Most helpful positive review
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BYZANTIUM: THE SURPRISING LIFE OF A MEDIEVAL EMPIRE
on 30 January 2008
Nice to be in such august company when it comes to reviewing a book, especially when I find myself echoing the praise. I'll lay my cards on the table and confess to having studied Byzantine History and have continued a lifelong fascination and love of the subject. Trying to explain what drives that interest as Prof. Herrin found herself trying to do to two working men however, has always been difficult to get across to others to whom it is a blank area of knowledge.
I've nothing but praise for the way she has distilled her professional knowledge into one of the more approachable books on the subject that I have read. Not decrying other books which on the whole are written for readers with at least a basic knowledge of the subject, this by and large succeeds in casting light on what is perceived to be an esoteric subject.
The maps, illustrations and tables are an excellent aid for this primer which seeks to explain on their terms what made the Empire tick without spoon feeding you. It makes you, the reader, think.
Arranged thematically, Icons, Monasticism, Economics, Warfare, Eunuchs, the Imperial Court, relations with the West, the Slavs and the Moslems, the place of women in society, its structure covers the Empires chronology. What to the mdern mind are barbarous practices such as castration and mutilation are placed in context . It looks at those puzzling practices of icon worship and explains the intent. Reaction to pressures such as the rise of Islam and relations with the West and its missionary work to the Slavs are explained together as a whole rather than in isolation in a very readable manner.
I would heartily recommend it to the general reader who wishes to know more and part of me likes to think that somewhere that those two working men are sitting somewhere over a pint imagining light glinting off golden mosaics.