Christopher de Hamel's exploration of medieval manuscripts - a dozen peaks from St Augustine to Chaucer and beyond, gorgeously and copiously illustrated - is itself an extraordinary book, a work of scholarship and history salted with the author's excitement as he conducts us among the great libraries of Western civilization. It is full of delights -- Tom Stoppard A book of marvels -- John Banville, Financial Times Great manuscripts are the reclusive stars of European cultural history; to be close to one is to enter a secret garden to which few have ever been granted access. With scholarly elegance, Christopher de Hamel opens the door and invites us to join him for the intellectual expedition of a lifetime. As he introduces us to twelve star manuscripts in their sanctuary homes, these complex creations emerge as major players in the great game of ideas and power. They are agents as well as creatures, with histories that embrace and explain our own. This is an endlessly fascinating and enjoyable book. -- Neil MacGregor Spectacular ... If I could walk you to your nearest bookshop, take £30 from your wallet, and place this wonderful book in your hands, I would -- Peter Thonemann, Sunday Times Truth, as this entrancing book proves, is wonderfully stranger than fiction. Christopher de Hamel's learned adventures amid some of the West's greatest manuscript treasures effortlessly outclass Eco's The Name of the Rose in elegance and excitement. They are also much funnier. -- Diarmaid MacCulloch One of the cultural highlights of the autumn is an edge-of-the-seat tale inspired by Medieval Manuscripts. Christopher de Hamel has turned a lifelong obsession with ancient literature into a book that critics are comparing to A History of the World in 100 Objects and the wonderful The Hare with Amber Eyes. -- Kirsty Wark, Newsnight Reading is my life, but only about once a decade do I find a book that seems to tilt the world, so afterwards it appears different. -- Fiammetta Rocco, The Economist '1843' De Hamel's book, scholarly but unfailingly readable, is the beginning of wisdom in all things scribal and scriptural -- Ian Thomson, Observer Christopher de Hamel's outstanding and original book pushes the boundaries of what it is and what it means to write history. By framing each manuscript of which he writes as the story of his own personal encounter with it, he leads the reader on many unforgettable journeys of discovery and learning. Deeply imaginative, beautifully written, and unfailingly humane, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts distils a lifelong love of these astonishing historical treasures, which the author brings so vividly to life. It is a masterpiece. -- David Cannadine. In the course of a long career at Sotheby's Christopher de Hamel probably handled and catalogued more illuminated manuscripts and over a wider range than any person alive. He is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and was Librarian of the Parker Library from 2000 to 2016, which holds many of the earliest manuscripts in English language and history, including the Psalter of Becket. Christopher de Hamel is the author of A History of Illuminated Manuscripts and Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, which won the Wolfson History Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize in 2016. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society.. WINNER OF THE WOLFSON HISTORY PRIZE AND THE DUFF COOPER PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION'An endlessly fascinating and enjoyable book' Neil MacGregor'Full of delights' Tom StoppardAn extraordinary exploration of the medieval world - the most beguiling history book of the yearThis is a book about why medieval manuscripts matter. Coming face to face with an important illuminated manuscript in the original is like meeting a very famous person. We may all pretend that a well-known celebrity is no different from anyone else, and yet there is an undeniable thrill in actually meeting and talking to a person of world stature.The idea for the book, which is entirely new, is to invite the reader into intimate conversations with twelve of the most famous manuscripts in existence and to explore with the author what they tell us about nearly a thousand years of medieval history - and sometimes about the modern world too. Christopher de Hamel introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, artists, librarians, thieves, dealers, collectors and the international community of manuscript scholars, showing us how he and his fellows piece together evidence to reach unexpected conclusions. He traces the elaborate journeys which these exceptionally precious artefacts have made through time and space, shows us how they have been copied, who has owned them or lusted after them (and how we can tell), how they have been embroiled in politics and scholarly disputes, how they have been regarded as objects of supreme beauty and luxury and as symbols of national identity. The book touches on religion, art, literature, music, science and the history of taste.Part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art in our culture which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible. At the end, we have a slightly different perspective on history and how we come by knowledge. It is a most unusual book.
