As Karen Armstrong says in her introduction, the year 1000 was a very different world, one that would never have believed that the global triumph of the West would take place in the next 1000 years. There were no cohesive nations of long standing; the Roman Empire's collapse hundreds of years prior remained the defining influence, and even consolidations under the likes of Charlemagne would not change the fact that half of Europe was still fighting the other half, usually in small, tribal cliques.
Despite the dominance of the Christian church, still at this time officially undivided, much of Europe was rife with superstition and nature religions that occasionally practiced barbaric rituals; the church unfortunately occasionally engaged in barbaric rituals of its own.
The Muslim and Chinese dynasties, on the other hand, were cultivated and developing at a rapid pace; the Greek Christian world was considered peripheral civilisation not to the West (considered barbarian territory) but to the other two dominant powers, neither of which concerned themselves much with Europe.
Robert Erdoes' book is not really a history book, but rather a narrative historical almost-fiction, a dramatised vision of what the world was like at the turn of the first millennium. he speculates that many people were thinking that this might be the millennium spoken of in some biblical interpretations -- this is generally incorrect, given that many people didn't realise what year it was, and other dominant cultures didn't use the now-standard Christian-inspired calendar.
The main figure in Erdoes' book is a man named Gerbert, an up-and-coming figure in the Western church hierarchy, who by virtue of his position is afforded opportunities to travel and experience different peoples and places. Gerbert, the teacher of the emperor Otto III, eventually becomes Sylvester II, a powerful but always embattled pope. Otto, holding on to the remnants of Charlemagne's empire and vision of a reunited vision, works with him, but in the end, both fail.
Erdoes develops the worldview in an interesting fashion. This being more a novel than a history, it does not have citations, facts and figures for the most part. Erdoes often opts for the historically-incorrect but true to the mindset rendering of history -- as in the most ancient of times, sometimes the truth of a civilisation can be told more from its mythology than from its simple history.
A fun book to read!