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The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade

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A masterful narrative of the Middle Ages, when religion became a weapon for kings all over the world. From the schism between Rome and Constantinople to the rise of the T’ang Dynasty, from the birth of Muhammad to the crowning of Charlemagne, this erudite book tells the fascinating, often violent story of kings, generals, and the peoples they ruled. In her earlier work, T A masterful narrative of the Middle Ages, when religion became a weapon for kings all over the world. From the schism between Rome and Constantinople to the rise of the T’ang Dynasty, from the birth of Muhammad to the crowning of Charlemagne, this erudite book tells the fascinating, often violent story of kings, generals, and the peoples they ruled. In her earlier work, The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer wrote of the rise of kingship based on might. But in the years between the fourth and the twelfth centuries, rulers had to find new justification for their power, and they turned to divine truth or grace to justify political and military action. Right thus replaces might as the engine of empire. Not just Christianity and Islam but the religions of the Persians and the Germans, and even Buddhism, are pressed into the service of the state. This phenomenon—stretching from the Americas all the way to Japan—changes religion, but it also changes the state. 4 illustrations; 46 maps.


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A masterful narrative of the Middle Ages, when religion became a weapon for kings all over the world. From the schism between Rome and Constantinople to the rise of the T’ang Dynasty, from the birth of Muhammad to the crowning of Charlemagne, this erudite book tells the fascinating, often violent story of kings, generals, and the peoples they ruled. In her earlier work, T A masterful narrative of the Middle Ages, when religion became a weapon for kings all over the world. From the schism between Rome and Constantinople to the rise of the T’ang Dynasty, from the birth of Muhammad to the crowning of Charlemagne, this erudite book tells the fascinating, often violent story of kings, generals, and the peoples they ruled. In her earlier work, The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer wrote of the rise of kingship based on might. But in the years between the fourth and the twelfth centuries, rulers had to find new justification for their power, and they turned to divine truth or grace to justify political and military action. Right thus replaces might as the engine of empire. Not just Christianity and Islam but the religions of the Persians and the Germans, and even Buddhism, are pressed into the service of the state. This phenomenon—stretching from the Americas all the way to Japan—changes religion, but it also changes the state. 4 illustrations; 46 maps.

30 review for The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade

  1. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Between about 300 and about 1100, no one died a natural death. You died of the plague, were killed in honest battle, or, if you were in any way connected to, or aspiring to, a ruler’s family, you were strangled, poisoned, stabbed, drowned, or otherwise disposed of, sooner or later. By your father, mother, brother, son, nephew, wife, general, regent, or other close connection. Do unto others before they do unto you. This is a close packed political history. It covers Europe, Asia and north Africa. Between about 300 and about 1100, no one died a natural death. You died of the plague, were killed in honest battle, or, if you were in any way connected to, or aspiring to, a ruler’s family, you were strangled, poisoned, stabbed, drowned, or otherwise disposed of, sooner or later. By your father, mother, brother, son, nephew, wife, general, regent, or other close connection. Do unto others before they do unto you. This is a close packed political history. It covers Europe, Asia and north Africa. There are very brief mentions of the Americas, and none of sub-Saharan Africa or Australia, as the author has chosen not to try to infer too much about areas without extensive documentation. It doesn’t address social or technological history. Basically, it is an endless: ‘and then Constantine went to battle against the Bulgarians, while on the east of the empire the ____ were gathering strength. Before he could address this new challenge, his ____ poisoned him and the second son that succeeded him was too busy carousing to pay any attention.’ It would be an fine reference work for anyone who needs political context information about a particular reign or alliance during the Middle Ages. It is more comprehensive than many histories, as you can get a picture of what was happening on all sides of any given 'country.’ Equal time is given to China, India, Korea and Japan as to the Byzantines, Central Asia, North Africa and Europe. As an end to end read, it is numbing but convincing; we really are better off.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Withun

