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When it comes, on the other hand, to Bloom's more purely theoretical works (THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE, AGON, etc.), all I can say is CAVEAT EMPTOR! In these works, and others like them, Bloom's perspective is neither that of a writer nor that of his constantly vaunted "common reader." Rather, Bloom's outlook here is that of a thoroughgoing academic, who as much as he has tended to decry the decline of academia in recent years owing to the combined effects of sundry "Schools of Resentment" (multiculturalists, neo-Marxists, Afro-Centrists, etc.) -- that is, those who value theory over literature -- in AOI Bloom can be seen as something of the Pope, High-Priest and Grand Poobah of this nauseating trend which seems, alas, destined to remain with us forever.
To my way of thinking, the reductio ad absurdum of Bloom's "revisionary ratios" (the multi-tiered, quasi-Oedipal struggle whereby "strong" poets, by reprocessing the work of other poets, supposedly become original) is that if the act of creation is indeed so paradigmatic that it can be diagrammed, then one day computers should be able to crank out verse as profound, witty and memorable as Shakespeare, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, et al. Oh, but excuse me: T.S. Eliot, according to Bloom, isn't a particularly strong poet -- though if anyone can understand Bloom's reason for regarding him as such, then perhaps you will be able to decipher the Riddle of the Sphinx, too. Or, to quote the words of Lord Byron, "And he who understands him would be able/To add a story to the Tower of Babel."
Anyway, in interviews I've read given by Bloom, at least in recent years, he seems like a decent enough fellow. But this book, the first of a series of common sense-deprived, balderdash-laden tracts, is pure intellectual B.S. If this is the sort of thing that turns you on, then what else can I say except that there is probably no ground in the universe where you and I will ever be able to meet.
Freud and Nietzsche form a nice frame of reference for what is happening in this book. I kept looking for mentions of Rilke, which wasn't fruitful until page 99, the first page on "Daemonization or The Counter-Sublime." There it says, "History, to Rilke, was the index of men born too soon, but as a strong poet Rilke would not let himself know that art is the index of men born too late. . . . the dialectic between art and art, or what Rank was to call the artist's struggle against art . . . governed even Rilke, who outlasted most of his blocking agents, for in him the revisionary ratio of daemonization was stronger than in any other poet of our century." There is a page just before page 99 which quotes Emerson on the highest truth about all things going well, "long intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account." (p. 98). Emerson shows up again on page 138, with the idea, "Who seem to die live," to precede the final section of the book, "Apophrates or The Return of the Dead." This part doesn't relate well to law, particularly for a system which keeps thinking that a judgment like the death penalty might be considered final at some point.
Or would it?
I've been ridiculed for saying this, but *The Anxiety of Influence* is a very harsh, very difficult little book. And yes, most writers *do* tend to shrug it off with defensive laughter and glib overconfidence. "Bloom's theories don't apply to me, after all. *I* don't feel the anxiety of which he speaks. I'm as young as Adam in the literary Garden of Eden, and my work is as important and worthwhile as I wish it to be." Thus tolls the death-knell of the M.F.A. student in Creative Writing.
Bloom's vision of the Canon has nothing to do with a required list of books, with the "carrion-eaters" of Tradition, paying uncritical knee-tribute to precedents and precursors. Bloom is simply reminding us that literature is not created in a vacuum of Edenic self-deception (the bland, cheeky optimism of the writing workshop), but rather in the poetomachia of the solitary apprentice testing himself against the creations of the past and present, a gladiatorial dialogue with the collective personae of Anteriority. In other words, the greatest literature is in competition with *itself*, an internalized version of the Canon that each strong poet carries within. The competition is both loving and malicious, and the "precursor" is always a composite of texts and artists, including contemporary authors fighting for imaginative and thematic territory, spurring each other on to higher achievements while stampeding the fallen.
