As I've said, I'm deeply enjoying having The Atlas of the Medieval World in the house, if only to flip through and look at all of the great maps and pictures. There's another sense, however, in which acquiring it stunned me. You see, when it arrived, I opened the package and began flipping through the pages, and realized that I already owned it. Well, not really - it just seemed that way. Many years ago, when I was a child, my parents gave me a book entitled The Age of Chivalry as a Christmas gift. It was published by National Geographic as part of a series entitled "The Story of Man", which has just the right ring to it for the times. I loved it, and looking at it today, I'm not surprised: it was done at a very high level for a children's history book, with scholars from Princeton and I think Cambridge writing the chapters.
Anyway, it's the same book as the atlas, or close enough. Oxford University Press may not illustrate its book with 1970's-vintage artist's rendering of the fall of Rome (in which a bearded, strapping barbarian leers at a shrinking Roman matron and her daughter while a temple burns in the background), but that's the primary difference. The scope, from late antiquity to the mercantile cities of the early modern era, is the same, many of the same kind of maps, pictures of the same or similar monuments, you name it. The sense of recognition was uncanny.
Knowing that I enjoyed one book as a child and now a similar, adult version later in life made me think about other continuities. It's strange to realize that my job, which in some ways I wandered into, is essentially the same kind of work as I initially studied for in college - not exactly, but close enough. And this is after intervening decades with very many different paths explored. For all of the detours, I wound up more or less where I started out (cue the John Sebastian, "Welcome back, welcome back.") Now if only I could have all those years again, everything would be right on track.