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  3. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) It seems sometimes that the older I get, and the more collective information that gets filed into my grey matter, the more eager I am to go farther and farther back in history in my studies, to better understand the things that led to what I already know: when I was an undergraduate, for example, I concen (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) It seems sometimes that the older I get, and the more collective information that gets filed into my grey matter, the more eager I am to go farther and farther back in history in my studies, to better understand the things that led to what I already know: when I was an undergraduate, for example, I concentrated almost exclusively on the 20th century, while in my thirties I got interested in the Victorian Age for the first time, while here in my early forties I find myself fascinated with the Renaissance and Enlightenment in a way I never have been before. I suppose it's inevitable, then, that soon I will find myself gravitating more and more towards what is alternately known as the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages or the Medieval Period, although for me just the mention of the subject is enough to intimidate me into stymied apoplexy; because for those who don't know, we're talking about a roughly thousand-year period of history (from approximately 500 AD, the fall of the traditional Roman Empire, to 1500 AD, the birth of modern science), a period precisely known for its relative lack of written records, when an endless amount of profound societal upheaval eventually changed the very structure of humanity itself, from a series of tribe-based warrior kingdoms to a complicated patchwork of nation-states based on rule of law, and which spawned what is today the planet's two largest religions, Christianity and Islam. So where do you even start when it comes to such an open-ended discussion? The splitting of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern halves? The collapse of the former, and the morphing of the latter into Byzantium (now known as Greek Orthodoxy)? The settling of the northern barbarians into what's now known as the countries of Europe? The rise of Catholicism? The formation of the sham-like yet highly important Holy Roman Empire? And what about...you know, the other half of the known freaking world in those same years, the Easterners who flip-flopped over a millennium between Persian Zoroastrianism and Arabic Islam, between far Asian Confucism and even farther Asian Buddhism? And who had their own barbarians, who also eventually settled to form the nations of Central Asia? All of which has tended to be tidily ignored altogether by Western history textbooks, making the modern challenge to understand the Middle Ages even twice as intimidating as it was before? So thank God, then, for historian Susan Wise Bauer's new The History of the Medieval World, part two of a coming trilogy which attempts to look at every major trend guiding humanity from the dawn of civilization to the Renaissance, this particular volume spanning in a neat 650 pages from the Christian conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine (at around 400 AD) to the first Crusade between Christians and Muslims, around the year 1000. (I assume, then, that volume three will cover the years 1000 to 1500; and yes, volume one of this trilogy, which covers the Sumarians up to the fall of pagan Rome, is also currently in my reading list.) And that's because Bauer has written an incredibly tight, entertaining guide to these years, one that moves quickly while still being informative; and in the meanwhile, as befitting our global times, this is a truly planet-spanning look at the first half of the Middle Ages, one which not only spends as much time looking at the formation of modern Russia, Korea, Japan, China, India and the Middle East, but even spends some time in the barely known Americas of those years, and presents us with what little we now know about those pre-literate societies. It's the perfect guide for a newbie like me, one that lays out all the major sweeping events that define this age, in a way that is thorough but never overwhelming. Because that's really the first thing you learn about the Middle Ages when you start studying it, of just what an overwhelming amount of things happened during it, which is why the old term "Dark Ages" for this period has been rapidly falling out of favor in the last century; that after all was an invention of the rationality-loving Enlightenment scholars who were the first to start academically studying the age, who meant for the term to be a deliberately derogatory reference to the fact that religion had such a heavy role in holding things together in those years, and that the territories of that age were made sovereign mostly through sheer violence and an uneducated fear of God's wrath. But as Bauer shows us, humanity in general actually made the same slow progression forward in the Middle Ages as it has in all other periods of history; just take the transformation of Europe's barbarians, for example, into the modern nations of England, France, Germany and others, the way they changed over 500 years from nomadic warrior tribes to truly civilized farmers and merchants, even if their first leaders did initially rule through fear and superstition, and by doing things like making wine chalices out of their enemies' skulls (a more common occurrence during the Middle Ages than you might imagine). There may have been no senates or judges of ancient Greece and Rome, Bauer argues, but the general progression of humanity during the Medieval Period was upwards anyway, and it's high time that we reassess what the long-term benefits were of this age in general. But that said, what is easily more fascinating is watching the tidelike waves of influence that wash over various geographical areas over the course of 500 years, as first one school of thought then another gently fall in and out of favor, helped in this case by hundreds of no-frills maps that accompany this book's text, and which could be compiled into a cool little animated flipbook if one wanted; the way the Western Roman Empire shrinks to almost nothing, for example, over the course of a mere few hundred years, the way the Arabic Islamic Empire swells like a fever from nothing to nearly spanning the planet in just as short a period, only to break apart and eventually start dissolving on the edges just like the Romans did, when it too got too big to effectively manage. But along those same lines, it's equally as fascinating to focus in on the handful of unchanging "hot spot" cities of those years, the ones whose fates Bauer keeps returning to again and again, who manage to become beacons of stability within a world of chaos; the way that Rome holds off attack after attack even as the rest of its empire falls, the way that London thrives no matter who is controlling it in any given year, or especially the truly amazing Constantinople, which I now realize is perhaps the most successfully defended city in all of human history, and which remained an unchanging stalwart of Christianity for far longer than it had any reasonable right to expect (that is, until finally being conquered by the Islamic Empire for good, which is when it was renamed Istanbul, and is why the Greek Orthodox Church is ironically headquartered in the modern Muslim country of Turkey...but these were all developments during the Crusades, so not subject to purview in this particular book). But perhaps most fascinating of all are the million "what if" questions that arise while studying such a world-changing period of history as this, of pondering all the ways that our modern world would be so profoundly different if only this highly contested war had ended in a different way, or if that much-hated emperor hadn't been assassinated on the eve of a major new offensive. What if the Roman Empire had never broken into halves in the first place, which after all was merely the result of a particular emperor loving his competing sons just a little too much, and figuring that he could avoid a family war by assigning different parts of his realm to them all? (Spoiler alert -- it didn't work.) What if the barbarian Visigoths had managed to maintain control of Spain, instead of eventually falling to invading African Muslims like they did? What if the resulting lack of threat never convinced Charlemagne to conquer all his tribal neighbors and create for the first time a unified France? What if India hadn't spent this entire period in an unending 500-year civil war between dozens of equally matched little fiefdoms (or "rajas," as the Hindus called them)? This is one of the main reasons to study history in the first place, is to ponder these imponderables, to better understand what happened by picturing all the things that almost but never actually did; and Bauer does an impeccable job here at encouraging that, gearing most of her stories in terms of how close they were to not getting pulled off, of how what we think of as "history" is actually in a constant state of flux while first occurring, even as its general trajectory is fated to move ever forward, ever more complex. This regularity really comforts me at times, to tell you the truth, which of course is another big reason to study history, to be reassured that in the long run, humanity really is getting better as a whole, even if its accomplishments must sometimes be tracked in terms of centuries; anytime I have another of my constant freakouts these days about the f-cking teabaggers or the f-cking oil companies or my f-cking neighbor who blares her f-cking stereo at three in the f-cking morning when she comes home f-cking wasted, reading a bit of a book like this reminds me of how unimportant these petty annoyances are in the grand scheme of things, that they too will quickly get swallowed by the tide of history and soon be forgotten. It's for all these reasons, then, that today The History of the Medieval World becomes the first book of 2010 to score a perfect ten here at CCLaP, and why I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about this surprisingly sophisticated millennium of history. It was a true delight to come across, a dense scholarly tome that reads like an airport thriller, and I'm now highly looking forward to tackling the previous volume of the series, as well as anticipating the third volume to come. Out of 10: 10

