... wonderfully rich ... Drawing on exquisite tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, medical textbooks, accounts from doctors and the sick, [Hartnell] reveals the 'glittering and diverse' details of medieval life, death and art across Europe and the Middle East ... His idea of approaching the medieval worldview through the body is inspired ... This beautifully illustrated book succeeds brilliantly in bringing this much maligned period to life. Hartnell shows that medieval culture was suffused with bodily tropes, from nuns plucking penises from a tree and flatulists kept by royalty to entertain the court, to the belief that the heart was 'a glowing internal sun'. A triumph of scholarship.
.... a fascinating compendium of quackery, surgery, science, faith, magic and superstition from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginnings of the Early Modern period. The bodies he describes in this lively, wide-ranging history are sacred and profane, immaculate and bloodied, devoutly worshipped and lustily spanked ... Hartnell is particularly good on holy bodies: the cruel and visceral martyrdoms of saints, the miraculous innards of abbesses and the veneration of relics ... an erudite, wide-ranging, thoughtfully illustrated book with more than a dash of Carry On Monastery.
... one of the achievements of this splendid book is to make our world view seem more narrow and fragmented than that of the extensive period we place somewhere between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance ... You can read the chapters separately — several reviewers seem to have chanced on genitalia — and at every point you’ll encounter wit, learning and riveting stories. A wonderful read.