Harriett, January 31, 2010
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I didn't stumble upon this book by a favorite author of mine until in about 2002; a big fat illustrated paperback, with the subtitle The Calamitous 14th Century, which serves as a warning of the scope of the book. This is a tale of crowned heads and expendable sisters to trade, of adventure, and skullduggery, of ambition, greed, and the happenstances that change history, from murder to feminine stubbonness, as much as it is a history book, and I found myself so enthralled I ended up in the following years reading ever more books about Europe's Middle Ages, then about those same years in the rest of the world. I tracked down genealogies and signed up for a course in calligraphy! I found myself adding entries to the index of the book, and marking passages in colored codes with a pack of multicolored highlighters. It sat on my bedside table until I had to buy a second copy when the first disintegrated into loose pages eventually, full of comments on the margins and colored paperclips to help me match people, ideas, events. I read fiction set in those years with pen in hand so that I could mark anachronisms as I recognized them!
I had never had a book end up as a time-eating research project before, nor have I had one set me on the path of obsession before or since, and I have so enjoyed it I do not think of it as a book, but as a key to the library.