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Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. He was The smartest guy in the room intimidating. Henry Adams, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were both American Presidents. There were plenty of troubled failures in the family, but not so Henry. Like his illustrious forebears, he went back in time, to Europe. Unlike John and John Quincy, he stayed there, at least scholastically, being an historian and 'intellectual'. He had, oh, opinions. If he were political, he might have been the smartest man ever to be President He was If he were political, he might have been the smartest man ever to be President.

And like the other Adamses, he would not have served a second term. Smart as he was, he was often wrong. Some believe his adultery was a cause of his wife's suicide. And his published views on Jews are not softer than Hitler's. But I just want to talk about this book, which is unlike anything I have ever read. There is a structure to it that is not really apparent until near the end.

It starts as a tourist guide, if you will, Henry taking us first to Mont-Saint Michel and then to Chartres , the former a warm-up for the latter. Look at this buttress, this nave, this window.


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It's a class in architecture, but never just that. Tourists want as few dates as possible; what they want is poetry. And so, through the roses and apses, Adams concludes: You may, if you really have no imagination whatever, reject the idea that the Virgin herself made the plan; the feebleness of our fancy is now congenital, organic, beyond stimulant or strychnine, and we shrink like sensitive-plants from the touch of a vision or spirit; but at least one can still sometimes feel a woman's taste, and in the apse of Chartres one feels nothing else.

Hey, I got an imagination. And that's nice, about the woman's taste. But then overcome by the beauty of the glass of Chartres, he challenges to the point of insult the reader: You had better stop here, once for all, unless you are willing to feel that Chartres was made what it is, not by the artist, but by the Virgin.

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I pressed on anyhow, annoyed instead of sold, hoping, as an excuse, that he stared too long through the rosettes, straining his neck and thus his pen into hyperbolic ecstasy. As it turned out, all this -- the tour of French cathedrals -- was a base for Adams' exploration of Christian thought.


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See, the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Acquinas was like the converging lines inside the nave of Chartres. Thomas, Adams says, was a theological architect.


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It takes a long time to get there. As I'm writing this, I'm wondering how I could have liked reading such gibberish. All I can say, in my defense, is that Adams can write as well as anyone I've read. There are times when he refuses to translate from the Latin or French - the whole Trinity, with the Virgin to aid, had not the power to pardon him who should translate Dante and Petrarch - on the basis of the words being too beautiful or too sincere for translation.

Perhaps it's best to read Adams like that as well, as too lush to be weighed down with sense or translation. View all 22 comments. May 17, Roy Lotz rated it liked it Shelves: artsy-fartsy , americana , eurotrip , one-damn-thing-after-another , lets-get-medieval. Saint Thomas did not allow the Deity the right to contradict Himself, which is one of man's chief pleasures.

I read this book in preparation for my visit to Chartres, which was just last week. Yet I have found the two books discouragingly similar. As a stylist Adams appears, at least superficially, quite strong. His Saint Thomas did not allow the Deity the right to contradict Himself, which is one of man's chief pleasures. His sentences are clear and mostly elegant, occasionally epigrammatic.

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But stylistic problems appear on a higher level of organization. His ideas float against a background that he does not provide, making his train of thought appear out of context. The result is rather irritating, superficially clear but actually opaque, like overhearing an eloquent old man talk to himself. But my gravest complaint about Adams, both here and in his autobiography, is his tendency to organize his books around central ideas that I find vague and vapid.

To be fair, he tends to treat these ideas and himself with a considerable amount of irony; but the irony does not amount to full satire, leaving it unclear whether he is merely kidding or if he intends these ideas to be somehow insightful. Again, just as in his autobiography, here the dominant mood is notalgia. Though extremely successful, Adams apparently felt out of harmony with his world and yearned for a time when society was simpler and more unified.

This leads him quite naturally to the Middle Ages, to the poetry, to the great cathedrals, and to the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, which unite art and science into a seamless whole. Consequently this book, far from being historical analysis, is more of a personal appreciation of the French Medieval period, spinning off into fantasy or speculation wherever it suits him.