For polemical purposes, Bloom simplifies the "composite precursor" in his reading of the English Romantics, testing themselves against the canonical strangeness of one John Milton. By casting the Miltonic Satan as the modern poet *in extremis*, Bloom creates a critical mythology as compelling as it is melodramatic, working through the byzantine evasions and torque-laden inversions the ephebe undertakes to carve out an imaginative space for himself. The "revisionary ratios" are derived from the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, conceptualizing poetic creation as a heroic self-purgation and regeneration, achieving originality with an apparent loss of power, then returning to the fold for fresh melee and assimilative combat. Bloom's conscious objective is TO MAKE THE POET'S JOB MORE DIFFICULT, the smash complacency where it lives, in the Eliotic idealizations of "Tradition and the Individual Talent", which argues (catastrophically, in Bloom's view) that poetry is the benign and empyreal handing-down of the Muse's wedding-band from precursor to ephebe. But as Bloom persuasively argues, Eliot's stuffy and pretentious election of Dante as his true poetic father desperately obscures his true debts to Tennyson and Whitman, and his poetry may be weaker as a result. The casualties of Eliot's "poetic pacifism" lie forgotten in the charnel-house of unknown soldiers who've mistaken academic careerism for the deeper mysteries of canonical anguish, who've taken the low road of insularity against the combative "wakening of the dead."
To suggest that this sort of gladiatorial perspectivizing is "self-defeating" is rather like calling Nietzsche a "nihilist" because he chose to philosophize with a hammer -- that is, dedicated himself to scraping away all the evasions, the happy-go-lucky subterfuge -- to provide a more truthful genealogy of art and creativity and, more importantly, an Ethics on precisely what is required of writers (born this late in history) pretending to canonical strength. *TAoI* is as Nietzschean a text as you will find, a polemical kick in the stomach, brutal in its necessities, staring deep into the horizon of literature and conceptualizing the intra-poetic psychic warfare of poets WHO WILL NOT DIE. It is a nail-bomb thrown into the seminar-room of creative writing workshops, exploding the glib complacency of young writers who've forgotten that Time is unforgiving in its choice of literary survivors.
To put it another way, Bloom never says that originality doesn't exist, only that our idealized, Eliotic perceptions of originality are immature and self-defeating, an excuse not only to *be* mediocre (as young as Adam at the dawn of Creation), but to revel in and celebrate that mediocrity. That said, those who are coddled by Academe will probably find Bloom's book vulgar, incomprehensible, melodramatic, even paranoid in its implications. While others, stoically self-critical, will find themselves reading a completely different book, and a glorious one at that.
As the previous reviewer suggested, there may be room enough in the academic industry for a communal fellowship of writers and teachers, but there is an important qualitative difference between the respectable productions of, say, a Mark Van Doren, and the monstrous achievements of canonical prowess Bloom examines here. Mediocrity needs to justify itself, to make excuses for its smug complacency, but just as 99.9% of our generation's literature is "written in water," so the canonical survivors of the future will be forced to take even more extreme measures to be remembered, to stand in the square where martyrs are made. Bloom's book, in essence, attempts to dramatize and account for these "extreme measures."
*The Anxiety of Influence*, for all its conceptual flummery and Rube Goldberg convolutions, stands today as a brilliant thought-experiment on the lengths genius will go to stamp itself in bronze, to carry on and flourish in a universe of Death (or its literary equivalent, Compromise). Even if you find his main argument pedantic and repulsive, Bloom provides dozens of pyrotechnic micro-arguments in each chapter, not to mention some brilliant and provocative readings of classic poetry. Bloom is a great talker and showman, and those who dismiss his theories as frivolous poppycock may still be charmed by his brash, Hazlittean personality. The important thing is to take the time to understand where Bloom is coming from, and not to project one's own anxieties onto this difficult and rewarding text.
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At the head of Bloom's "western canon" is, not surprisingly, William Shakespeare. In fact, I would probably agree with Bloom on the basic fact of Shakespeare's importance to Western literature; however, if there is a weakness in Bloom's book, it his constant references to Shakespeare throughout the book. I admire Shakespeare as probably the single greatest dramatist in English but I do not think everything written since is simply a homage or reaction to Shakespeare. Shakespeare changed all of literature after him but he had his sources. Shakespeare was a source for writers after him but Cervantes, Montaigne, Whitman, Kafka and others altered our literature in ways that have no relationship to Shakespeare.
