Summary: The best book from Giles Milton....
Comment: This book was awesome! So much adventure and neat information. I liked how Giles Milton included his travels in following Sir John's book to find things -- it was like being on a scavenger hunt from the past. The only thing that would have made this a better book would have been some color pictures of the churches visited! It was a slight disappointment that the Mandeville book was not real...but a fun to follow!
Summary: A trip worth taking...
Comment: A fascinating read! The satisfaction comes not in finally putting to rest the historical debate whether Sir John Mandeville ever made his epic pilgrimmage but rather in going along with Milton as he makes his journey. Settle into your favorite armchair and take off on a most engaging travel narrative. Along the way you will decide for yourself the truth about Sir John's narrative, which is exactly the way all such quests should be pursued.
Summary: Entertaining -- but what's new? --
Comment: This book wears two faces: 1) a travel book, and 2) an attempt at some serious historical research. The author, Giles Milton, a professional writer/journalist, sets out to retrace the path of the legendary fourteenth-century traveler and writer, Sir John Mandeville. Milton's ostensible goal is to rehabilitate Mandeville's controversial reputation.
Sir John Mandeville was the alleged author of one of the most famous early-renaissance books. From about 1350 to 1800, his "The Travels of Sir John Mandeville" was incredibly popular and influential, rivaling the Bible and Euclid's Elements. Then, about 1800, scholars began to question whether "Mandeville wrote Mandeville" -- or indeed whether there ever was such a man. His book is still in print (see Penguin Classic, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville), and is even making something of a comeback,
Mr. Milton is a good writer, and as a travel book his work is quite entertaining. Minimally, it gives us a chance to compare the Middle-East-now with what it was in Mandeville's time. For those who like travel books, that might be enough to make the book worthwhile. Some woodcuts taken from a 1481 edition of Mandeville are real gems. (Penguin should have included these.)
But as serious historical research I have problems with the book. Mr. Milton tries to convince us that Sir John Mandeville really did exist. The historical evidence he presents is weak, at best, and consists chiefly of a barely legible epitaph in St. Albans Abbey. But even here some rigorous scholarship is missing. (What is the earliest mention of this epitaph? To whom is it attributed? Have other scholars noted the inscription, and at what dates? What are their opinions regarding its authenticity?)
My overall impression is that Mr. Milton was not able to gather the evidence he was hoping for, and so had to temporize. I was particularly disappointed that the second edition does not address any of these weaknesses.
Summary: P.T. Barnum, Ripleyï¿½s Believe It Or Not and the nightly news
Comment: A fairly irritating book about an important subject, this book is loaded with a collection of traveling non-sequiturs that are collated and vaguely related to findings of the author as he makes the same trip that Sir John Mandeville made starting in 1322. Mandeville wrote a book after his 34-year journey called The Travels that influenced many important people after him. For example, Christopher Columbus, influenced by Mandeville's book, proposed his voyage to the new world to Queen Isabella of Spain and was turned down. Months later, after Isabella had read Mandeville's book she was approached again by Columbus and she changed her mind, funding his history making voyage to the new world. Mandeville's book was used by many others as a reference for hundreds of years until somewhere in the 1800's when he and his book were discredited and Mandeville generally became known as a fraud, never having actually traveled to the places he claimed to have visited. In The Riddle and the Knight, Milton's trip to all the same places starts off with the promise of getting to the bottom of a very old debate, "Did Mandeville actually take the trip he claimed he took? By actually making the same trip today, what could be found to either prove or disprove Mandeville once and for all?" That's a great idea but the writer got bogged down including almost everything that happened to him on his 20th century journey whether it added to proving Mandeville's journey or not. On page 189, Milton is staying in a monastery in Egypt and two U.N. peacekeepers stumble upon the ancient institution. One of them is an American who is remarkably like Gomer Pyle. Halfway through this jewel, I paused and thought, "This episode will have no bearing whatsoever on what Milton is doing with his story." True enough, it didn't. It was simply a loud and colorful, intrusion into the quiet life of the monastery Milton was staying in. "What the heck. Let's put it in the book." Milton was fair in citing the frequent number of times that almost every ancient author would plagiarize one another and that Mandeville was not much different. Unlike the book's title, The Riddle and the Knight, any references to a riddle somewhere in the book were sparse, casual, and hugely unfulfilled. The author also missed the opportunity to properly observe that all early discoverers and travelers were at some point liars who all knew that keeping the attention of those who listened would sometimes require mention of the strange men foreign lands who have no heads, or really giant women from another distant land or strange elixirs that have remarkable healing powers. It's all part of giving the audience what they want or need to hear, from P.T. Barnum to Ripley's Believe It Or Not to the nightly news.
Summary: The Riddle .....Still left Wondering
Comment: What a disappointment . After reading one of Milton's other books I was excited to get this for Xmas. The book is a soft introduction to some of the history of both the Middle Ages, the Middle East, but thats it . I felt that the author had stumbled onto a possible winner but in the end it didnt pan out but had to publish a book to justify his travels ( and perhaps his advance ). Best I can say about the book is the bibliography. This alone was worth one star , otherwise I would have only given a rating of one star. Not a recommended buy