This self-indulgent tone is grating to somebody trying to learn about Chartres. Now that I have gotten all this criticism out of the way, I must admit that the book, like his autobiography, has its merits and charms.

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He is obviously fond of this period, and so writes in a tone of enthusiastic admiration that proves quite infectious. But when context is provided by an external source, Adams can be quite pleasant. When I visited Chartres, and saw its magnificent stained glass for myself, his chapters ceased to be so vexing. The chapters I most enjoyed were the final three, about philosophy—specifically, Abelard, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thomas Aquinas—since here my background was not so lacking.

By contrast I thought the chapters on poetry were the worst, since they mainly consisted of excerpts of poetry, in Latin or Medieval French, with repeated assurances of their high quality and their untranslatable beauty. His mostly bland translations serve to prove his point. View all 3 comments. Dec 24, Charles rated it it was amazing. Henry Adams is the type of author, and an author, whom every educated American once read and discussed.

Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay (UNESCO/NHK)

But by reading Adams, we can at least educate ourselves, and educate the Remnant, as Isaiah did before the renewal. That book covers the second half of the 19th Century, through which Adams lived and onto which he turned an analytic eye. The Education also overlaps Mont St. Michel in some ways, for it contrasts the modern industrial world, symbolized by the dynamo, with the ancient world of Chartres and the Virgin Mary. The Education is a fairly straightforward book; Mont St. Michel is more elliptical and philosophical. What makes Mont St. Michel particularly interesting today is that Adams wrote in from the perspective of modernity, contrasting that to the totally different world of 12th- and 13th-century France.

We, of course, see both Adams and Chartres as elements of the distance past, before the 20th-century erased so much, and we see much more in common between Adams and Chartres than Adams did himself. This makes reading Mont St. Michel doubly interesting. Adams starts from the premise that the 12th- and 13th-centuries in France were a time of unprecedented, and since unduplicated, explosion of striving, creativity and social ferment, creating works of wonder and laying the groundwork for future progress. He takes this as a combination of social and spiritual behaviors, and analyzes the architecture of the time through this lens.

He is also free from modern day cant; for example, he sees the Crusades as part of this flowering, not some sort of original sin of Christendom, as our current dullard President would have it. Adams spent much time in France, and this book was a privately circulated combination of travelogue and philosophy. This is the most interesting section of the book.

Nowadays the usual view is that religion is stupid and useless, except to the extent it services transgender rights, and that no thinking person could possibly believe what they did in a cathedral village in the 12th Century. Adams is a useful corrective to this—no believer himself, it appears, he understood how they thought, though he probably overstates the permanent death of the religious impulse, as we can see in history since Probably nearly all, for the death rate is very high in the conditions of medieval life. The earth, she says, is a sorry place, and the best of it is bad enough, no doubt.

Saints and prophets and martyrs are all very well, and Christ is very sublime and just, but Mary knows! Adams clearly thought we had lost much, and a thinking reader probably endorses that, and thinks it even more so now, for all that we have gained much since and since Those with a Whig view of history think that history is continual progress from worse to better, and what is left behind is justly left behind, but perhaps past is prologue, and a time will come when Western society once again unites behind a transcendent idea and produces art and thought for the ages, as Adams demonstrates convincingly this society did.

Francis; Bernard of Clairvaux , and their arguments and consequences realism as a descent to pantheism; nominalism as the road to doubt. All this may make the book sound like a hard read. But Adams writes extremely well and the book flows; it is not a slog, and it is well worth reading, regardless of your approach to history, philosophy, or religion. Jun 01, Marks54 rated it really liked it. This is an old classic that I first read over thirty years ago. I recently reread it as part of a family vacation to Belgium and France, during which we spent at day at each of these two wonderful places - along with the Bayeux Tapestry.

