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Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

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Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts] is de Hamel’s masterpiece, and has come at the end of a long and distinguished career. As he introduces us to twelve star manuscripts in their sanctuary homes, these complex creations emerge as major players in the great game of ideas and power.

Encountering an original medieval manuscript is in some ways like encountering a famous person, says De Hamel. We may all pretend that a well-known celebrity is no different from anyone else, and yet there is an undeniable thrill in actually meeting and talking to a person of world stature. Coming face to face with an important illuminated manuscript in the original is like meeting a very famous person.

De Hamel’s book, scholarly but unfailingly readable, is the beginning of wisdom in all things scribal and scriptural. Half of the works here were written between the sixth and 11th centuries, when Vikings ruled the waves and men had names like Ecgfrith and Ceolfrith. With meticulous biblio-sleuthing he seeks to divine the hidden ‘character’ of the celebrity documents under his scrutiny.

As De Hamel points out, the reformed Church of England was not as rigorously anti-Catholic as its continental equivalents. He traces the elaborate journeys which these exceptionally precious artefacts have made through time and space, shows us how they have been copied, who has owned them or lusted after them (and how we can tell), how they have been embroiled in politics and scholarly disputes, how they have been regarded as objects of supreme beauty and luxury and as symbols of national identity. He is the author of many books, translated into numerous languages, including A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, The Book in the Cathedral, and Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, which won both the Duff Cooper Prize and the Wolfson History Prize. In the course of a long career at Sotheby's Christopher de Hamel probably handled and catalogued more illuminated manuscripts and over a wider range than any person alive.Little wonder that in Britain this extraordinary book has already won both the Wolfson History Prize and the Duff Cooper nonfiction prize.

A visual feast and a genre-defying mixture of history, memoir, and travelogue held together by the author’s inimitable charm, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts is unique slice of publishing and a deeply fascinating read. For context, I know nothing about Manuscripts and don't tend to read non-fiction but based off rave reviews (and the fact that the book is beautiful and well made) I decided to give it a go. Deeply imaginative, beautifully written, and unfailingly humane, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts distils a lifelong love of these astonishing historical treasures, which the author brings so vividly to life.

But he tells you in a way that he expects you not to know anything (in a non-patronising way) and explains well little secrets of the Manuscripts. It is even doubtful how anti-Roman Parker’s patron Elizabeth I really was; she was known to keep a crucifix, candles and other crypto-catholic ornaments in her bedside cabinet. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Might-have-been moments in the lives of manuscripts are familiar to De Hamel, who for 25 years worked for Sotheby’s. A glorious book…de Hamel pulls readers in with his unmistakable passion for every facet of these handcrafted treasures….

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