This book's central message is summed up in the following sentence, which appears about midway through it: “The transformation of reproductive patterns was part of a massive shift in the nature of social relations because social change was experienced by thinking people who reflected on it and changed their behavior with regard to it” (p. 243). The statement epitomizes both the book's flaccid prose and its lack of intellectual rigor. According to its author, the birth of modernization in the west was marked by the establishment of a “western” demographic pattern based on the economic viability of the nuclear family and the unusual length of time between puberty and marriage. But since everything social is connected to everything else, explaining this demographic change—if indeed it happened, a question we cannot yet answer on the basis of current knowledge—seems to require explaining everything else as well. Some intimation of this sort seems to have tempted David Levine to take the reader on a ramble through the vast literature on the medieval economy and society that has accumulated since the rebirth of medieval studies in the 1930s. It is a temptation devoutly to be resisted.
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