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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not in-depth, but definitely readable
Covering a thousand years of history in as many pages is a challenge but this 'Short History...' does a pretty good job of condensing the whole thing into a readable format.
A previous reviewer criticised the author for skimping on detail. But for a reader (like me) who's just interested in getting a flavour of the times, it's perfect. It's rather sensational at...
Published on 18 April 2001

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Endless List of Emperors...
"A Short History of Byzantium" is a condensed version of author John Julius Norwich's three volume work. It covers the Byzantine Empire from its founding by Constantine the Great in AD 330 through its final destruction by the Turks in 1453.

I began the book with little knowledge about the Byzantine Empire with which to place what I was reading in context...
Published on 14 Oct 2007 by James Gallen


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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not in-depth, but definitely readable, 18 April 2001
By A Customer
Covering a thousand years of history in as many pages is a challenge but this 'Short History...' does a pretty good job of condensing the whole thing into a readable format.
A previous reviewer criticised the author for skimping on detail. But for a reader (like me) who's just interested in getting a flavour of the times, it's perfect. It's rather sensational at points, but more than once I found myself slack-jawed at the goings-on: plots, murders, adultery, intrigue...sometimes it's more like an extended soap opera than a history book.
So it's not for the serious academic then, but as an introduction to the subject it makes for a good read.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spellbinding introduction to a fascinating subject, 18 Oct 2005
By 
nicholas (Leatherhead, Surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
For all students of history, this is a great intro to a period that has been largely ignored in English schools, for hundreds of years.
It does seem a little rushed at times, but this is only to be expected from this edited version, and JJN apologises for this in the preface.
I enjoyed this so much, I am now reading the individual volumes. It's highly entertaining and a real page turner - not something one normally says about a history book.
Quite simply one of the best books I have ever read.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction to a Fascinating Subject, 1 May 2002
By 
Neil Clough "cloughn" (Brisbane, Australia) - See all my reviews
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JJ Norwich manages to condense over 1,000 years of history into a single volume and does it with style. The book is well-written and keeps the reader's interest from beginning to end. For me, this has certainly whetted my appetite for buying and reading the original 3-volume work and also other books on this amazing period in European and Asian history. It is amazing how much of our culture and knowledge is owed to the Byzantines and until you read about them, how little most of us know.
I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in understanding more about how religion, ambition, greed, courage, vice, weakness and many other factors intertwined to dictate the course of the Empire and indeed most of Europe and Asia Minor over such a long period of time.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Endless List of Emperors..., 14 Oct 2007
By 
James Gallen (St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews
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"A Short History of Byzantium" is a condensed version of author John Julius Norwich's three volume work. It covers the Byzantine Empire from its founding by Constantine the Great in AD 330 through its final destruction by the Turks in 1453.

I began the book with little knowledge about the Byzantine Empire with which to place what I was reading in context. This may have handicapped me as I proceeded through it. Much of this book consists of a seemingly endless list of Emperors, Empresses and challengers. It contains relatively little about other pieces of the Byzantine puzzle, such as the economy, the arts and other social forces which contributed to the whole picture. I did find interesting the sections dealing with the relationship of Charlemagne to the Empire and the occasional attempts, usually the result of foreign pressure, to heal the breach in Christendom.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I finished it with little more understanding of Byzantium than I had when I started. It may be the nature of the subject itself, but I feel that I need to look elsewhere for a good initiation into the Byzantine World.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to Byzantine history, 15 April 2009
By 
Matthew Turner "loyalroyal" (Reading, UK) - See all my reviews
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This was a very exciting, and pacy, introduction to Byzantine history, from its inception in AD330 by Constantine the Great to Constantinople's capture by the Ottomans in 1453. True, this is not scholarship and only skirts over the surface of Byzantium's long and complex history, but I do not see any problem with that. The author states in the introduction that he makes no claim to scholarship.

What Norwich does provide though is an exciting chronological narrative of Byzantium. To fit over one thousand years of history into one relatively small book is an admirable achievement. As already stated, this book should primarily be used as a primer, or introduction, to Byzantine history, before moving on to more scholarly and in-depth studies. Norwich here provides a basic narrative, with little or no analysis. However, this is compensated by the pacy, friendly style of writing, in which the reader is given an endless list of emperors, patriarchs, battles and sieges (especially of Contantinople). Indeed, the overwhelming impression given is one of Byzantium's constant struggle for survival.

