Handbook to Life in the Medieval World covers life in Western Europe and the Middle East from 476 to 1492 in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim societies. The idea behind the set is to show how these three civilizations were interrelated. The authors divide the medieval world into 11 topical sections, among them “Society,” “Economy and Trade,” “Warfare and Weapons,” and “Philosophy and Religion.” These subjects are then examined through the perspective of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures. At the end of each chapter is a list of readings, and an extensive 60-page bibliography and an index are found at the end of the set. Throughout the volumes are 140 black-and-white drawings, photographs, and maps.
Besides the fact that it examines topics across three societies, what distinguishes this set from several other reference books on the medieval period is the depth and length of the articles. For example, instead of the usual paragraph or page on a topic such as food, the article on food in Jewish society covers five pages. To help the reader better understand a subject, the authors often provide a glossary of words or a list of important people. In the chapter on literature, for example, there is a list of major Jewish writers with their dates, books, and importance. Topics such as land tenure, slaves, women, cities, inheritance, hygiene, and dress are all analyzed for each of the three societies. The only disappointing feature of the book is that there are not enough pictures to help clarify the text.