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    This is the next book in Bauer's History of the World series, following The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. I gave this 5 stars because I love history, and this is the best historical overview I have read. Bauer's style is accessible and very readable. She presents her history in manageable small bites, with a chapter averaging 8-9 pages, including maps and a comparative time-line in each. For example, a chapter on the Byzantine empire may detail ab This is the next book in Bauer's History of the World series, following The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. I gave this 5 stars because I love history, and this is the best historical overview I have read. Bauer's style is accessible and very readable. She presents her history in manageable small bites, with a chapter averaging 8-9 pages, including maps and a comparative time-line in each. For example, a chapter on the Byzantine empire may detail about 40 years, with following chapters on the rise of Islam, or China, or Korea, covering approximately the same period. In this way we see the civilizations of the world develop in concert, without being overwhelmed or bogged down with minutia. If one was so minded, you could read straight through the chapters on, say, India, and get a good feel for its continual development. I highly recommend this series to anyone with an interest in the history and development of civilization.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Son Tung

    How cool is this, i started to feel how different historical agents shaped the world we are having. This is the second volume after Susan's Ancient History, new players appear on the world map compared to the first volume: Japan, Korea, Indonesia (very brief), Mesoamerica besides Europe, ME, India and China. Susan goes with the same format: chronological order and switching geography, she was able to put some significant names, places and events into my head such as the emergence of Charlemange How cool is this, i started to feel how different historical agents shaped the world we are having. This is the second volume after Susan's Ancient History, new players appear on the world map compared to the first volume: Japan, Korea, Indonesia (very brief), Mesoamerica besides Europe, ME, India and China. Susan goes with the same format: chronological order and switching geography, she was able to put some significant names, places and events into my head such as the emergence of Charlemange, Kievan Rus, the shrinkage of Byzantine Empire.. Before this, i didn't know the origin of Cyrillic alphabet and its connection to the Byzantine and Greek letters or The French or German were in the same kingdom then split. One question: The history of Korea part is an interesting but odd part. Why Susan put in there Korea but not Thailand, Champa Kingdom, or Viet Nam in southeast asia, or many great kingdoms in Africa...? Ofcourse she can not put everything in one book, but I suspect there are other incentives to put Korea in. After finishing this book, i googled "Medival History lectures" and found some interesting websites such as http://www2.uncp.edu/home/rwb/lecture.... The lecture outlines the summaries and insightful interpretation of events. This aids to the overall understanding while the book helps with details. It is helpful to see others' review where more indepth knowledge are shown in the critiques regarding Susan's presentation. Update 24/12/2016: Third volume The History of the Renaissance will contain other geographical areas that i've mentioned above but the time will still be in Medival. For example, the emergence of African kingdoms, Southeast Asia, the breakaway of Viet Nam from China (Song Dynasty) will be in 3rd volume.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    Good book. It's been too long a week for me to write a detailed review, so I'm going to let my Commodore 64 do the writing. Here's the program: 5 PRINT"REVIEW OF -THE HISTORY OF THE MEDIEVAL WORLD-" 10 PRINT"A MAN "; 20 IFRND(1)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cat Treadwell