I also have trouble with the idea that Falstaff is the most important Shakespearean character or that King Lear is the most important play. When Bloom focuses on these ideas he reveals his prejudices. He also reveals himself as an old man. We all relate most closely to those characters in which we can see our reflection. I somehow doubt that Falstaff was Bloom's favorite when he was in his twenties.
Still, despite his obsession with Shakespeare, Bloom's intellect and experience range wide. He has a number of wonderful insights into the various authors he discusses and I admire his belief in the importance of literature. It is a belief that I share. Additionally, I enjoy Bloom's digs at feminist, Marxist and Freudian criticism. Though I feel they have made some important contributions to literary criticism, I would agree with Bloom's assertions concerning the damage they have done as well. I agree strongly with the idea that a book must earn a place in the canon by its brilliance and originality; not simply because it was written by a woman or a minority.
But, ultimately, we need not worry too much about the canon, I think. Books are suffering these days, it is true, but reading will never become obsolete and so literature will survive. And the canon will constantly reinvent itself as books are rediscovered and authors go in and out of vogue. (Even Shakespeare's popularity waxes and wanes.) Still, whether in a peak of popularity or a trough, some authors and their works will always be read and studied and this is how an author makes it to the canon. It is not a position granted by literature professors, no matter how much they wish it might be so. But it's nice to have professor's like Bloom to keep us talking about it.
He begins with Shakespeare whom he calls the center of the canon. Bloom exalts Shakespeare almost to a godlike state in his aesthetic zeal. In fact, every other author in the book is related to Shakespeare in some way. For example, Chaucer's Pardoner, he says, was a prototype for Shakespeare's Iago and Edmund. Tolstoy, he says, could not handle the influence of Shakespeare in his works so much so that he had to disavow him in his essay What is art?. The reason Freud believed Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford is that he could not himself reckon with Shakespeare's greatness and Freud's reading of Shakespeare was really Shakespeare's reading of life.
Bloom can appear at times a little too radical in some of his statements. For example he claims that the Jesus of the American religion is not the true Jesus of Nazareth, of the Crucifixion, or of heaven but only the Jesus of the Resurrection. He says that the Jesus Christians worship is a literary figure created by the writer of the Gospel of Mark. He exalts the search for aesthetic greatness above all else in canonical works, even dismissing morality in them past the point of serving its aesthetic purpose. But he can be forgiven some of his university gobbledygook.
The real thesis of the book is that the feminists, Marxists, new historicists, deconstructonists, Freudians, and other ideologues that are taking over the universities are wrong that the western canon, just because it is made up of a bunch of dead white males, is outdated. He defends the western canon very effectively, especially against adding period authors just because of their ethnicity or gender. He argues for the aesthetic merit and place in the canon of each of the authors he covers in the chapters eloquently and justly. I dare anyone who reads this review to read this book and you will be converted, too.
While the appendices, with their lists of books, are the section of The Western Canon that provokes the most argument, these take up relatively few of the book's 578 pages. Bloom begins with a "Preface and Prelude," then indicates the mood the book will assume in "An Elegy for the Canon." Adopting Giambattista Vico's theory of history, Bloom then goes on to discuss twenty-six writers from different ages of literature. From the Aristocratic Age: Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Montaigne, Molière, Milton, Johnson and Goethe; from the Democratic Age: Wordsworth, Austen, Whitman, Dickinson, Dickens, George Eliot, Tolstoy and Ibsen; and from the Chaotic Age: Freud, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Borges, Neruda, Pessoa and Beckett. Just before the appendices is the "Elegiac Conclusion," in which Bloom says he has "very little confidence that literary education will survive its current malaise," but he hopes that there will be "literate survivors."
Early in the book, Bloom tells us that he is not interested in the debate among those want to preserve the Western canon and those who want to destroy it. Instead, Bloom is interested only in literary aesthetics and he claims that canonicity comes "only by aesthetic strength, which is constituted primarily of an amalgam: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, exuberance of diction." Bloom believes in the existence of canons, he says, because the very brevity of life prevents us from reading more than a fraction of the literature created by various authors throughout the centuries.
