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July 2017 Vol. 54 No. 11

Open Book Publishers

The following review appeared in the July 2017 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email


Rudy, Kathryn M. Piety in pieces: how medieval readers customized their manuscripts. Open Book Publishers, 2016. 392p bibl index ISBN 9781783742349, $53.47; ISBN 9781783742332 pbk, $38.17; ISBN 9781783742356 ebook, open access.

This is a wonderful and extraordinary book on a neglected subject, the afterlife of medieval manuscripts in the late medieval period. Rudy (Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland) focuses on 15th-century manuscripts, especially books of hours, from the northern Netherlands. During that period, manuscripts were often produced to standard types, rather than being specially commissioned, and then sold. Rudy’s immensely scholarly but fascinating and beautifully written book shows how the manuscripts were subsequently adapted, and often readapted, to suit specific owners. Rudy discusses changes that did not require any rebinding (because the alterations were confined to margins or blank pages); changes that involved insertions and rebinding; and changes that were so extensive as to amount to an “overhaul” of the book. This fresh, engrossing study marks the beginning of a major trend in scholarship, a great achievement. The study is also unusual as a publication. The publisher makes it available in various formats—digital and print—and one of the digital versions is offered gratis in both PDF and HTML. The digital versions have a major advantage over the print because many of the illustrations discussed are available only online. The digital formats provide an URL in a footnote, and a click takes readers directly to the image being discussed; from the print version, readers need to key a long URL into a browser.

--L. Nees, University of Delaware

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.