    First off, this book is very large, as is the topic it covers. It is essentially an overview of the medieval period, from the last days of the Romans, for the main continents across the world – and it is truly fascinating and engrossing. Amazingly, the author achieves their goal very well indeed. Each chapter deals with a different culture, moving forward slowly in time to indicate clearly the evolution of the period from each perspective. However, this is never overwhelming. The ‘story’ of each First off, this book is very large, as is the topic it covers. It is essentially an overview of the medieval period, from the last days of the Romans, for the main continents across the world – and it is truly fascinating and engrossing. Amazingly, the author achieves their goal very well indeed. Each chapter deals with a different culture, moving forward slowly in time to indicate clearly the evolution of the period from each perspective. However, this is never overwhelming. The ‘story’ of each land/culture flows well (and often humorously), and never becomes dry or just a barrage of names or titles. Societies and influences are clear, and it’s easy to get an idea of what is happening, where and why. As an overview of a very long period over a very wide area, it is excellent and (miraculously!) never unwieldy. There’s enough detail for readers who find appeal in a particular time or location to then look for further, more detailed accounts elsewhere. An excellent text, recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Greg Strandberg

    This was a really good book chronicling about 800 years of European, Middle Eastern, and Asian history. Each chapter is about 6 pages, and each has a good map showing you which nations covered which areas. I was amazed at the number of rulers that fell out of favor and ran off to monasteries, or in the case of women rulers, nunneries. Many that didn't rush off were blinded, however. This happened to many people over the centuries. The practice of drinking from the skull of a vanquished foe seemed This was a really good book chronicling about 800 years of European, Middle Eastern, and Asian history. Each chapter is about 6 pages, and each has a good map showing you which nations covered which areas. I was amazed at the number of rulers that fell out of favor and ran off to monasteries, or in the case of women rulers, nunneries. Many that didn't rush off were blinded, however. This happened to many people over the centuries. The practice of drinking from the skull of a vanquished foe seemed to have fallen out of favor around 700-800, but people were still being blinded in Byzantium well into the 1000s. This is definitely a history of the 'great people,' which not much attention given to common living and working conditions. It's a great read that will fill you in on a good span of the world's history in a short time, however.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Feisty Harriet

    I was very pleased that this truly is world history and not only the history of Europe (although there is a LOT about Europe and Christianity in Europe and adjacent geographic areas) . Bauer covers wars and kingdoms and dynasties and major technological or agricultural improvements in China, India, some Africa, and the Americas. Long, but excellently researched.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sparsh Chaturvedi

    Is it only me or have many of you noticed surprising similarities between the events of history and the epic fantasy series 'A song of ice and fire' by George Martin and a few (that i remember) of the many examples of the same are one, The Hadrian wall built by the roman emperor Hadrian to separate what was roman Britain from the barbarians(picts) being similar to the wall in the north or the use of 'Greek fire' by Byzantines especially the time when Arabs attacked Constantinople being similar t Is it only me or have many of you noticed surprising similarities between the events of history and the epic fantasy series 'A song of ice and fire' by George Martin and a few (that i remember) of the many examples of the same are one, The Hadrian wall built by the roman emperor Hadrian to separate what was roman Britain from the barbarians(picts) being similar to the wall in the north or the use of 'Greek fire' by Byzantines especially the time when Arabs attacked Constantinople being similar to 'Wildfire'. Well moving beyond that the book is a good and comprehensive compilation of medieval events, covering the journey of many Germanic, Irish, Asian and other tribes like Vandals, Goths, Lombards, Franks, and others from being nomads to becoming a nation confirming to the fact that the book is comprehensive and does not narrowly focus on civilized world. The more interesting thing about this book is the linking of contemporary world events with each other like Constantine's christianising of the Roman empire and Shahpur II's persecution of Christians in persia. the connection of volcanic eruption in (near 540 AD) to the Justinian plague and other plagues worldwide and moreover the advent of Islam, the Caliphate, the history of prophet's Umma and its role in changing the demography of India, Persia, Africa and Europe. While being focused on many dynasties, kings and kingdoms what the book really lacks is the desired effective bridging of the events (although the book contains timelines at the end of each chapter) transpiring in the period of many centuries to create a more meaningful narrative. Sometime author tries fusing them and all the other time she leaves it on the reader. Now coming to the part about India one must not expect much from the book as it is more of a Eurocentric view she often mentions contemporary scholars and travelers like Faxian and Xuan Xang but it is apparent that she (for her chapters concerning India) has used the works of eminent Marxist historians whose works are more politically motivated than scholarly. If one really wishes to understand India and its history they should read the books by RC Majumdar or Jadunath Sarkar. But you cannot discredit the Author for doing so as the Marxist view of history is more prevalent today in the Indian academic spheres