James provides a good history and description of the key portions of each building along with particular highlights of interest - such as the links between Mont Saint-Michel and the Song of Roland. Adams' prose is wonderful and easy to follow and most of the inf This is an old classic that I first read over thirty years ago. Adams' prose is wonderful and easy to follow and most of the information in the book is still applicable - after all, these buildings have generally been kept up, apart from the constant need for renovation such as at Chartres now.

If you want to use it as a tour book, you should read it ahead of time, since the Abbey is filled with tourists and Chartres is fairly dark inside on many days - such as when we visited. Oct 27, Ben Dutton rated it really liked it. This history takes in not only the architecture of these two buildings, but a detailed examination of poetry, religion, science, art and philosophy. It is a precise and understanding deconstruction of life in twelfth century France. By taking just two buildings as his focal point, Adams was better able to reveal the spirit of the century, and with more erudite skill than almost everyone since.

The weight of history is accumulated here, it is breathed in everywhere. The town of Chartres, south of Paris, is another place enveloped in history — there has been settlement there since Roman times — but unlike Mont-Saint Michel which withstood many invasions and attacks, Chartres suffered frequently, and greatly, especially during the Second World War. Remarkably the religious buildings at both sites survived these onslaughts almost intact, though both suffered at the hands of successive generations that wrought upon them their own distinct style.

From the first he had avoided Paris, and had wanted no French influence in his education. He disapproved of France in the lump… He disliked most the French mind. France was not serious, and he was not serious in going there.

Paris to Chartres to Mont St. Michel - Mont-Saint-Michel Forum

It is the detail of the place that most excites him. It is a work engaged with the history of the place at every level, and Adams manages to bring to life a long forgotten world. His version of Pierre Abelard whose letters to Heloise were examined earlier on this blog comes to life on the page, as does St. Francis and all the other figures of twelfth century life that circle around Mont Saint Michel and Chartres.

There is even poetry in his detail. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres is also engaged with another subject, explored also in Esther, and that is the position of women. Abelard and Christian of Troyes were as remote as we are from the legendary Tristan; but Isolde and Heloise, Eleanor and Mary were the immortal and eternal woman. Protestant and Catholic differ little in that respect. No one has ventured to explain why the Virgin wielded exclusive power over poor and rich, sinners and saints, alike. Why were all the Protestant churches cold failures without her help?

Why could not the Holy Ghost the spirit of Love and Grace equally answer their prayers? Why was the Son powerless? Why was Chartres Cathedral in the thirteenth century like Lourdes to-day the expression of what is in substance a separate religion? Why did the gentle and gracious Virgin Mother so exasperate the Pilgrim Father? Why was the Woman struck out of the Church and ignored in the State? These questions are not antiquarian or trifling in historical value; they tug at the very heart-strings of all that makes whatever order is in the cosmos.

If a Unity exists, in which and toward which all energies centre, it must explain and include Duality, Diversity, Infinity Sex! Adams frequently displays his knowledge but is not condescending of excluding with it. His work shows a willingness to engage with life, to debate its intricacies. History can only be glad that Ralph Adams Cram saw fit to rescue this work from its relative obscurity and bring it forth to a grateful public.

It is a work of such education and erudition that to sum it up successfully is impossible. All I can do is urge you to read it yourself. Sep 02, Dave rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction , history. Though not divided that way by the author, I felt that the book had two sections. The first is the architectural discussion of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, which focuses on the history of their construction, the architectural decisions, and the relative historical events which shaped the structures.

It should also be pointed out that while those two structures dominate the discussion, it is not limited to just those two. In fact, Adams is looking at the structures built by the Normans in the 11th century and moving forward into the 12th and 13th centuries. Adams also adds flavor to this journey that he is taking us on, with discussion of verses, art, and history of the time and in those areas.

In most cases he provides the needed translations, but as I indicated earlier, there are times he withholds all translation because he believes it must be read in French. The result of all this is a fairly rich experience of these historical treasures and an appreciation for the people of the times. The second section changes slightly becoming focused on history, but it also changes in another way.

