A medieval European ruler (specifically whom and of what country doesn't matter, but may be specified by an answer) one day finds in his bedchamber a group of textbooks and self-improvement books. These books cover a variety topics as understood by modern civilization: logistics/supply chain, industrialization, specialization, leadership, management, and project management. For each topic at least a dozen books directly deal with it, and these books offer multiple angles of discussion, multiple contexts, and multiple opinions on each topic, giving a well-rounded discussion and documentation of each topic. Each book also discusses the stages of advancements of the theory and practice (divorced of such specifics of time and place), so one can understand how each of these topics progressed or regressed over time. Lastly, these books cover how these topics interrelate.

Magically the ruler, his advisors, his noblemen, and his scholars can understand the textbooks (overcoming boundaries of language and cultural context), and thus they can gather understanding of the topics by reading and contemplating the material. The ruler calls all those who can read these books together to study them, and they collectively agree that these were written by a more advanced civilization than their own, and the words should be valued and sought to be understood and then applied.

None of the textbooks discuss modern hard-science, technology, or engineering. The books have also been magically reproduced with period-specific materials, and so the books themselves hold no particular value outside their content (and whatever value being simply a book in that era holds). To rephrase: besides the book-learning, theory, case examples, etc, that they provide there is no noteworthy value to the books.

How valuable actually are these books in terms of potentially resulting economic advancement, and how significantly would the introduction of these books alter history in terms of social and economic advancement?

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    $\begingroup$ Instead of magic books, perhaps these European kings learned of economic reforms in a far away land. The Song were centuries ahead of Europe in economic development, and actively encouraged foreign trade, making contact more plausible. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Oct 3, 2016 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ When you say 'Medieval', do you have a specific period in mind? The late medieval has a lot of concepts we still use today (such as double-entry bookkeeping). Also, is the prohibition against hard-science inclusive of mathematics, the scientific method and/or the concepts embedded in higher level texts (i.e. the fact a psychology book might mention the difference between genetic or congenital behavior and learned behavior, or a business book may make use of modern statistics to analyze phenomenon)? $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2016 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord On the hard sciences(/math) bit, that's something I considered. I'm going to leave it unspecified, but suffice to say that there isn't enough hard-science(/math) included that would cause understanding of hard-science(/math) to be a driver of advancement in-and-of-itself to a degree of significance. I say that because those topics aren't what I'm trying to understand with this quesiton, so I'm trying to avoid it as much as I can. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Oct 3, 2016 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ I now have a mental image of a guild of artisans standing in front of a wooden Agile board for a stand-up... Hilarious but unrealistic :D. $\endgroup$
    – Cronax
    Oct 4, 2016 at 8:17
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    $\begingroup$ People were not stupid in those days, they just knew less science. The successful mediaeval European ruler would have been intelligent and educated, and would surround himself with capable people, just to survive. A kingdom or a castle is a big and complicated system. They knew what worked and what didn't. What we have now is built on what they achieved. $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Oct 4, 2016 at 13:28

6 Answers 6


The books offer very valuable information, however implementing their lessons will be next to impossible - at least not for a long time. The reasons are many, and varied:


These systems depend on an educated workforce capable of carrying out your instructions. Sure, the low-level worker doesn't need to be too bright, but the supervisors, managers, etc. need to be able to read, write, understand the big picture, some basic metrics, etc. etc. etc.

The army is about as close as the middle ages got to "large scale logistics", and that had nobles involved at almost every level of it - they were the educated ones (and even then, only barely).

So right off the bat you don't have a workforce to implement your concepts, and most likely lack the resources to educate them. (you would need to set up schools, find tutors, educate them so that they may teach others, and more importantly find a way to displace all those workers from the military and agricultural roles they are needed in).