The Western Canon is more than an interesting book; it is also very thought-provoking. Some of the questions raised include: Is canonicity always the result of one writer's triumph over a great literary ancestor? Do not canons, to some degree, depend on the choices of the wealthy as well as on chance, luck or other devices of caprice? Does Bloom put too much emphasis on cognitive difficulty, choosing books that few readers outside of universities would ever want to read, much less reread? Then there is the excessive praise of Shakespeare as the entire center of the Western Canon. Is this perceptive criticism or does it cross the line into idolatry?
There are those who believe Bloom is too quick to dismiss the moral value of literature. Shelley, they say, went too far in his Defence of Poetry in praising great literature for enlarging a reader's imagination and thus leading to moral improvement. But Bloom, say the same critics, fails to go far enough in acknowledging the moral implications inherent in all great literature.
The greatest arguments, however, are reserved for the lists at the end of the book. How could Bloom leave out this author and include that? Why is this book included and that one is not? But even the critics have to praise Bloom for the breadth of his lists; his idea of the Western canon includes authors from the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Western Asia, Africa, the West Indies and South America. Bloom even notes The Mahabharata and the Ramayana and says that "ignorance of the Koran is foolish and increasingly dangerous." Bloom has also included English-language works by writers whom one would not necessarily think of as Western, for example: R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Another source of controversy has been the (almost) exclusion of female authors. Bloom does mention Alice Walker even before he gets to his lists, but he refuses to say anything good about her. Regarding the works of Toni Morrison, Bloom sees fit to include only Song of Solomon in the canon. He omits all works by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Ayn Rand, Bobbie Ann Mason and Pearl Buck. To be fair, Bloom leaves out a number of male authors as well, authors whom one would have assumed would have been included such as John Gardner, John Updike (represented only by The Witches of Eastwick) and Arthur Miller (represented only by Death of a Salesman).
Although some have accused Bloom of composing a canon made up of Dead White European Males, he does include several American authors in his lists as well as devoting half chapters to Jane Austen and George Eliot and full chapters to Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf, all of whom he praises lavishly.
The Western Canon will never be beyond argument and debate, that is simply an impossibility. People will always disagree with Bloom on one point or another. In the final analysis, Bloom, this century's greatest reader, has treated an enormously important topic with tremendous expertise. And, although an eccentric par excellence, Bloom has definitely compiled astute reading suggestions and critical opinions that certainly deserve anyone's careful consideration.
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Yes, it starts out sad, as our pathetic hero looses both his trust in humanity and his faith in God. But the power of love replaces his lust for money, and wins out in the end. Meanwhile, morally poor but financially rich, high-living Godfrey Cass provides a counterpoint to simple Silas. At the end there's a surprise when the fate of Godfrey's evil brother is revealed.
When you're all done, before you file Silas Marner on the shelf, go back and read the paragraph about Silas' thoughts when he discovers that his hordes of coins are missing. If you have ever felt sudden extreme loss, you will recognize the stages of despair from disbelief to acceptance "like a man falling into dark water." Which is why this book is not suitable for children, and is most appreciated by those who have undergone their own moral redemption.
Silas has been the inspiration for many other characters, including Dicken's Scrooge. He has been portrayed in movies, including "A Simple Twist of Fate" starring Steve Martin. But none is as good as the original. If you haven't read it since junior high, try it again. Silas Marner is an excellent book. There's a gem of human understanding in every chapter.
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Any who, despite all of my previous comments, i love the book and i recommed it. It would be a good addition to anyones library and yes ... wouldnt it be nice to own a library like the one in beauty and the best?
-good book but it goes off on things sometimes
If you don't think Milton, Dante, Tolstoy, plus all the reglious thinks from Paul, Augustine and Mohammed weren't, then you seriously need to read this book. I think I learned more in this book than I did in 10 college courses.
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Naturally, critics of Bloom have taken great exception to sweeping statements such as the above and their general reaction is one of resentment. Individual critical response depends on what particular school of criticism the respondent adheres to, but most often critics and readers alike have simply attacked Bloom, himself. However, even those who denigrate both Bloom and this book have found the time to read and review it to a greater extent, rather than to a lesser.