The first section has purpose, it feels almost like a quest for Adams to visit those grand pieces of architecture. The second section, by contrast, almost feels like a stream of consciousness collection of historical stories and figures. However, while there are interesting stories here, the lack of a purpose detracted from this part of the book. I also did not feel the same energy and enthusiasm on the part of Adams during this section. There is no doubt reading the first section had me planning a trip in my mind, but that enthusiasm waned in the end.

Jun 05, Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it Shelves: history. Thoughtful idiots In the ancestral shadow of Adams's great study of these two cathedrals of France, which he extends to amplify the doctrines of the 11th and 13th centuries in which they were built, we who live today must look on as thoughtful idiots. We think we understand God and man, theology and science, in deeper modern ways than available to Abelard and Aquinus, Francis and Bernard.

We may be thoughtful, but we stand as idiots Adams writing in the fin de seicle of the 19th century calls us Thoughtful idiots In the ancestral shadow of Adams's great study of these two cathedrals of France, which he extends to amplify the doctrines of the 11th and 13th centuries in which they were built, we who live today must look on as thoughtful idiots.

We may be thoughtful, but we stand as idiots Adams writing in the fin de seicle of the 19th century calls us, more politely, "tourists" before the monumental architecture of these ancients. So how to classify Mont Saint Michel and Chartres? The first is to consider it an architectural study of the cathedrals for laymen, which is the nominal topic. But Adams quickly lets the reader know with a wink and a nod that this will be about more--or more accurately, about the architecture as a mirror of the living in the stones theology of the age.

Particularly in the study of the cathedral at Chartres, Adams finds the driving influence of the Virgin Mary in the architecture, even to the level of the engineering and project management, as we know these disciplines in the vulgar vernacular surely there is nothing of theology in project management! Mariolatry--the worship of Mary--drives the architecture of the age a drive and a worship that Adams will famously and with precise accuracy later predict to be utterly replaced by "the Dynamo", the electric generator, in the 20th century.

As Adams ventures into the theology of grace, the Trinity, Mary, and sin, he summarizes the dilemma this way: "The fact, conspicuous above all other historical certainties about religion, that the Virgin was by essence illogical, unreasonable and feminine, is the only fact of any ultimate value worth studying, and starts a number of questions that history has shown itself clearly afraid to touch. Why could not the Holy Ghost,--the spirit of Love and Grace,--equally answer their prayers? Why was Chartres Cathedral in the thirteenth century--like Lourdes today--the expression of what is in substance a separate religion?

These questions are not antiquarian or trifling in historical value; they tug at the very heartstrings of all that makes whatever order is in the cosmos. Nevertheless, this is prose worth tasting and savoring from the first and still great historian and writer of the unfolding 20th century.

I am slowly working my way through this paperback that I bought back in the 70s and never managed to finish. Now that I have been to France and seen many of the cathedrals, it is making more sense to me, and if you need visuals you can always google for photos. Adams connects the building style to the style and character of the culture and since I particularly love Romanesque and the earliest Gothic churches, I am delighted by his insights.

I still have not seen Mont-Saint-Michel or Chartres, bu I am slowly working my way through this paperback that I bought back in the 70s and never managed to finish. May 09, John rated it liked it Shelves: literary-nonfiction.

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An interesting and very personal mediation on French architecture and theology in the 12th and 13th centuries centered around the "militant" Mont St. Michel; the cult of the Virgin in Chartres; and the battles between the Church and the scholastics. Many interesting anecdotes. A knowledge of gothic architecture helps in following his description; I could not follow his discussion of medieval scholastic philsophy very well, so I can't tell if the failing was mine or that Adams made his discussion An interesting and very personal mediation on French architecture and theology in the 12th and 13th centuries centered around the "militant" Mont St.

A knowledge of gothic architecture helps in following his description; I could not follow his discussion of medieval scholastic philsophy very well, so I can't tell if the failing was mine or that Adams made his discussion intentionally obscure to prove a point about the philosophy he was discussing. Michel and the Chartres Cathedral? The first part of the book, very interesting, although I would recommend printing out the "Architectural Terms" at the end of the book, before reading.

