The subtitle of The Wandering Mind is 'What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction,' which is a tantalizing, if somewhat misleading, proposition. This is a charming and peculiar book. I can’t blame Kreiner for using the cultural obsession with distractibility to train our focus elsewhere, guiding us from the starting point of our own preoccupations to a greater understanding of how monks lived.
The Wandering Mind is a lucid and vivid examination of how early Christian monks created habits of contemplation ... Ms. Kreiner, a professor of medieval history at the University of Georgia, also shares intriguing perspectives on our own values and priorities ... The Wandering Mind focuses on more than the past, and its implications demand our attention.
[Kreiner is] a wry and wonderful writer. In The Wandering Mind, she eschews nostalgia, rendering the past as it really was: riotously strange yet, when it comes to the problem of attention, annoyingly familiar ... Kreiner is fascinating on the ways monks attempted to manipulate their memories and remake their minds, and on the urgency they brought to those tasks ... For all that The Wandering Mind helps to collapse the differences between their world and ours, it also illuminates one very profound distinction. We inherited the monkish obsession with attention, and even inherited their moral judgments about the capacity, or failure, to concentrate. But most of us did not inherit their clarity about what is worthy of our concentration.