Colish, a historian, had found the time to track down all the relevant arguements, and how she had been able to explain such byzantine issues as the Nominalist controversy and lay-investiture in so clear a manner. Read this book (not really for beginners) in conjunction with or immediately following Cantor's Civilization in the Middle Ages, and you will have a firm grasp of the entire span of the Medieval era, its ideas, culture, politics, religion, and heritage. A wonderful book.

well-written and informative overview  Jan 4, 1999
As an amateur history-enthusiast I greaty enjoyed reading this book (twice) for its well-written and generally clear overview of how Western thought developed throughout early and later medieval periods. Starting with brief discussions of the Apologists and the Latin Church Fathers, the topics raised are discussed in a even-handed manner, although i cannot really judge the treatment of the theological debates. I found the latter (for instance on the Trinity) quite hard-going but that is not necessarily the authors's fault. After all, the subject is complex and deals with theological and philosophical subtleties that now hardly seem to merit the passionate debates and the importance attached to it then. At the same time it is clear that these discussions did have a major impact on European foundations and deeply shaped the further course of Western intellectual thought. The part on vernacular literature (Celtic, Old Norse, German, French and English) i enjoyed very much and i think it really added value. Interesting and useful also was the comparison with Byzantine and Islamic cultures. A very good point was the discussion on diversity that became the hallmark of European civilizations. I sometimes missed the economic/political/social context in which these intellectual developments took place, but again that is not necessarily meant as a criticism. Here one would need to take some other studies which would complement this one. The book sets out to show Medieval roots of Western thought and, i think, it does so very well. Useful and not only for beginners.

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