Monday, May 7, 2012

A Review of Economy & Nature in the Fourteenth Century by Joel Kaye

The subtitle of the book 'Money, Market Exchange and the Emergence of Scientific Thought' gives the reader a good idea about the thrust of Kaye's argument. The connection between money and the development of abstract thought is something in which I'm very interested, although I approached the book as a general reader not a medieval historian. And as such I found it very well written and engaging. The footnotes are extensive, reassuring the reader that this man knows his (medieval) onions. But they also serve to help the flow of Kaye's writing by allowing him to better balance detail with narrative, in the main text.

Two things really impressed me. Firstly, Kaye is not afraid to say what he thinks. Particularly towards the end of the book he describes how he sees the development of scholastic models of money and exchange lead to 'proto-science'. Too often I find academics seek to gain the reader's acceptance of their ideas via the sheer volume of data they provide. But Kaye avoids this by being brave enough to say, in relatively simple and practical terms, how he thinks this  change occurred. Secondly, Kaye does not set up boundaries of definition for his understanding of money. This helps to make the medieval scholar's thought the lens by which money is viewed, and it immunises the book from the political bias that happens when an author decides to view money as either debt or commodity.

Overall I found the book to be a brilliant intellectual examination of the phenomenon money as it impacted upon and interacted with the scholastic minds of medieval Europe. At no time did I feel that Kaye patronised his subjects and he avoids that awful phrase 'we now know'. I'm grateful that he introduced me - a non-medieval historian - to the ideas of Anneliese Maier who:
"brought attention to the creation of a new image du monde in the natural philosophy of the fourteenth century in which all phenomena and processes were conceived of as continuous magnitudes in constant expansion and contraction." 
Joel Kaye Economy & Nature in the Fourteenth Century 1998 p.201 

My amazon review is here. If you liked my review please do give it a thumbs up on amazon. Thanks.

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