Title: Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World
Author: Christopher de Hamel
Hardcover: ISBN: 978-1594206115, $45
Imprint: New York: Penguin Press, 2017
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts is a captivating examination of twelve illuminated manuscripts from the medieval period. Noted authority Christopher de Hamel invites the reader into intimate conversations with these texts to explore what they tell us about nearly a thousand years of medieval history – and about the modern world, too.
In so doing, de Hamel introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, artists, librarians, thieves, dealers, and collectors. He traces the elaborate journeys that these exceptionally precious artifacts have made through time and shows us how they have been copied, how they have been embroiled in politics, how they have been regarded as objects of supreme beauty and as symbols of national identity, and who has owned them or lusted after them (and how we can tell).
From the earliest book in medieval England to the incomparable Book of Kells to the oldest manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, these encounters tell a narrative of intellectual culture and art over the course of a millennium. Two of the manuscripts visited are now in libraries of North America, the Morgan Library in New York and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts allows us to experience some of the greatest works of art in our culture to give us a different perspective on history and on how we come by knowledge.
“Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts is one of the least likely and most wonderful books I have ever read. Least likely: Where to start? It’s a vanishingly rare pleasure, given the commercial constraints of modern publishing, to handle 600 smoothly weighty pages in which the printed text winds its way seamlessly among more than 200 glorious, often full-color illustrations. And in producing such a gorgeous object, Christopher de Hamel’s publisher has had the courage of his convictions, because its physical and visual delights mirror its commercially unlikely subject matter…[De Hamel] is voraciously completist, recording impressions of each journey, place, building and reading room, as well as every coverage detail of each manuscript’s creation, content and existence as a physical object through time and space… On this archival odyssey, I lost count of the things I learned…[Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts], like the volumes that are its subject, is a book of wonders.” – The New York Times Book Review
“Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts is miles away from academic dry-as-dust scholarship. You’ll love learning from it. Little wonder that in Britain this extraordinary book has already won both the Wolfson History Prize and the Duff Cooper nonfiction prize.” –Washington Post
“De Hamel is a man of extraordinary erudition and easy charm; his book asks many questions of the past, and invokes many mysteries.” –The New Yorker
“An extraordinary book, a work of scholarship and history salted with the author’s excitement…It is full of delights, as well as surprising reminders of the shifting ground of knowledge.” – Tom Stoppard
“Deeply edifying and hugely entertaining… [De Hamel’s] curiosity and enthusiasm are infectious and his dedicated sleuth-work and educated guesses are invigorating. When not awed by the sheer scope of his expertise or absorbed by his concerted efforts to decipher script or dissect scripture, we are diverted by his light flourishes and witty evaluations.” –Weekly Standard