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    What I said in a lengthly review of the first book applies equally to this second installment, so rather than repeat that, I'll just provide a link to my review: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome What I said in a lengthly review of the first book applies equally to this second installment, so rather than repeat that, I'll just provide a link to my review: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    A fitting follow-up to her previous book, The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, the author continues summarizing world history with enough detail to know what happened, but tersely enough to keep moving. I continue to appreciate her dry wit and commentary, such as noting that a crown was inherited by "Louis the Sluggard. The name, like Henry's [Henry the Quarrelsome], points to a difficult personality. Louis the Sluggard kept the throne for a single ye A fitting follow-up to her previous book, The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, the author continues summarizing world history with enough detail to know what happened, but tersely enough to keep moving. I continue to appreciate her dry wit and commentary, such as noting that a crown was inherited by "Louis the Sluggard. The name, like Henry's [Henry the Quarrelsome], points to a difficult personality. Louis the Sluggard kept the throne for a single year before he died -- in all likelihood, poisoned by his own exasperated mother." Central & South America, Europe and North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia (including extensive time on Korea) are all covered. Sections of time periods are divided into easily digested chapters, so although the book is large it's not hard to get through a chapter or two at a time. However, so much time is covered that many of history's notables show themselves to be repetitive. There's only so much poisoning, strangling, and revolts to seize the throne you can read before it starts to get boring. This is not so much a flaw in the writing as it is an aspect of history, and in some sense it makes the leaders in history that behave differently stand out even more. I would recommend this book to anyone who can read a large book and has an interest in an overall sense of world history (after the first book in series, of course) and I look forward to the next installment.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    This is the second volume in the series and it's an absolutely fascinating period of history. For me, it was really hard to get through without it becoming depressing and weighing heavily on the mind. Across race, culture, gender, or religion, the core of human nature seems to be the same. From the beginning of time hatred, wars, atrocities, and the lust for power have been major themes of human existence. Reading this book was a constant stream of the same basic story played out by different pe This is the second volume in the series and it's an absolutely fascinating period of history. For me, it was really hard to get through without it becoming depressing and weighing heavily on the mind. Across race, culture, gender, or religion, the core of human nature seems to be the same. From the beginning of time hatred, wars, atrocities, and the lust for power have been major themes of human existence. Reading this book was a constant stream of the same basic story played out by different people across the world. It appears that the answer to the question, "Can't we all just get along?" is a loud and resounding "NO!" I'll read the last volume at some point, but I definitely need to go read some light fluff for a while before I delve back into people repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again, and the depressing reality that we have learned so very little.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wes

    I enjoyed this much better than Bauer's History of the Ancient World. This book is massive and covers a lot of material. Because it is so expansive it is difficult to dive into too much detail about many of the characters, but does provide a decent overview of the stories mentioned. A great resource for this period of history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Wilson

    What a great book. I think I'll read it during every election cycle from now on. Fortunately, I still have Bauer's History of the Renaissance World to get me a little further through the current election. Here's what's so soothing: hundreds of years of assassinations, warfare, and suffering, reported in a lively detached way, kind of like a Viking chronicle, but with much more personality. Things are much better now! In every possible way! Our brains are programmed to focus on threats; this was a What a great book. I think I'll read it during every election cycle from now on. Fortunately, I still have Bauer's History of the Renaissance World to get me a little further through the current election. Here's what's so soothing: hundreds of years of assassinations, warfare, and suffering, reported in a lively detached way, kind of like a Viking chronicle, but with much more personality. Things are much better now! In every possible way! Our brains are programmed to focus on threats; this was an important adaptation that allowed us to not be wiped out by bears and things. But it's also wired us to have a consistently negative view of the times in which we live. The only antidote is history, especially one as wide-ranging (both geographically and chronologically) as this one. The History of the Medieval World is just that: a round-up of major world events from the 300s to the 1100s. I was worried that it would be highly focused on the Christian and Muslim world, but China and India got plenty of page time, and the Americas even put in a few appearances. (Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania were nowhere to be found.) Because of this, the narrative marches along and there's not a lot of dwelling on things. We get very little in the way of normal people's lives, science, or art, but lots of politics, war, and religion. And there were definitely some real characters in the mix. As much as the world totally sucked back then, there were occasional blips of badassery: The Empress Wu of China; the Empress Zoe of Constantinople; Muhammed; the Peace and the Truce of God in Western Europe; and a couple Arab kings who converted their people to Judaism because Islam and Christianity just seemed too damned fraught. Even though history was always my favorite from, like, second grade on, and even though I achieved a double major in history mostly by accident, I knew next to nothing about medieval history coming into this. I had never learned about the Fall of Rome or the Rise of Constantinople before. The only episode in this entire book that I knew well was the Norman Conquest, and only because it's one of my favorite Wikipedia articles. I've been amused to see other reviewers knock stars off for a single error of fact on page 234, or whatever. Lol. There are THOUSANDS OF FACTS IN THIS BOOK. Errors are inevitable, and easily corrected in future editions. What this book gets right is its tone and subject matter. I wanted a sweeping overview, not a deep-dive, and that's what this is. 10/10, would read again.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    There is a whole lot of 'one darn thing after another' in the telling of this story. Even the author herself would probably not be able to answer all the questions from a multiple choice test based on this book. At times, it did get overwhelming with all the names and places and dates which are presented in this story. The narrative for weaving the story together coherently at times seemed to be missing. The particular sometimes needs a glue in order for the bigger, universal story to be understo There is a whole lot of 'one darn thing after another' in the telling of this story. Even the author herself would probably not be able to answer all the questions from a multiple choice test based on this book. At times, it did get overwhelming with all the names and places and dates which are presented in this story. The narrative for weaving the story together coherently at times seemed to be missing. The particular sometimes needs a glue in order for the bigger, universal story to be understood. It's possible to look at and study every turtle in the known universe, but still not understand what turtle being really means. I felt the book excelled at early Christian church history and what the nature of the trinity meant, the different ways of understanding the divinity of Christ, and the development of the orthodox Western Church and the Eastern Church. All early Christian 'isms' such as Nestorianism, Manicheism, Arianism, and so on usually confuse me, but she would repeat the definition as they came up in the story telling thus allowing me to follow the esoteric fine points. The author also would emphasis the importance of identity in order for a group of people to become greater than the sum of its parts thus allowing for a cohesive system of some kind transcending what was previously there beforehand. I thought a slightly better book on this topic was Will Durant's Volume IV of "The Story of Civilization: The Age of Faith". He has a narrative that tied the story together, and he also looked at the development of thought in addition to the political events that were covered in this book, and he presented most of the same facts (at least in Europe), but I never felt overwhelmed by his story telling as I sometimes would with this book because he knows that history needs a narrative in order to be understood.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    For a history book , this wasn't dry at all. I liked the way it went into what happened in a point in time but all throughout the world. Bauer give you the "bigger" picture of what and how the story unfolded

