Cover image for Books, banks, buttons, and other inventions from the Middle Ages
Books, banks, buttons, and other inventions from the Middle Ages
Frugoni, Chiara, 1940-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Medioevo sul naso. English
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiv, 178 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 28 cm
General Note:
Originally published in Italian as: Medioevo sul naso : occhiali, bottoni e altre invenzioni medievali.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
T17 .F7713 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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Once regarded by historians as a period of intellectual stagnation, the Middle Ages were actually a period of extraordinary technological innovation. This romp through the inventions of the period tells the story of the first appearance of dozens of items of lasting significance. From the invention of eyeglasses (by a now-forgotten layperson who sought to keep his methods secret, the better to profit from them) to the creation of the fork (at first regarded as an instrument of diabolical perversion but embraced when it helped people handle another invention of the age, pasta), this volume, a combination of pictures and text, is a fitting tribute to a misunderstood era that gave us countless items from which we still benefit today.

Author Notes

Chiara Frugoni is professor of medieval history at the University of Rome II, a frequent contributor to La Repubblica and the Manifesto , and the author of many books, including Francis of Assisi: A Life , A Distant City: Images of Urban Experience in the Medieval World , and A Day in the Life of a Medieval City (forthcoming). William McCuaig is a translator living in Toronto.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This brief volume is another entry in a growing body of work that seeks to resurrect the Middle Ages from its dark image by highlighting the period's multiplicity of inventions and innovations. Using primarily an Italian perspective, the book surveys major inventions, such as movable type and the escapement clock, as well as minor ones, like pasta, playing cards, and the festival of Carnival. Neither the scholar nor the aficionado will find a great deal of new information here, but Frugoni (Univ. of Rome II) makes no pretense at an exhaustive treatment of her subject. Her purpose, instead, is to celebrate and show gratitude for the intellectual fertility of the period. To do so, she deftly fashions a narrative that takes readers on an informative, often charming and wryly humorous, journey through the period. We learn not only about banks and books, but also about the invention of underwear and the domestication and meteoric rise in status of the cat, courtesy of the bubonic plague. What particularly distinguishes this volume, though, is the more than 100 exquisite illustrations that aptly represent social and religious attitudes toward the inventions and innovations of the time. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers. D. M. Gilbert Maine Maritime Academy

Table of Contents

1 Reading and Keeping the Books
2 Time for Pleasure and Time for Duty
3 Dressing and Undressing
4 And Then Came the Fork
5 Making War
6 By Land and Sea