The world as it exists today takes quite a few things for granted. For example, we live in nations in which the populations are relatively homogeneous from a cultural point of view. We have laws which are enforced by police departments state wide, and military forces to keep our enemies at bay. War, famine, and blatant abuse of power on the scale of the middle ages (by nobles, or kings) are basically unheard of in the western world.

All of this, along with our roads, railroads, and telecommunication networks give us a huge edge. Project management is basically the logical outcome of organizing all of these resources, which do not really exist in the middle ages.

The middle ages, however, were not known for their political and military stability. That was the age of city states. An insulted noble would rise up against his king, raiders would wipe out entire villages, or ambush and kill travelers, etc.

The political and military landscape is too unstable for large scale (kingdom wide) projects to really be implemented.

Religious Conflict

The middle ages are also quite famous for witch hunts, wars among religious factions, and the inquisition, to name a few. The Church wielded a massive amount of power, and was obscenely rich to boot, making them a power to be feared.

If the rumor of these books "appearing" in your kingdom surface you may quickly find yourself labelled a heretic, possessed by the Devil, or worse. Your "strange" ideas and concepts alone may gain you a multitude of enemies, even in the ranks of your own nobles and clergy, who may see efforts to educate the plebs as a danger to their own power.


Not only would this king lack an educated workforce, but also the infrastructure to set up any large scale project management. However, this knowledge does offer the potential to shape the kingdom for generations to come.

Assuming that your kingdom is powerful enough to survive for a few centuries, you should be able to set the foundations of a mighty nation, maybe even an empire.

Keep your knowledge a secret. Gather those who see these texts as a miracle to your side, and form a secret society sworn to guide the kingdom into a brighter future. Indoctrinate the noble-born youths with this purpose, and begin to build upon the principles in those texts.

Start by setting up some automation or help for agriculture, etc. Secure your borders without a doubt. Apply some of those lessons to make your military more efficient. Develop better methods of communication. Establish an educational system. And as the generations pass, your people will rise above all others.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you overestimate today's society by a wide margin. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Oct 3, 2016 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for infrastructure. There's a lovely little bit in Neal Stephenson's The Confusion where Louis XIV asks Eliza to ship some masts from the center of France to the French coast, and it absolutely cannot be done, because of the various nobles along the river who demand taxes, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Eric Brown
    Oct 3, 2016 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter - no idea what you're talking about. Overestimate us how? $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Oct 3, 2016 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ I think you have a mistaken view of the middle ages. For one, the armies were nothing like today's as far as organization; they were independent units organized on a town or manor basis by a local lord or knight. They were still fairly skilled. This structure of organization lasted up through the Napoleonic wars in some fashion. You are also vastly conflating Late Antiquity as the Roman Empire falls with the next thousand years. $\endgroup$
    – eques
    Oct 4, 2016 at 1:03
  • $\begingroup$ @eques - i know very well how armies were organized. And it's exactly the lack of loyalty, nationalism, and education which I speak of when I say that there are many hurdles to be be overcome in the Middle Ages. I also have no idea what you're talking about as far as the Roman Empire is concerned. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Oct 4, 2016 at 13:03

The primary difficult you run into is a different economic foundation. Specifically, monarchic and feudal systems, while they use currency as a means of exchange, are largely rooted in a given dynasty's right-to-rule. The serfs would provide food and other wealth to those in charge, who in return would provide protection and to a varying degree infrastructure.

The reason a lot of modern ideas work is because the economic foundation is instead a capitalist or pseudo-capitalist system. A secondary but related issue is the notion of self. If there is a pervading idea that the nobility is noble due to a congenital quality, the basis upon which a lot of current thinking resides doesn't exist in a medieval setting.

That said, there is one area that might reap a real benefit: Double-entry accounting: or, to put it another a rigorous way of accounting for resources. This was invented in the 1300s - so it was technically a medieval invention. Having it earlier, though, allows for a more efficient allocation of resources. Further, this only needs to be taught to a few administrators who are likely to already know math. Related to this, banking can be used to decrease the number of resources left laying around.

