Also available as a four-volume Middle Ages Reference Library ($155 [0-7876-4855]) with a free cumulative index, these volumes comprise a thorough review of a period that spanned almost 10 centuries. The Middle Ages is the designation given to the years following the fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 500 to the beginning of the Renaissance in A.D. 1500. Though study of the period often concentrates on Western culture, readers of this set will discover that other civilizations flourished in other parts of the world at the same time. These books are designed to be used by middle- to high-school students but will be of value to researchers of all ages because they bring together so many cultural intersections in one source.
Similar to other UXL sets, this one is made up of an almanac that provides background material and volumes of biographies and primary documents. Each volume has a similar format: reader's guide, time line of events in the Middle Ages, "Words to Know," and index. Each chapter or entry contains illustrations, date spans and pronunciations of names for individuals, sidebars, and a bibliography of books, periodicals, and Web sites. It should be noted that although each volume has a timetable of events, these contain slightly different information, depending on the volume's emphasis. Information about the last dates the Web sites were accessed is provided. The illustrations are in black and white, taken from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, a few of the pictures are grainy. The maps might have benefited had color been used.
The Almanac has 19 chapters surveying different eras and regions, including China, Africa, and the Americas. The two biographical volumes have 50 entries on such people as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry the Navigator, Kublai Khan, Montezuma I, and St. Patrick. What sets this resource apart from others is the volume of primary material. There are 19 full or excerpted documents written during this period, including the work of celebrated writers such as St. Augustine, Marco Polo, and Dante as well as less familiar individuals such as Anna Comnena and Lo Kuan-chung. Each selection is placed in its historical context and followed by a section entitled "What Happened Next . . ." Unfamiliar words or terms are defined in sidebars. Each entry has a box profiling the author of the documents and at least two illustrations. "Research and Activity Ideas" is a unique feature of the almanac volume. The suggestions often include Web sites to help expand students' interests.
This set is an excellent source for teachers and students to consult and broaden their understanding of a rich and complex historical period.