What can I say? I have to count this tome as one of the best history books I have read, ever. The author is Chris Wickham and the subtitle is A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. The author states that this is a book written “without hindsight” so the focus is not on how early medieval times were a precursor of this, that, or the other. In addition to its all-around stunningness, it has the following:
1. Extensive use of Egyptian archives, which it turns out are extensive from this period. Egypt may have been the most advanced part of the world at that time.
2. Fluid integration of historical and archeological sources.
3. An emphasis on “localization” as the fundamental change following the fall of the Roman Empire, and numerous micro-studies of exactly how that localization occurred. Cities shrank, trade networks dried up, etc.
4. An illuminating discussion of how family control made it incentive-compatible to invest so much wealth in monasteries.
5. An interesting hypothesis as to why so many Islamic cities ended up with such narrow streets (I may blog this separately).
6. How the peasantry ended up so downtrodden in England.
7. How the fall of the Roman Empire really happened (more or less).
8. How the Carolingian, Byzantine, and Abbasid empires all drew upon their Roman heritage in varying ways.
And more. If a while ago I defined the category “a book after which you don’t want to read any other book,” I’ll try a new designation: “a book which makes you want to spend a month or more reading follow-up works in the same area.”
Here is one very good review. I got a kick out of one of the Amazon reviews:
This is a challenging book to read. There is so much information
crammed into every page that you have to read slowly or you’ll miss
something. And there are 550 pages of this.
Content! Heaven forbid!