Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages

Author: Malcolm Hislop

Total Number of Printed Pages: 264

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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In British mythology, castles are synonymous with Brave Knights, Distressed Damsels (always ‘Fair’ and ‘Comely’), Dragons and the Round Table. Yet these structures were so much more. They were variously symbols of power, of ownership and yet, curiously of family, protectiveness and community; by their very existence they were contradictions.

The volume covers both British and French castles of the 900AD-1500AD period. The author knows his subject well, writing about it with very-evident enthusiasm. As would be expected, the work contains chapters on Earthworks, Great Towers, and Military Engineering. However, chapters on domestic engineering and castle aesthetics also appear. As this reviewer, had never considered that a castle could be worthy of embellishment, beauty, or that colour might be used to decorate the walls, learning about that aspect of castle construction was a revelation.  By virtue of the knowledge it contains, the work is more encyclopaedia than general narrative, and has great value because of that.  In this reviewer’s opinion, it may well become a standard reference work on the subject.

The volume contains 10 Chapters; these forming  the largest section of this work. They are preceded by Preface and Acknowledgements sections. An Afterword, a Glossary and a Referenced Works sections also appear, the latter being effectively a Bibliography. Where source citations are required, these are end-note in format, the citations themselves appearing in a separate Notes section at the rear of the work. An Index also is also provided.  Maps, Photographs, Etchings and Plans appear throughout the work.  They are clear, well-notated, and collectively grouped as Figures (notated as ‘Figs.’) within each chapter. They are numbered in sequence within that chapter. There is however no reference to their existence within the volume’s Contents section.

In precis:  This encyclopaedic work provides a comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the Medieval Castle and is likely to become a standard reference work on the subject.  It will appeal to anyone with an interest in both castles per se and the ‘Medieval era’ / ‘Middle Ages’ in general. For this reviewer however, comprehensive and separate lists of the images that appeared within its covers would have been a welcome addition. It has been rated accordingly.

Although it deserved better, on a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), it has been given a 7.

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nzcrownmines is availalble for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

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Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’