Un libro que es una pieza de arte en sí De Hamel lleva una larga vida dedicado al estudio de los manuscritos (libros escritos a mano), sobre todo los que están iluminados, es decir aquellos que contienen ilustraciones artísticas (y emplean pigmentos como el oro, lapislázuli y otros de elevado coste). El presente libro analiza, o 'entrevista', como él prefiere decir, a doce ilustres manuscritos. En cada uno de ellos actúa de forma análoga, comentando no solo los aspectos técnicos del libro (pergamino, tipo de letra, descripción de las ilustraciones, estado de conservación...) sino, y yo diría que especialmente, narra la historia del manuscrito de que se trate, desde su creación hasta el día de hoy, y también nos ofrece el marco histórico en el que nació cada uno de ellos. El autor es siempre ameno. Los manuscritos muy interesantes, y casi todos ellos dotados de bellas ilustraciones, que son auténticas obras de arte. Tan solo uno de ellos, el 'Beato' de la Morgan Library, es de origen español. Algunos son muy famosos, como el 'Libro de Kells', otros algo menos (echo en falta el extraordinario 'Tres Riches Heures del duque de Berry'). En cuanto al libro que nos presenta a esos otros libros, decir que es una obra de arte en sí mismo: muy buen papel, excelente reproducción de las ilustraciones, y buen diseño. Da gusto tenerlo entre las manos; y además pesa bastante. Cinco estrellas muy bien merecidas.
Incredibly interesting even for those uninitiated in the manuscript business This has become one of my favourites. Not only are the photos gorgeous, but the stories behind these manuscripts are incredible as well
A book of rare quality It’s not often one comes across such a superbly well written book. Hamelin has a deceptive lightness of touch; he knows these manuscripts as few ever will but his style is open and full of humour, highly informative and quirky, learned but never intimidating. It takes time to read and it repays the effort. For me the most powerful chapters were focused on the very early manuscripts; the Gospels of St Augustine and the Book of Kells. There is a sense of almost personal encounter with these distant voices as they came to terms with their relationship with Christianity particularly in the light of the collapse of the civilised Roman world which had produced it. It brought to mind my own first reading of Bede as a young Oxford student and the excitement of struggling through the medieval Latin (a real struggle in my case) to see the world in the terms of the monks writing in their scriptoria in Jarrow and Lindisfarne. It opened up my sense of the historical; men and women with very recognisable characters grappling with an inexplicable and very threatening world. The later chapters are also very revealing. For me the chapter on Chaucer was of most interest. To see some of the very earliest manuscripts brought to life recalled my own first encounter with The Canterbury Tales as an A level student. Again this is not easy language to engage with, and it’s a great shame it has largely disappeared from the UK school curriculum, but there cannot be many better ways to understand the 14th century than through the stories of Chaucer. This is one of the best books I’ve read over the past decade. It is beautifully produced, elegantly written and completely engaging. Buy it, read it perhaps by the fire as a retreat from autumnal rain and wind and preferably with a good malt whisky, and lose yourself with some of the most beautiful texts ever produced.
Highly recommended Excellent.A very fine insight into a world most of us are unfamiliar with by a scholar of real substance and clarity. Not quite as riveting as the blurb would have you believe, but fascinating nonetheless. The insights into the history and craft surrounding his selected books that de Hamel brings to the book makes it stand head and shoulders above anything that ventures into the same waters -and they are few and far between.. I personally found the parts where he describes how you reach the rooms in the various institutions where the books are read to be irrelevant and un-necessary, but he is taking you on a guided tour as it were. The illustrations are carefully chosen to illustrate (illuminate?) the points that he makes about the design and detail of the various books, their styles and the various hands that contributed to each. The explanations of the detail and the identity of the various scribes and illuminators are fascinating. It would be interesting to know how many of the identities that he proposes have become accepted, but that isn't something that one might expect to find here. .
