A waggishly illuminating pictorial tour of the Middle Ages.
Medieval history is full of good stuff—the Silk Road, the bubonic plague, Vikings—and Shapiro touches on a fair amount, concentrating on the area that became known as Europe and the Near East, with brief forays to Cathay. Kinnaird deploys infographics to give readers a sense of numbers: of Viking travels, weapons of warfare or women in the workplace. Shapiro infuses the 1,000-year period with both the foreign and the familiar. Readers may know about diseases, but the scope of the Black Death boggles the mind; medieval class structure—“The life of a young peasant was like that of an old peasant, only poorer”—finds echoes in today’s inequities of wealth. He lays it out well, and Kinnaird provides crisp artwork with a comic-book look and touch of humor. The book gets below the surface on more than one occasion to give depth to such circumstances as rules governing the behavior of nonbelievers and how the plague was spread by Mongols catapulting their dead soldiers—along with their attendant fleas—into cities under siege.
A rangy but concise slice of history, it’s likely to encourage readers to take the next step in learning about medieval times. (Nonfiction. 9-12)