Wednesday, November 20, 2013

REVIEW: "The Most Powerful Women in the Middle Ages: Queens, Saints, and Viking Slayers..." - by Michael & Melissa Rank (Virtual Book Tour Cafe)

QUESTION FOR YOU TO ANSWER - WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE MEDIEVAL FIGURE?  WHY?  (MY HUSBAND HAS A DEEP APPRECIATION FOR THEODORA...)

BLURB
"The idea of a powerful woman in the Middle Ages seems like an oxymoron.  Females in this time are imagined to be damsels in distress, trapped in a high tower, and waiting for knights to rescue them, all while wearing traffic-cones for a hat. After rescue, their lives improved little. Their career choices were to be a docile queen, housewife, or be burned at the stake for witchcraft.

But what if this image of medieval women is a complete fiction?


It turns out that it is. Powerful female rulers fill the Middle Ages.  Anglo-Saxon queen Aethelflaed personally led armies into direct combat with Vikings in the 900s and saved England from foreign invasion. Byzantine Empress Theodora kept the empire from falling apart during the Nika Revolts and stopped her husband Justinian from fleeing Constantinople. Catherine of Siena almost single-handedly restored the papacy to Rome in the 1300s and navigated the brutal and male-dominated world of Italian politics. Joan of Arc completely reversed the fortunes of France in the Hundred Years War and commanded assaults on English fortresses despite being an illiterate 17-year-old peasant.


This book will look at the lives of the ten most powerful women in the Middle Ages. Whether it is the famed scholar Anna Komnene, who wrote the first narrative history, or Ottoman Queen Mother Kösem Sultan,

who ruled the Islamic empire through three of her sons – all these women held extraordinary levels of power at a time when women were thought to not have any.

It will explore how they managed to ascend the throne, what made their accomplishments so notable, and the impact they had on their respective societies after their deaths. It will also describe the historical background of these women, their cultures, and what about it helped or hindered their rise.


Their stories still echo down to today. They are a testimony to the resiliency of individuals to accomplish extraordinary things, even if society puts on them enormous constraints."


Genre: History | Women's Studies
Publisher: Five Minute Books
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Buy: Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Melissa Rank writes extensively on intercultural communication and health on her blog http://hungaryforturkey.wordpress.com.  An avid traveler, she has taught English as a Second Language in many countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, Hungary and Rwanda.  She is currently enjoying taking care of her young daughter and
navigating the terrain of motherhood, and unlike many of the women in this book, has no plans of taking over the country or the world any time soon.

Michael Rank  is a doctoral candidate in Middle East history. He has studied Turkish, Arabic,
Persian, Armenian, and French but can still pull out a backwater Midwestern accent if need be. He also worked as a journalist in Istanbul for nearly a decade and reported on religion and human rights.

He does his best to help out Melissa raise their daughter, whom he secretly hopes can one day be in a book like this. But he would like her to seize power without having to go through all those marriages
to surly men, of course. Michael is also the author of the #1 Amazon best-seller “From Muhammed to Burj Khalifa: A Crash Course in 2,000 Years of Middle East History,” and “History's Worst Dictators: A Short Guide to the Most Brutal Leaders, From Emperor Nero to Ivan the
Terrible.”




NOTE:  THIS REVIEW IS A LITTLE SHORTER THAN NORMAL BECAUSE MY TODDLER SON IS CURRENTLY BATTLING A BUG THAT LAID ME FLAT LAST WEEK AND I AM TENDING HIM - IT IS NOT A REFLECTION ON THE BOOK BY ANY MEANS, WHICH YOU WILL SEE BELOW...

REVIEW
Take a gander at screen portrayals of medieval women, and you'll often find the picture of a woman who is completely steam-rolled by the culture of the time, destined for a life of frilly dresses and servitude to men.  Is this really how it was...or were there women who would have made Susan B. Anthony proud?  Well, let's see....


The Good
If my history books had been this interesting, I would have been far less bored and paid a lot more attention.  = )

This book was just plain fun to read.  Rank (both of them) covered a whole bunch of stuff about each of the women here presented.  We learn a bit about their culture, history, familial history, etc.  We learn a smidge about their personality and what made them tick.  We learn scads about their accomplishments and why those accomplishments were such a gosh-darned big deal!

When we picture women in the middle ages, we often get a picture of some frilly lady who would rather die than squash a bug with her bare hands.  Rank posits that this image is rather fictitious, and then presents 10 women who defy even modern standards of female behavior and expectations (let's face it, suffrage still has a long way to go...but I'll stay off that soap box for now).  One woman led armies at that "delicate" young age of 17.  Another ruled through sons and grandsons in a culture where women today are treated very poorly.  yet another influenced culture even today!

Rank has produced a book here that delves into the personal, sociological, political, and geographical history of some of the most influential women in the middle ages.  They have done so in way that is entertaining without being dismissive, interesting without losing impact, and engaging without dancing around the facts.  Their writing style flows extremely well, contains an appropriate level of snark, and kept me reading despite the fact that there is little plot to speak of (c'mon...this is, after all, a history book).

Were I to teach a history class that included these women, I'd include this book as required reading.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
As much as I like the book, I didn't like everything about it.

I get that it is a short work meant to introduce the women who are featured, but it felt like this was a buzz-by.  You know that feeling when you meet someone, feel like you've known them for ages, talk for about 5 minutes, and then never see them again despite the fact that they were intensely interesting?  This is how I felt at the end of each chapter.  I had just gotten to know enough about the person to want to continue our "conversation" and then was introduced to someone else (not a feeling unlike that I'm sure some experience during speed-dating).  This reader wanted longer chapters...more character development.  :P  More details, please (keep in mind that everywhere in life I'm often the one asking for more details...during a job performance review, one supervisor stated that her major complaint was that I'm too detailed)!!

How was this list formulated?  Surely a list putting forward "the most powerful women in the middle ages" was debated.  We get a little bit of the story about how this list was made, but again - more details, please!  (Okay, maybe I'm just getting a tad pedantic).

Finally, there were typos/obvious missing words.  Enough that I was derailed a bit.  Not too badly, but this is an editing issue.

OVERALL - I give this book a 4 out of 5!!






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