Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel is one of a series of books written about the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies. Some of the others are about daily life in a village, a town and a castle. This one, however, has a much broader perspective. The subtitle is Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, but it’s more even than that.
The book opens with a survey of the technology that was available in Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages, mostly left by the Romans, and there’s also a visit to China to look at what was available there. The Chinese were more advanced technologically than the Romans in many areas and much of what the Romans left behind them was allowed to fall into disuse.
Eventually information started coming from China and, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the translations of works by Greek scientists arrived in Europe via the Muslim world. By then there had already been many advances in Europe, mostly to do with water in the form of improvements to ships and waterwheels. The book finishes in the fifteenth century with Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci and Gutenberg.
I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Frances and Joseph Gies and this one was no different. It’s a very good overview of medieval technology and it made me want to go away and find out more about a few things. Their books are easy to read and full of interesting facts. There are several black and white illustrations.