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I found "Byzantium The Apogee" to be a wonderful book, breathing life into a fascinating yet neglected area of history. I thought that J J Norwich's witty and perceptive commentary lifted a veil on the passions, ambitions and the (sometimes bizzare) obsessions of the procession of emperors - along with their numerous consorts, mistresses, eunuchs, officials, generals, rivals and enemies. The result is an epic story - sometimes high drama, sometimes tragedy and at other times breathtaking farce.
Please take my advice and read the three separate volumes: although there is a single volume edition, it is abridged - you really don't want to miss anything from this fascinating saga.
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on 18 November 2010
Just as good as Volume 1.

A fantastic book. JJ Norwich is a great writer. The endless parade of rulers and religious disputes in Byzantium's history can get a bit tiring but he does very well in keeping it interesting. His personal views are always well measured and considered and he clearly indicates where there are areas of controversy.
This is a general history and I think that in a few areas there have been some new discoveries but this book is still considered to be accurate.
A very pleasurable read.
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on 17 November 2014
Byzantium maintains a mystery and romantic charm for all who study her. An Empire that lasted in various forms for over 1400 years (or over 1700 depending on if you count the time between the birth of Roman city state till it's first inroads into Greece). Byzantium saw many highs and many lows as the long centuries past.

John Julius Norwich's series of three books about this entity (it's hard to call it a state, a country or an empure, for it was many things at once) are with out doubt, one of the great works on the subject. Easily accessable, with a flowing style and good research, this work goes a long way to debunking Gibbon's work on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. You will get swept along with the prose and get a slight flavour of what it was like to be there and will weap when you get to the end.

This book, the Apogee, starts off with the end of Irene's reign and then endswith the crowning of Alexios as Basileus. The chapters are broken down by Emperor (with a couple of exceptions, one chapter is called Krum, the Bulgarian Khan who threatened Byzantium during one of it's most weakened times) and cover a narrative view of the major events during the reigns. This book therefore covers The Emperors of the Nikephorian (though there as only 3 of them over the course of 11 years), Amorian (who began the slow work of reclaiming lost terrorty, eventually), Macedonian (perhaps Byzantiums greatest emperors) and Doukid (Perhaps the worst) Dynasties. The focus is primarily on political, religious studies (the two go hand in hand in Byzantium), there is no great look at social changes and movements during this period. The only weak point is a distinct lack of maps so as to put places to names. There are a few, but nowhere near enough.

All in all this is a great work, both by itself, as part of the series and also as an entry into the world of Byzantium
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on 20 March 2006
Whilst this book is not an academic text it is a blistering account of the middle years of the Eastern Roman Empire. I like the fact that Norwich does not examine everyday life in Byzantium - we have plenty of texts which do that. No, this book's sole purpose is to introuduce the reader to a remarkable forgotten empire. His narrative pace is wonderful and he nevers leaves you behind on his whirlwind tour of Byzantine history. A great history book - you'll not be dissapointed.
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on 30 January 2008
The Dark Ages prove not as dark. Illuminated by a wealth of detail and insight, the second part of Norwich's trilogy proves as captivating as the first. Where Western Europe struggled for centuries to overcome the effects of the barbarian invasions, Byzantium struggled for centuries to avoid sinking as low. Beset on all sides it survived and acted as a beacon as well as a prize for all those around it and pace Pirenne, acted as the third leg if not the main prop of the post Roman oikumene that surrounded the Mediterranean by 800 A.D.
The desperate external and vicious internal struggles are crackingly well told with plenty of maps appendices and bibliographies to help what could be a struggle for the reader unfamiliar with such an exotic and almost alien period of history.
You can almost taste the wine and smell the incense
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on 20 February 2004
The Apogee is the second installment in John Norwich's excellent Byzantine Trilogy. The story picks following the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor of the West. From here we are taken on a tour of the golden age of Byzantine history, but one that is nonethless, stained with blood. From the Iconoclasm and the destruction of the holy images, to the bloodthirsty campaigns of Basil the Bulgar Slayer to the massacre of Byzantine troops by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert and everything in between, Norwich explains it all in an erudite manner.

Rarely do you come across history books that are such page turners. Norwich should be congratulated for such a brilliant and lively read.
I highly recommend this book, as well as the other two volumes in the series.
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on 24 June 2003
This is an entertaining, informative, well-written, funny and captivating account of the Byzantine empire from Constantine up to the accession of Alexius Comnenus.
It is not as detailed as Professor Bury's or Ostrogorskji's, but much more lively, and if you need a spark for your interest in the history of medieval eastern mediterranean this is the book for you. Characters are described with the finest touch, and the accounts of plots and battles are memorable.
I could not put it down.
What are the lows, then? First, the maps included are simply useless: many of the places quoted in the narration are not on them and sometimes it is difficult to understand how some battles really went; second, little attention is paid to the countries outside the capital: Greece is completely neglected, for example, as it is Anatolia: but after all, the book is titled Byzantium and thus it is centered on the town itself; finally, little account is given of the ideas and the philosophies which were popular at the time, and of the arts in general. However, these are information which you can easily find in a standard book on medieval history: where you will never find, on the other hand, the sheer pleasure of reading pages such as those written by Norwich.
Buy it!
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on 29 August 2011
For a long time to come this trilogy of books will be the first and last word for the general reader looking to learn about this most vibrant, fascinating, ignored and downright misunderstood of civilisations.

Now that I'm drawing to a close with volume three, I wanted to take the time to give an overview of the whole series of books. I'll say first that these are really first rate books, the kind of history text that you could give to anyone an they'd enjoy them and learn from them. Norwich is a wonderful writer, with a confident grasp of the facts and possessed of an urbane, engaging and fluent style.

He is also disarmingly honest about his books' perceived limitations. Look elsewhere, he says, if you are a scholar who wants to learn from something new. Look elsewhere also if you want a real nuts and bolts account of dailt life and socio-ecomonic history of the empire. That's not to say he doesn't give us glimpses of what daily and spiritual life might have been like for the ordinary Byzantine. But for the most parts it's the key events and the key players that interest him and us.

VOLUME TWO is slightly different in character to volume one. Norwich is frank in admitting that from this period of Byzantine history onwards, things get a little easier because the primary sources are relatively more abundant. Therefore, while this volume maintains the first's exciting pace and broad historical sweep, we get a lot more detail on particular events and incidents, not to mention clearer pictures emerging of particular emperors. This was a period characterised by a fair few plots and a lot of the rulers met untmely ends. While some of these may not be such stellar names as Constantine and Justinian, some of them in their ways they were no less glorious. In figures such as Basil the Bulgar Slayer and John Tzimisces, Norwich presents to us men (and women) who made this the most powerful Empire on Earth. Ironically, the book ends with a detailled look at the battle of Manzikert, a clash with the Seljuk Turks which was a foreshadowing of problems to come which are covered in volume three.
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on 14 October 2013
Illuminated by a wealth of detail and insight, the second part of Norwich's trilogy proves as captivating as the first. Where Western Europe struggled for centuries to overcome the effects of the barbarian invasions, Byzantium struggled for centuries to avoid sinking as low.
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on 19 March 2015
Excellent - clearer account than any I've read yet by far.
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