While a lot of logistics and supply-chain management was already practiced (especially militarily), the concepts were, again, rooted in a medieval world: unstable conditions, including disasters, drought and pestilence, would make it such that predicting your supply chain was dodgy at best - thus making it as efficient as possible won't really help. Instead, these books would likely indirectly point to areas where development of hard, physical-science and engineering progress will yield the greatest rewards: increasing the amount of food per acre per farmer, storage and shipment of perishable goods and the means of forestalling disease and dealing with it if it occurs. Finally, the fact that precision tooling and replaceable components are very efficient - and researching ways to build and utilize those is of keen import: easy replication leads to more rapid advances. (A printing press to disseminate information would be lovely for this specific reason.)

In sum, there would likely be some acceleration in some areas, perhaps moving the historical timeline up a hundred years or so. But it would be difficult outside of specific scientific information to do better than that, because of the way the economy, government and psychology of the time interacted with each other.


Modern logistics are a stretch, in my opinion. However Roman logistics in the middle ages would be a game changer. Romans were the first to think about campaigns in terms of thousands of tons of food.

  • $\begingroup$ The Romans mined enough lead to show up in ice cores nyti.ms/2IfSaRU showing that they achieved nearly 19th century levels of production. A medieval kingdom that could revive Roman technology and logistics would be wealthy by any standards before the industrial revolution nyti.ms/2MzOwB0 $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2018 at 18:02

The problem with your premise is that all these things exist in their modern form because they solve (or allegedly solve) a particular problem. So in addition to the impossibility of implementation mentioned in this answer, you have a bigger problem - even if you could implement these modern techniques, they wouldn't be useful to a society at an earlier level of technological development.

Project management, for example, exists in its current form because building Polaris-class nuclear submarines was to complex to be managed the old way. Project management only ever even came into existence as a discipline because around the 1900's, engineering projects became complex enough that managing them they couldn't be handled by the lead architect or engineer, as was traditionally done.

Likewise, industrialization (as another example) came about to solve the problems encountered by industrial-era Europe, particularly, the problem of producing large quantities of particular items. To oversimplify things a bit, in the middle ages, it was sufficient to have a small number of craftsmen in each locale making products for the small, local population. Once European populations began growing large enough that their needs started to out-pace what could be supplied by skilled craftsmen, it made sense to invest a lot of money and effort into specialized manufacturing facilities that could leverage economies of scale into making a particular item in mass quantities. But time shift that factory back into the past a couple hundred years, and it's not useful - great that you can use it to crank out 10,000 shoes a day, but there are only a couple hundred people in that medieval village, and what are they going to do with thousands of extra shoes? Their cobbler already makes as many shoes as they need, so having all the villagers stop farming to mass-produce shoes (or whatever) not only doesn't solve any problems, it creates new ones, like mass-starvation because there's no one growing food anymore. Industrialization only makes sense when there are economies of scale to be leveraged, and your typical medieval society isn't large enough to have any.

In short, Medieval Europe (and societies at that level of development in general) simply didn't have the problems that these modern techniques solve, so in all likelihood, the knowledge would be largely useless, relegated to the fate of a curiosity or party trick, like the steam engine invented by the ancient Greeks. A couple thousand years later, steam engines changed the world, but at the time, there was no practical problem that the Aeolipile solved, and what it could do (convert chemical energy into physical force) was more cheaply and easily done with slaves. These modern disciplines you mention would likely suffer a similar fate, if transported back in time or technological development, somehow. They're designed for problems that wouldn't exist, and come with a cost. In an era where literate people are rare, and educated people are even rarer, you simply wouldn't get an advantage out of allocating those rare human resources to perform functions that aren't needed.