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robin Mccormack

    Actually I've given up, yet again. I make it about 1/3 of the way through and lose steam. I'd rather read historical fiction.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kieli Rea

    This book was super long and super dense. I regretted a little bit that on my basic Kindle it wasn't so easy to read the maps or the timelines, but after a couple of hundred pages, I decided to be thankful I didn't have to lug around a Bible-sized tome everywhere I've gone for the past six weeks. I am getting more and more interested in history as I get older, so I don't currently have much to compare it to, but Bauer's dry humor made reading this book such a pleasure. Spoiler alert: Everybody d This book was super long and super dense. I regretted a little bit that on my basic Kindle it wasn't so easy to read the maps or the timelines, but after a couple of hundred pages, I decided to be thankful I didn't have to lug around a Bible-sized tome everywhere I've gone for the past six weeks. I am getting more and more interested in history as I get older, so I don't currently have much to compare it to, but Bauer's dry humor made reading this book such a pleasure. Spoiler alert: Everybody dies, usually ironically quickly after making a bad decision (that usually resulted in the deaths of thousands of expendable commoners and soldiers). Also, women--and children--are so very literally property that it's hard to get your head around some time. Like Disney makes being a princess seem like a pretty good gig, whereas real princesses got handed out like party favors to seal deals between (usually incompetent) men. And like at least three times in this book, somebody used their enemy's empty skull for a wineglass. If you're just going to read one chapter of this book, which would be odd, but, regardless, I would recommend chapter 80, The Arrival of the Turks (in Byzantine). It's the sloppiest series of hookups and breakups between elderly Byzantine nobles (and a few cute young ones, too). I feel like this is the behind the scenes stuff that I didn't get in high school. Honestly, this book was better than any self-help book I've read. If all these ridiculous people (predominantly men) can get out there in front of giant armies they have no business leading, and these little boys can be sat on thrones because of who their daddies are. and all these bumblers can make decisions effecting thousand of people's lives just because they live in a bigger house than everyone else, then I can probably try my hand at watercolor painting without worrying about the consequences. Very glad to have read this book and am looking forward to reading Susan Wise Bauer's other history books.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    Another great entry in Mrs. Bauer's series. The chapters are easy to digest and not dryly written. The historical events are interspersed with interesting stories about the individuals involved. In addition to being an interesting read, it also makes a good reference book if you need to refresh yourself on a particular culture or event. Throughout the reading of the book, I was struck by the extremes people would go to in order to gain or keep power. I wasn't, unfortunately, surprised by the kill Another great entry in Mrs. Bauer's series. The chapters are easy to digest and not dryly written. The historical events are interspersed with interesting stories about the individuals involved. In addition to being an interesting read, it also makes a good reference book if you need to refresh yourself on a particular culture or event. Throughout the reading of the book, I was struck by the extremes people would go to in order to gain or keep power. I wasn't, unfortunately, surprised by the killing, but I was surprised at how often people would kill their parents, their siblings, and in at least one case even their own children in their quest for power. I personally think it's only by the grace of God that humanity has survived as long as it has. It was also disappointing to read how often religion has been co-opted for political gain. It's important to learn history, otherwise you will be forced to repeat it. In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Medieval World, I think it's important to promote democracy in order to avoid the never ending wars of succession, and it's important to participate in that democracy so that the governed will remain in charge. It's also important to know your Bible, so that when someone stands up and says "You can get to heaven by fighting in this war", you'll know they're lying.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brianna

