The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages

by Jean Gimpel

Paperback, 1977



Call number




Penguin Books (1977), Paperback


Through his own choice of source material, the author of this book reconstructs the commercial life of the Middle Ages, giving the reader an appreciation of how energy resources, manpower and sheer ingenuity were applied to agriculture, light industry, the construction trades and mining. He also brings to life some of the great men of the period - the architect-engineers and other technicians whose genius anticipated many of the innovations credited to Leonardo and other luminaries of the Renaissance.

User reviews

LibraryThing member all4metals
Very interesting book. This book really caused me to see the Dark Ages in a different light. There was actually a tremendous amount of industrial innovation and growth.
LibraryThing member aulsmith
A fascinating discussion of the technological revolution in the Middle Ages. Gimpel not only discusses inventions and inventors, but how those inventions changed society as well as what caused the innovations to stop. In the last chapter he discusses what might cause the end of the West's second
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industrial revolution. While some of this chapter is a bit dated, it provides a lot of food for thought. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of technology or the effects of technology on society.
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LibraryThing member littleredcow
A fabulous book -- really essential for an interdisciplinary approach to the Middle Ages. Totally illuminating.
LibraryThing member publiusdb
The medieval ages were far more like our modern age than we often think. The only thing that came to my mind prior to reading this book was knights and castles. Hardly a dark age as often portrayed, the period was full of industrial innovation, and Jean Gimpel makes an interesting survey of some of
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the inventions that came out of the period, discussing the engineering and architectural feats of the age.

The book was written in the 1970s, so it's a little dated, but it was a fast and insightful read, shedding light to a beginning learner on a period of history that generally escapes notice but for as backdrop period films and sword and sorcery fantasies. I read it for a history class during my undergrad degree, but I have kept it and occasionally reviewed it since.
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LibraryThing member Heduanna
OK, so you have to be warned that Gimpel starts off by making a huge error that really, any trained historian should know better: he tries to predict the future. & declares that (speaking in 1976), the West has invented pretty much everything that it will, it's all decline from here on out, no more
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technical innovation for us.

Really: how many of our forebears had any idea what was coming next? The Black Death came seemingly out of nowhere; ditto for many of us (including Gimpel), the Information Age.

Now, if you can get past that, the rest of the book is brilliant. It's a technical/technological history, but that's a tale that can't be told without talking about the technicians, so it's also a social history. The innovation was funded by capital, so there's some banking history. Innovation is frequently adapted for combat, so there's some military history. It's a small book with a very broad scope.

Does that mean there's a little lacking in depth? Possibly: Gimpel himself regrets that there is not more attention paid to the history of engineering, & seems to be deliberately attempting to kickstart such a discipline.

Overall, a very worthwhile book for anyone interested in the Middle Ages, or any fan of the Renaissance willing to have a few of their bubbles burst.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A book that has a great deal to say about the advances in technology in Western Europe until 1400 CE. Quite insightful about that. However, in the last chapter he descends to make some forecasts about the future of technological advance, and the totality of the book suffers. One must remember that
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the copyright date was 1976, and things have not made many of his predictions brilliant. But for facts, some arresting charts and the strictly medieval portion of the book, still a valuable read.
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LibraryThing member jcvogan1
Changed how I thought about a lot of things. The overview of how agriculture and animal husbandry changed in the Middle Ages was a complete eye opener. In particular, the example of how the ancient world didn't know how to efficiently harness a horse was fascinating. Definitely want to go read his
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other books.
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LibraryThing member pandr65
This is a fantastic book, detailing how agriculture architecture, and building were revolutionized during the Middle Ages, and dispelling the myths of "The Dark Ages" and loss of technology for the 500 years after the fall of the Roman Empire. Anyone interested in the Middle Ages, SCA, or
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Renaissance Festivals should read this book.
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Original publication date


Physical description

288 p.; 7.6 inches


0140045147 / 9780140045147
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