The book, itself, is made up of three major critical discussions by Bloom combined with brief discussions of each of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays. Bloom begins by expressing his awe at Shakespeare's ability to create literary characters who epitomize the quintessential nature of humanity itself. In Bloom's opinion, Shakespeare shapes all of humanity, not just the elite literati.
Bloom does acknowledge the fact that great writers existed before Shakespeare and says that, "The idea of Western character" defined as "the self as a moral agent" came from many sources at many different times. Individually, however, Bloom says, Shakespeare's predecessors created nothing more than "cartoons" and "ideograms" rather than fully-developed personalities. "Every other great writer will fall away," he says, but "Shakespeare will abide, even if he were to be expelled by the academics..." And Bloom makes his point so convincingly that even those who cannot abide Shakespeare (or Bloom) will be swayed.
Bloom next turns to short, individual synopses of each play, with each review intended to support Bloom's argument that Shakespeare was truly the inventor of the human. These reviews do bristle with long quotations from the plays themselves but they are always extremely interesting to read.
Bloom, however, is nothing if he is not contentious. In concluding his review of The Taming of the Shrew, he says, "Shakespeare, who clearly preferred his women characters to his men, enlarges the human, from the start, by subtly suggesting that women have the truer sense of reality."
After the individual play reviews, Bloom treats us to a concluding essay entitled, "Coda: The Shakespearean Difference," and says that "Shakespeare, through Hamlet, has made us skeptics in our relationships with anyone, because we have learned to doubt articulateness in the realm of affection." Bloom, himself, identifies most intimately with Falstaff. "What Falstaff teaches us is a comprehensiveness of humor that avoids unnecessary cruelty because it emphasizes instead the vulnerability of every ego, including that of Falstaff himself."
Whatever your feelings about Bloom or Shakespeare, Bloom does take a critical stance that he supports textually. His humor is there but it is, at times, scathing. While no one should take everything Bloom introduces in this book at face value, no one should dismiss it all, either. Both this book, and Bloom, deserve a lot more than that.
At first in Bloom's book this reviewer believed that Bloom meant that Shakespeare invented the human personality in literature, a thought much easier to understand. But, it becomes clear as one reads that Bloom intends also that this "invention" is a physical embodiment in our very lives for simply, the invention of "human" means a living mind which can fulfill itself completely only if it first possess the depth of understanding only displayed and elaborated in Shakespeare. Shakespeare took the human piece of clay, identified its intellectual universe, and placed it there to deal as only the mind of Shakespeare has ever been able. And for those who say well you overlooked this author and that author, Mr. Bloom presents the relevant excerpts from all the plays, and on reading, it is difficult to impossible to dispute. Basically, Mr. Bloom goes through play after play after play, and makes his case.
As to the book itself, this reviewer initially skipped around, reading a chapter here and there annoyed with the much mentioned excesses, but at some point decided to read the book from first word to last. Reading the book straight through one gains a far expanded perspective. It is believed here that there is only one possible fair minded reaction to this book, which is that it is one of the most well written, well thought out, stunningly brilliant bits of scholarship yet written. In addition to all of his gifts, Professor Bloom has that ability of common sense, the knack of putting everything into absolutely clear perspective, sensing every concern. One reads here brilliant analysis after brilliant analysis, and just when we are thinking that both Bloom and Shakespeare must be exhausted, we find that both have saved the best for last. Bloom's reviews of Cymbeline, Winters Tale, Tempest, crescendo in their insight, and probably the last play, The Two Noble Kinsmen is at the very summit of Bloom's attempts through these final plays to surmise the consciousness of Shakespeare himself.
It is unnecessary to be a bardoleter to appreciate Bloom. One can recognize the dour pessimism and sometimes bizarre subject matter of William Shakespeare. But one can still value the journey on which Bloom takes us here, the very ultimate of teachers, he shows us there is so very much to learn.
I have continued to read Shakespeare, and for the past several years have subscribed to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I found this book particularly appealing, as Bloom hopes "to offer a fairly comprehensive interpretation of Shakespeare's plays addressed to common readers and theater goers." Since buying it, I have read (or re-read) and seen 6 plays, and followed up with Bloom's essay after each performance. I have yet to be disappointed: his ideas are always interesting, and even when I'm disagreeing, I'm engaged in the dialogue, and perhaps have re-read a section of the play just to clarify my position. This is in fact Bloom's other mission: "We need to exert ourselves and read Shakespeare as strenuosly as we can..." This book will get you off to a good start.