    I. Am. Done! The scope of this work is quite impressive. As an amateur historian myself, I am in awe of all that Susan Wise Bauer had to do to write this. The sections on the far east were absolutely fascinating, and the book as a whole helped me put things in perspective and figure out what was happening when. That being said, there were a lot of problems. There were quite a few places where I feel like she really misrepresented the Eastern Roman Empire. And, with the notable exception of Char I. Am. Done! The scope of this work is quite impressive. As an amateur historian myself, I am in awe of all that Susan Wise Bauer had to do to write this. The sections on the far east were absolutely fascinating, and the book as a whole helped me put things in perspective and figure out what was happening when. That being said, there were a lot of problems. There were quite a few places where I feel like she really misrepresented the Eastern Roman Empire. And, with the notable exception of Charlemagne (who she praises to the heavens), she seems to be saying that you can't convert or be a Christian king without having some ulterior motive. You know, ignoring the fact that it's the One True Faith and people might actually convert because they believe it. Honestly, though, the biggest problem I have with the book is the way she handles the Great Schism. It's arguably one of the biggest events in medieval history and she talks about it in a single paragraph. Just one paragraph. And she doesn't even mention the theological issues (you know, only the main reason for the Schism), no, she puts those in a footnote. A footnote . Not to mention she mentions only two of them, one of them wasn't even that big of an issue, and the other she gets plain flat wrong . So yeah, I have quite a few problems with this book, and I shan't be keeping it around.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    This book covers 800 years in an extraordinarily erratic story. North America is not covered at all hardly because there was no recorded history. South America is similarly neglected. And the source of information for the rest of the world is not very well described. Please be advised that the only thing that happened in the world during this entire period was war and murder and efforts to expand territory. This is truly a historian who believes that if you cover the wars you have covered the his This book covers 800 years in an extraordinarily erratic story. North America is not covered at all hardly because there was no recorded history. South America is similarly neglected. And the source of information for the rest of the world is not very well described. Please be advised that the only thing that happened in the world during this entire period was war and murder and efforts to expand territory. This is truly a historian who believes that if you cover the wars you have covered the history! If I was not listening to the Audible book I can assure you I would never have finished this book. There are thousands of names mentioned that I have never heard of! Many of them lived very short lives and were apparently not very nice people. Not very many nice people made it into this history. I am not sure why anyone would write or read this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    My biggest complaint is that this book hops continuously from one kingdom to the next: Greenland to Asia; to the Franks and the Romans. I know the author is trying to be chronological but the endless number of characters, places and dates are too difficult to remember in this colosal work (especially the Chinese emperors who could have four different names and then often changed the name of their empire). Secondly, she frets over the various different historical opinions for small details like t My biggest complaint is that this book hops continuously from one kingdom to the next: Greenland to Asia; to the Franks and the Romans. I know the author is trying to be chronological but the endless number of characters, places and dates are too difficult to remember in this colosal work (especially the Chinese emperors who could have four different names and then often changed the name of their empire). Secondly, she frets over the various different historical opinions for small details like the year of Krakatoa’s irruption but then gives only her own opinion on the origins of Islam, St. Benedict’s Monasteries and Jesus’ relationship with James... which is actually fine with me. I would much prefer to save time and read her opinion ONLY. After all nobody only reads one history book. Susan Bauer does deserve credit however for undertaking the goal of this giant work.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    When I first looked up Bauer's works I noticed several complaints about her writing being biased because she's a Christian apologist and ignores or denigrates non-Western histories. I did not find this to be true. She may be a Christian apologist--I haven't done much research on her, so I don't know--but she states quite clearly at the beginning of her book on the ancient world that the history she covers in her work is that which has survived in written accounts, and she relates these earliest When I first looked up Bauer's works I noticed several complaints about her writing being biased because she's a Christian apologist and ignores or denigrates non-Western histories. I did not find this to be true. She may be a Christian apologist--I haven't done much research on her, so I don't know--but she states quite clearly at the beginning of her book on the ancient world that the history she covers in her work is that which has survived in written accounts, and she relates these earliest stories and a wealth of anecdotes from ancient Asia and the Middle East with as much verve and skill in characterization as most novelists. She also makes an effort to tell many stories of women's lives alongside those of the better-remembered men, and there are so many bad-ass women that I never got to learn about in high school and university. These aren't in-depth history books--they won't go into the political motivations for major conflicts, or the ramifications of this or that disaster, but they're addictive and a good introduction to parts of history that we don't remember often enough.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I don't usually buy books anymore since my house is filled with them but I think I'm going to end up purchasing this one. It is a perfect cliff note history of the world for the time period. It gives you just enough detail to get you the information and enough to look up more information on the topics that intrigue you. That with the fact that it gives you information on whats going on in the whole world and not just one section makes it a perfect companion history book. I like that each chapter I don't usually buy books anymore since my house is filled with them but I think I'm going to end up purchasing this one. It is a perfect cliff note history of the world for the time period. It gives you just enough detail to get you the information and enough to look up more information on the topics that intrigue you. That with the fact that it gives you information on whats going on in the whole world and not just one section makes it a perfect companion history book. I like that each chapter is a different section of the world and I really like the chart after each that shows what is happening in the other parts of the world during that period of time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    This is a very long book. Basically if you lived back then, you eventually died an exceptionally violent death or you were a eunuch.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Piper

