Suggestions for interesting non-fiction about Germany in the Middle Ages
May 24, 2010 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in reading some non-fiction about Germany (or The Holy Roman Empire) in the Middle Ages and I'm looking for suggestions.

It's a broad topic, I know. I don't have any specific requirements, but would prefer something that wasn't too dry a read. The Holy Roman Empire has always interested me, as this big mess of little countries, and I'm curious to learn more about it.
posted by picea to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Iron Kingdom is the story of Prussia's swallowing the rest of Germany.
posted by shothotbot at 2:12 PM on May 24, 2010

The Iron Kingdom is not about the Middle Ages. The problem is that the kind of book you're looking really doesn't exist, at least not in English. It would be great if there was some Iron Kingdom-esque tome about the HRE, but there isn't.

You have a few of options, then. The first you can do is read The Making of Europe, by Robert Bartlett. It's a great read and a good piece of scholarship. It's premise deals with the "expansion" of Europe during the Middle Ages, and it spends a great deal of time talking about the HRE. Mr. Bartlett uses primary sources about the expansion of the HRE that few other scholars touch, let alone popular authors.

Another suggestion is to dwell into the dry scholarship a bit. Here you'll be well-served by the works of Benjamin Arnold. You can Google his name and find something you might like. Keep in mind, however, that you'll probably have to get his books used, or from a library.

The third option is to read a popular book about the Middle Ages in general, and focus on the HRE parts. Here, Norman Cantor's Civilization of the Middle Ages will probably do fine.
posted by hiteleven at 2:29 PM on May 24, 2010

I really enjoyed The Sovereign State and its Competitors by Hendrik Spruyt when we read it in my undergrad politics class. (the "whoah this is blowing my mind" kind of enjoyment) It's equally about France and Italy, but there is a large section about the city leagues (e.g. the Hanseatic League) and Holy Roman Empire. It's academic but well worth it if you're at all interested in the politics and economics of the period, and how they have shaped our world today.
posted by ropeladder at 3:03 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ditto Norman Cantor's "Civilization of the Middle Ages."
posted by SuzB at 3:11 PM on May 24, 2010

Kannst du Deutsch? Guck mal hier: Ein Jahrtausend deutsche Geschichte, vom ZDF.

Gordon A. Craig’s Germany: 1866-1945 and The Germans are indispensable.
posted by vkxmai at 3:14 PM on May 24, 2010

A Mighty Fortress by Steven Ozment is quite good and might fit the bill.
posted by fso at 3:50 PM on May 24, 2010

Malcolm Barber's The Two Cities is a general history of medieval Europe which is eminently readable and interleaves primary and secondary sources in a compelling way, IMHO. It also spends a lot of time on the Empire, the Papacy, and their various tangled relationships.

Though dated, The Oxford History of Medieval Europe is a good starting point too.

I don't know much about books specifically on the HRE itself, though, so am also curious to see other recommendations. I've heard good things about Spruyt's book but haven't read it.
posted by a small part of the world at 4:51 PM on May 24, 2010

You might take a look at The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer, published by W.W. Norton. Hopefully I'm not abusing technical terms, but I believe it falls under the classification of "literary nonfiction" ... regardless, you can "read inside" at Amazon to see the table of contents and to get a feel for her writing style in the first couple of pages. As it's a history of the entire world in the medieval period, it doesn't go deep on the HRE, but it's in there.

(She's a friend of mine, and my wife was the map illustrator for the book, but we don't benefit from the sale of the books in any way.)
posted by Alt F4 at 5:28 PM on May 24, 2010

The Origins of Modern Germany by Geoffrey Barraclough

Medieval Germany 1056-1273 by Haverkamp.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:43 PM on May 24, 2010

Also check out this awesome program about Deutschland von oben! (above). It shows how various German cities developed over the centuries from crossroads on the Rhein to mega-states, for example.
posted by vkxmai at 7:14 PM on May 24, 2010

Accessible HRE secondary works are a little thin on the ground, but there are quite a few translated primary sources available: Two Lives of Charlemagne, The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, Imperial Lives and Letters of the Eleventh Century.
posted by Iridic at 9:58 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions. You've given me a lot to look into, which is great.
posted by picea at 3:37 PM on May 25, 2010

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