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Unlike cult critiques by evangelical authors, Bloom spends almost no time comparing the beliefs of these groups to a measure of orthodoxy. The genius of Bloom's thesis is that these groups represent different shades of a single American religion - one distinct from the Jewish roots of the Jesus movement and from the European roots of historical Christianity.
He identifies, in a rather rambling and unsystematic way, three fundamental principles of this American religion. (1) The best part of us is uncreated, that is, existing before creation and remains in some sense perfect and divine. (2) That which frees us is knowledge, not belief founded on assent. (3) Freedom exists only in solitude. "What holds these principles together is the American persuasion, however muted or obscure, that we are mortal gods, destined to find ourselves again in worlds as yet undiscovered." (p. 103).
I was frequently frustrated by Bloom's ability to dance around his main point. His historical interpretations are excellent. His thesis incredibly controversial. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that he was unable to reduce his arguments to precise formulations. Personal fascination with the eccentricities of these faiths made it impossible for him to resist digressions.
I can recommend this book for those who enjoy dabbling in theological contemplation, despite Bloom's political digression in the closing chapter. There is much to fuel a weekend's thought in these pages. If you are so inclined - enjoy!
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Unfortunately, this book comes up light on two levels. It provides few new relevations about the role of Moors and Jews in Medieval Spain. It also lacks good story telling on the major figures and thought leaders of this 700-year period. I found Menocal's analysis sharp and able, but sometimes overdone. And like too many academics, Menocal is neither a good storyteller nor writer. In summary, the lack of new insights and sharp writing spoils the book for me.
More broadly, the fundamental premise of the book: That Arabs, Jews and Christians lived peacefully under Moorish rule, is more romantic than true. Except for a very brief period of 50 or so years around 900 AD, there was more persecution than tolerance over the 700 year Moorish period. Ask the Jews of Granada that were slaughered in 1066, or the thousands of Christians who were deported by the Almoravid dynasty to Morocco as slaves in 1126. During the same period, it is well known the Berbers of Northern Africa would frequently pillage Spain, robbing Andalusian Arabs and Christians alike. Later, of course, a united Christian Spain would deport the heavily taxed and persecuted Moors in 1492; some authorities report Muslims were forced to leave their children behind as slaves for the Christian Monarchs to work in various trades.
I believe the book's only bright light is an interesting and original tale about how the enlightened Arabs and Jews of the period translated and preserved some of the world's best literature and science thought lost after the fall of Rome and Greece. The works of Aristotle, for example, were translated from Greek to Arab, then several hundred years later by the Christian clergy from Arab to Latin and other romance languages.
An alternative book about Islamic and Jewish influences in Andalusia is Richard Fletcher's "Moorish Spain." Fletcher is considered by some authorities to be the Bernard Lewis of Islamic Spain and his well-written 1990 book remains the one of best efforts covering that period. Another well-written book, but more detailed effort, is L.P. Harvey's "Islamic Spain 1250-1500." A third book, a superior piece of modern travel writing, rich in Moorish and Jewish history, is Gees Nooteboom's "Roads to Santiago."
All three of books are widely available, offer an unvarnished overview of Moorish & Sefardic Spain, and are worth consideration for people seeking a non-academic overview of this classic period.
Good luck and good reading!
This "culture of tolerance" as Menocal calls it was perhaps not as tolerant as she likes to make out and, of course, it ultimately implodes as Christians and Muslims fight for possession of the country. Still, much of the literature, science and philosophy produced of that time remains influential and many of the beautiful places remain to be see by visitors to the area. Anyone traveling to the country would be amiss if he or she did not take a look at this book and get a feel for the achievement of medieval Spain.
Understand that this book is a completely optimistic account of the period and ignores most of the tragedies of the time. Still, in our time of insecurity, it is nice to read something positive. It is beautiful to see what can be achieved when three powerful cultures work together instead of try to destroy each other.
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