    An excellent resource for studying history.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Marineau

    Though this is the second book in a projected series of four, I have not read the first book in the series. I leaped on this book because I have always adored medieval history, and am always looking for new perspectives on the period. The dates of what is considered "medieval" is always up for debate, but Bauer alters the most common interpretations of the period by beginning the history before the fall of the Roman Empire, with Constantine, and ending it after the First Crusade. She seems to us Though this is the second book in a projected series of four, I have not read the first book in the series. I leaped on this book because I have always adored medieval history, and am always looking for new perspectives on the period. The dates of what is considered "medieval" is always up for debate, but Bauer alters the most common interpretations of the period by beginning the history before the fall of the Roman Empire, with Constantine, and ending it after the First Crusade. She seems to use these dates as sort of bookends in order to create a narrative of leaders attempting to create a unified world through the concept of Christianity. Though the book uses the word "medieval" in the title, which usually implies a European focus, this book proved to have a much broader focus, spending a considerable amount of time on the Middle East, India, East Asia, Northern Africa, and even touching on the Americas in a few chapters. I was impressed by the author's ability to keep an engaging narrative while dealing with so many subjects and geographic regions. The book is not written for the academic crowd, but rather as a popular history giving a broad survey of events of the period throughout the world. It is one of the most readable historical surveys I have encountered, and its brief chapters keep the book from ever feeling heavy and overlong--even at nearly 700 pages. Every chapter includes a map and a timeline which shows the dates of major rulers in comparison to others around the world, so readers can keep a general sense of how events coincide. A History of the Medieval World is notable for its general tone of objectivity, which is wise for a historical survey, and it escaped the trap that many less "scholarly/academic" works fall into of turning the world of this period into the "Dark Ages." My only qualm with the book was that, due to the large period of time covered by the author, the events were often relayed in such a quick fashion that at times it felt chaotic, and there was often little attempt to explore larger themes or trends in the historical narrative. Overall, however, I found this book to be an excellent overview of the period, and one of the most readable historical surveys on the market.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dan Trudeau

    This is as solid a book as you'll find on world history from this period. Just like The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer is able to cover a whole lot of ground without losing her voice as a storyteller. What could be a long list of names and events plays as a narrative. That's what I like the most about this series two books in. The book's only Achilles heel is if you don't know the details about the eras she covers, you could miss some things. For example, you don't get a sense tha This is as solid a book as you'll find on world history from this period. Just like The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer is able to cover a whole lot of ground without losing her voice as a storyteller. What could be a long list of names and events plays as a narrative. That's what I like the most about this series two books in. The book's only Achilles heel is if you don't know the details about the eras she covers, you could miss some things. For example, you don't get a sense that during Dark Ages Europe, life for the average person was much different than it had been under the Romans when in fact is was. This is a quibble, though, and I think it's the devil you dance with when writing something covering so much ground.

  30. 4 out of 5

    James

    Why do I have this sudden urge to read all the book-equivalent's of the World History survey classes I never took? I do not know. This one is more Name/Date/Battle focused than the Wickham book, and less into the material history and archeological sources. I think I want a balance -- which I guess I get by reading them back-to-back. Bauer has a wider geographical lens, including Europe / North Africa / the Near East but also China, India, Korea, and Japan, and a few highlights from the Americas. Why do I have this sudden urge to read all the book-equivalent's of the World History survey classes I never took? I do not know. This one is more Name/Date/Battle focused than the Wickham book, and less into the material history and archeological sources. I think I want a balance -- which I guess I get by reading them back-to-back. Bauer has a wider geographical lens, including Europe / North Africa / the Near East but also China, India, Korea, and Japan, and a few highlights from the Americas. Would love to know what was going on in Subsaharan Africa or Thailand / Vietnam during this period, but I guess you can't have everything.

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