Smashing book I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is very clearly written, and in an accessible style with care taken to explain any occasional technical terms which arise. I note that some reviewers disliked the quantity of background information about the manuscripts plus the descriptions of the author's visits to their current locations. I found the former very interesting - part of the provenance of such manuscripts which can shed light on why they were made, for whom and thus what they are intended to convey. The latter did highlight the difference between the circumstances for which the items were produced, and those they exist in today - i.e. flagging up the de-contextualization which occurs when something is viewed in a museum. De Hamel does, after all, entitle his book, "meetings" with remarkable manuscripts. I have studied a very little about medieval/early modern manuscripts but most of those included here I had not come across and was fascinated. In addition, I thought I greatly preferred pre C 15/16th manuscripts , but reading about , for example, the Spinola Hours and having a really good look at the plates has modified my view. One can always do with more coloured plates but I thought here there was a very good selection, sensibly located near the relevant text, and , thank heaven, large enough to have a really good look. I loved in particular the chapters on Hugh Pictor and on the Hours of Jeanne de Navarre. I really hope there is a sequel.
For everyone For context, I know nothing about Manuscripts and don't tend to read non-fiction but based off rave reviews (and the fact that the book is beautiful and well made) I decided to give it a go. It's a beautiful book (I'm referring to the hardcover, as another reviewer mentions don't bother with the paperback, completely different level of quality, size is small so you can't appreciate the photos of manuscripts as well as other illustrations and most annoyingly, all photos/illustrations are in black and white and the paper quality is noticeably lower!) and Hamel writes almost as an audiobook style - like he is your friend having a chat with you about his latest adventure going off to a museum in Italy, or America and so on and what he has seen and got up to there. The language is unfussy and untechnical, and really Hamel should do a podcast or audiobook of this because I think it would be fantastic (although viewing the photos of manuscripts is necessary I think). Despite the colloquial style, Hamel (as you would expect a professor of Cambridge) really knows his stuff. But he tells you in a way that he expects you not to know anything (in a non-patronising way) and explains well little secrets of the Manuscripts. His passion for his work really comes through and this is an insight into a different world - Medieval Europe or Anglo-Saxon England, so unknown to us and yet a lot is relevant to human nature. One minor point is sometimes the text refers to a picture a few pages ahead or behind which means you have to flick backwards and forwards, but this is a minor criticisms. My only other criticisms (which aren't even criticisms but suggestions!) are please include more photos and please Mr. Hamel - write another book! Oh and this should also be made into an audiobook narrated by Mr Hamel himself (especially as the size makes it near impossible for a commute read for those who like to do that, unless you get the paperback version which is not recommended for the reasons above!).
A treasure and an eye opener Beautifully produced on heavier than usual paper and with plenty of coloured illustrations, this book inspires in no small part due to the author’s infectious enthusiasm. We learn about twelve exemplary Western illuminated manuscripts written between the sixth and sixteenth centuries and the libraries in which they are presently held (and can be read by those privileged enough to be allowed to). In his friendly manner, the author provides plenty of historical information and atmosphere, woven together by large amounts of detective work to show who might have been responsible for their commissioning and preparation, and how they came to still be with us today. This book is a treasure and an eye opener.
Marvellous manuscripts This is a wonderfully interesting book which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the European Middle Ages, never mind its manuscripts. The author succeeds in conveying not only his own enthusiasm but also the intellectual detective work by which the manuscripts can be made to reveal a huge amount about the evolving medieval world. The numerous illustrations are a joy in themselves but also support the text (I think this is the right way to put it) very well.
Outstanding A great read. It is really well written by someone who loves his subject and cares deeply about it. It is nicely varied (he has chosen his books well so that they are not just from different eras but also the books' topics are somewhat varied too as are the locations where the books are kept. A fascinating insight and a remarkably readable book which maintains interested from start to finish even for someone like me who has no particular interest or background in the topic. My only slight gripe is that there was no mention of the colour photos in the middle of the book which are terrific!
Remarkable indeed I've absolutely loved reading this book. Having read beforehand that each chapter covered a different manuscript I thought I could just dip into it occasionally when the mood took me, it really didn't work out that way. Every time I finish a chapter I carry on to the next one because it's so engaging. The level of research here is a fitting tribute to the amount of work that went into these beautiful ( frequently strange! ) manuscripts all those centuries ago.
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