  • $\begingroup$ "it was sufficient to have a small number of craftsmen in each locale making products for the small, local population" - You should look at what it takes to build and train a new roman legion. Or a new fleet to carry said legion. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Oct 3, 2016 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Peter I'm aware, but the question is about a medieval society, not about the Roman Empire. The two are very different, particularly in issues of scale. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2016 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ Your shoe example reminds me of the German attempts to relieve their surrounded Sixth Army at Stalingrad. They managed to get some supplies through to the starving army, but these supplies were woefully inadequate, containing spices and only right shoes. Even in modern times we suffer logistic problems. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Oct 4, 2016 at 13:40

Leadership is almost identical today to what it was in the past. The primary changes are adjustments to culture differences. As a project manager myself, I don't see any value in introducing a dozen conflicting project management methodologies over whatever the experienced managers used in these times - they might get inexperienced managers up to speed slightly faster but that's it.

In all the things you mentioned, there's only one thing which significantly differs from what was known at that time:


The assembly line and the moving assembly line, as well as large scale factories employing those would completely change history. If the books also contain information about industrialized agriculture - specifically the parts that don't rely on resources that were unavailable at the time - it's a complete rewrite of history. Whatever country obtained these books would end up as a mass exporter of goods, massive influx of wealth, and large population growth sustained by early industrialized farming.

At this point you really have 3 competing results. A large amount of people combined with excess wealth in a period of great change means there will be unrest in the lower castes, which likely results in a change of government. Alternatively the people and the wealth can be used to wage war on other nations. The third competing result is that you'll end up being invaded because of your wealth. Probably all of these will happen in more or less the same timeframe.

With a period of wars and civil wars, the outcome is really quite unpredictable. It might lead to a unified Europe, or it might lead to industrialized salt production being used to salt the earth all over Germany.

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    $\begingroup$ industrialization is heavily dependent on precision tooling, which allows you to have a single worker that makes a thousand bolts you can confidently distribute to ten other workers to use in their specific task. Implementing industrialization is dependent on a huge technology stack that was prohibited in the OP (as I'm presuming that, say, steelworking won't be included). $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2016 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord None of the specific examples I used (assembly line and the moving assembly line) are at all dependent on any kind of precision tooling. They are about breaking up long complex processes consisting of multiple steps, assigning people to a single step each, and placing them next to each other in order of the steps. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Oct 3, 2016 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ Assembly lines are very much dependent on precision tooling because that allows for interchangeable parts. The wikipedia page talks about this. Assembly lines without precision tooling don't possess a significant economic advantage over more highly skilled craftsmen due to the individual relatively unskilled worker's inability to cope with variation in parts. Division of labor as a concept was already used where possible. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2016 at 21:48

These books cover a variety topics as understood by modern civilization: logistics/supply chain, industrialization, specialization, leadership, management, and project management.

As soon as you have industrialization, you are out of the middle ages.

The value of the rest of the books pales in comparison to this. Some of the ideas that ended the middle ages are not very advanced or complicated. We just didn't stumble upon them, for some reason or another.

The first steam engine was built in the 1st century AD. No one figured out a way to use it. No one thought that rotational movement could be turned into useful work. One of the first uses of modern industry was to suck water out of mines using simple engines. This could have been done at almost any point in history. Mechanising water removal allowed much more coal to be mined, giving the fuel needed to expand industry in other areas.

The same thing happened in farming. Industrial techniques allowed for 1 farmer to do the work of 50. The 50 unemployed farmers became the workforce of the industrial age.

Almost everything that kickstarted the modern age and ended the middle ages was simple enough and could have been done at almost any point in history.

This doesn't mean that your kingdom will be pumping out the Model T in 5, 10, or even 15+ years time. Knowing that machines of type "X" are good for doing work of type "Y", is a huge leg up. Just being told that you can use machines to do work would have been an inconceivable concept at some points in time. But once that concept is in your head, there's plenty of applications available that we just completely overlooked.

  • $\begingroup$ But industrialization arrived centuries after the middle ages ended. $\endgroup$
    – eques
    Oct 6, 2016 at 16:12

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