Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars

Duffy's meticulous research and compelling argument gives much food for thought.  Duffy is Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow and former President of Magdalene College.

He sums up why his book matters thusly:  If medieval religion was decadent, unpopular, or exhausted, the success of the Reformation hardly requires explanation. If, on the contrary, it was vigorous, adaptable, widely understood, and popular, then we have much yet to discover about the processes and the pace of reform.

--Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 5.

Should you read it?  Yes, if you want a window into medieval culture.  Yes, if you want a sturdy background for exploring Reformation History.  Yes, if you have anything to do with upholding or understanding Catholic Liturgy.  Here's a quick Table of Contents so you can see what Duffy covers.
 
Part I: The Structures of Traditional Religion
A: Liturgy, Learning and the Laity
1.  Seasons and Signs: The Liturgical Year (The Ceremonies of Holy Week | Sacred Place, Sacred Time | "Sacred" and "Secular" Time?)
2.  How the Ploughman learned his Paternoster (Priests, People, and Catechesis | The Impact of Catechesis: Imagery and Dramatic Evidence | The Impact of Literacy: Lay Didactic and Devotional Collections | The Coming of Print)

B: Encountering the Holy
3. The Mass (Seeing the Host | Seeing and Believing | "Dredd" into "Sweetness" | Spectators or Participants? Lay Religion and the Mass | Praying the Mass: the Individual's Experience | Praying the Mass: Privatization? | Praying the Mass: the Parochial Experience | Making the Peace)
4. Corporate Christians (Gild and Parish)
5. The Saints (The Saints in their Images | "The debt of interchanging neighbourhood” | Old and New Allegiances | Holiness and Help | Coins, Candles, and Contracts | Gift, Grace, and Fellow-feeling | Pilgrimage | St Walstan of Bawburgh)

C. Prayers and Spells
6. "Lewed and Learned": the Laity and the Primers (The Primer and Lay Prayer)
7. The Devotions of the Primers (Devotions to the Passion | The Mass of St Gregory and the Wounds of Jesus | The Seven Words on the Cross | Devotions to the Virgin)
8. Charms, Pardons and Promises: Lay Piety and "Superstition" in the Primers (Pardons and Promises)

D. Now, and At the Hour of Our Death
9. Last Things (The Image of Death | The Hour of Death | Ars Moriendi | Death and Memory)
10. The Pains of Purgatory (Purgatory: Ante-room of Heaven or Outpost of Hell? | Christendome and Kindred | Ways of Deliverance: Shortening the Pains of Purgatory | The Works of Mercy | The Rejection of Penny Doles | Bridges and Highways | Prayers and Supplications)

Part II. The Stripping of the Altars, 1530-1580
11. The Attack on Traditional Religion I: From the Break with Rome to the Acts of Six Articles
12. The Attack on Traditional Religion II: To the death of Henry VIII
13. The Attack on Traditional Religion III: The Reign of Edward VI
14. The Impact of Reform: Parishes
15. The Impact of Reform: Wills
16. Mary (Religious Priorities in Marian England | The Marian Primers | The Programme in the Parishes | The Visitation of Kent, 1557)
17. Elizabeth

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