Seven hundred feet
of ice, three hundred miles long,
The Wall is Winter.
Early on, Stephenson makes apologies for titling this work Castles when it in fact deals with a much wider scope of fortifications besides just castles, & think that is a point well taken (11). This book reminds me a lot of the Warriors of the World series-- of which I've read The Native American Warrior & The Ancient Warrior-- in that it gives a brief & breezy overview without skimping on technical details. It doesn't condescend & it doesn't bore, but rather dances the tightrope between academic & pop culture with a great degree of skill. Plus, if you ever feel like it is tipping too far in either direction, there are all the pretty pictures & diagrams-- like the amazing illuminated manuscript of Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre, side by side with a shot of the modern ruins (148). Lovely. Castles really won me over when it pointed out that while Romans & the ancient Chinese built walls & fortifications around towns to protect their citizens, feudal Europe built castles to...protect rich warlords (44). You know, I'd never thought about it that way, but yeah, yeah, castles are totally bullshit. There are more than a few features here that really struck me as something I need to steal for my worldbuilding, like the bas-reliefs in dungeon cells carved by inmates & listening vaults underground meant to detect sappers (118, 181). My favorite fortress is Saone, in Syria, for its "drawbridge on a plinth of stone," which is just...intimidating as heck (168). I really appreciate that this book is global in scope-- in fact, I think we should be teaching Japanese roof styles (hogyo, kirizuma, irimoya & yosemune) to kids at the same time as we make them memorize doric, ionic & Corinthian (212). So yes, I'm quite thoroughly charmed by this book, & looking forward to the similarly packaged book, Fashion.