Adams is especially enjoyable to read when he hits upon the Love of the Queen of Heaven, Mary; Queens Elenore and Blanche; the strength of women in the 12th century; and "Courteous Love. A fascinating, personal exploration of 12th century French culture. I wish I could read an edition of this book with more illustrations, since many of his descriptions of medieval church architecture are very difficult to follow for someone who has never seen the buildings he is writing about. One almost needs to be standing in front of the building itself to appreciate what the author has to say about it.

One negative thing I have to mention is that the author in two or three places lapses into A fascinating, personal exploration of 12th century French culture. One negative thing I have to mention is that the author in two or three places lapses into some startlingly ugly anti-Semitic remarks that seem jarringly out of place in a work that is otherwise very tolerant and open-minded. They seemed so out of place that I had to read the passages several times to make sure I wasn't misinterpreting what they said.

View 1 comment. Sep 25, Stephen rated it really liked it. This was not an easy book for me when I read it through thirty years ago but it has been on our bookshelf since. Magnificent opening and closing. Architectural history, theological history, a meditation on Western art. I honestly don't know if I could sit down and read it again with an attention span shortened by age and distraction, but it's a book that fairly often flashes upon the inward eye, m This was not an easy book for me when I read it through thirty years ago but it has been on our bookshelf since.

I honestly don't know if I could sit down and read it again with an attention span shortened by age and distraction, but it's a book that fairly often flashes upon the inward eye, more for the parts about the abbey than those about the cathedral. Dec 03, John Jr. Henry Adams gets at the life of an entire age by way of examining two buildings, which, if you think about it, is quite an accomplishment. Having read it decades ago, I still find myself wondering now and then what constitutes a Mont-Saint-Michel or Chartres for our age.

My current inclination is to regard celebrities as the creation of our time that speaks best for our beliefs and aspirations and no compliment does that do us , but the thought pales in comparison to what Adams achieves here. Jul 10, Edoardo Albert rated it it was amazing. The cover photo gives, as much as is possible, some idea of what is inside this most extraordinary of books. Look at it carefully. Rising from surrounding water a ziggurat of stone rendered into yearning patterns of ascent points to the overarching sky.

Learn how to enable JavaScript on your browser. NOOK Book. Other Format. Henry Adams' record of his journeys through France, searching for images of unity in an age of conflict, is accompanied by observations on literature, politics, religion, and major church leaders such as Abelard, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Functioning both in the world of practical men and afffairs as a journalist and an assistant to his father, who was an American diplomat in Washinton and London , and in the world of ideas as a prolific writer, the editor of the prestigious North American Review , and a professor of medieval, european, and American history at Harvard , Adams was one of the few men of his era who attempted to understand art, thought, culture, and history as one complex force field of interacting energies.

His two masterworks in this dazzling effort are Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams , published one after the other in and Taken together they may be read as Adams' spiritual autobiography—two monumental volumes in which he attempts to bring together into a vast synthesis all of his knowledge of politics, economics, psychology, science, philosophy, art, and literature in order to attempt to understand the individual's place in history and society. They constitute one of the greatest historical and philosophical meditations on the human condition in all of literature.

Raymond Carney is well known for his writing on the relationships between American art, thought, and culture. He has been a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as an artistic consultant to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and written extensively on American and British poetry, ficiton, drama, dance, painting, and film. He teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. See All Customer Reviews.

Shop Books. Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview This first paperback facsimile of the classic edition includes thirteen photographs and numerous illustrations of the great cathedrals of Northern France. Henry Adams referred to this book as "A Study of Thirteenth-Cntury Unity," and its expansive scope, together with the author's deep understanding of the period, makes it a classic in art history as well as in American literature. He wrote, "I wanted to show the intensity of the vital energy of a given time, and of course that intensity had to be stated in its two highest terms--religion and art.

About the Author Born in into one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, a family which had produced two American presidents, Henry Adams had the opportunity to pursue a wide-ranging variety of intellectual interests during the course of his life. Show More.

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