Highlights are the glorious reigns of Justinian, Basil II and Heraclius. I would have have liked more analysis of these interesting characters and their reigns, as well as the Iconoclastic Controversy of the eighth century.

All in all recommended as a good introduction to Byzantine studies.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too brief, 9 Dec 2010
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Mr. S. A. Brown "yentilsale1" (Kilmarnock, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I had toyed with the idea of buying John Julius Norwich's three books on Byzantium and opted for this instead (simply because I figured it would take me too long to read the three books). I therefore really wanted to like this, but I genuinely felt as though so much had been edited out of the original work that it became quite difficult to read. Large chunks of history are whizzed through in a couple of pages and it's quite difficult to come out of it with a good understanding of the events being described.

You can't really blame the author for this. To take three books and condense them into such a short number of pages is an incredibly difficult task. A good effort has been made here - some sections are entirely readable - but overall it just falls a bit short of the mark.

I have read the first of his three books on Byzantium and thoroughly enjoyed it, so my advice would be to just stick with those. This book seems appealing on account of its length, but the merciless editing makes it a bit more of a chore to get through, even if it's a third of the length of his trilogy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent synopsis of a fascinating historical period, 3 Jun 2012
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S. Papanastasiou "Stelios" (Glasgow, UK) - See all my reviews
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This work summarizes the three more detailed tomes on Byzantium by the same author. It is a new work rather than a collection of passages of the previous (more detailed books). I am amazed to see people here giving this 4 stars claiming that it glosses over some details or that it sensationalizes the historical facts in part. I find both observations to be irrelevant; the former because this work is a summary and thus necessarily terse, the latter because the author is passionate about this period in history and can so be excused for expressing disappointment when a virtuous emperor is overthrown or some such.

Make no mistake - if you are interested in an introductory (and compelling) read of the history of the Eastern Roman empire, this is it! Buy it and you will not regret it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good, though too concise, 9 Jun 2011
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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This is a dense and well written tour of nearly 1200 years of history. As such, there is no way that it can provide much more than a skeleton, which it accomplishes very well and often with fascinating detail.

Due to gaps in my education, there were many things about the story that I found surprising, even astonishing. Most fundamentally, many of us think of the Dark Ages beginning with the fall of Rome to the Goths, with the breakdown of just about everything. However, I now see that this was far from the case: not only did the "Roman Empire" continue in the East (without Rome), but there was a flourishing civilization of great learning, phenomenal wealth, and imperial continuity. Indeed, Theodoric - the conqueror of Rome - was sworn under the suzerainty of the Byzantine Emperor, and had grown up in Constantinople; he was not the savage head of a "barbarian horde." That I was not taught these things I now see as a Western bias against the Eastern tradition. Indeed, given the troubles of the Western Empire, Byzantium was perfectly placed, i.e. where it was happening, both as a trade crossroads, but also in a more defensible position from invasion - the West was becoming obsolete.

In addition, it was in Byzantium that the Roman Empire truly operated as a Christian one. This too was something I had never understood, having assumed that the papacy was always supreme regarding doctrinal issues and that the Greek Orthodox Church represented an obscure backwater. Not so! For over 1000 years, the two branches engaged in turbidly esoteric theological disputes that impacted the course of both Christendom and sometimes dictated who would obtain and maintain their power. Afterall, it was Venice that led the 4th crusade against Byzantium, leading to its sack and destruction from which it never recovered. (It was over questions such as whether Christ was divine exclusively or also partly human or the limits of iconoclasm, debates that were perhaps equally as important as geo-political questions when it came to military and diplomatic force.) For a time in the early Middle Ages, with the power of the Greek Church, the Papacy was long viewed as a vassal of Byzantine patriarchs. This is ably covered in the book and was a revelation to me. Finally, it also functioned as a bulwark against the Islamic empires, slowing them down enough for Western EUrope to re-emerge during the Renaissance as the dominant power, once the center of world trade moved to the Atlantic and the infusion of new ideas (largely from imported Byzantine sources) led to new syntheses of knowledge (i.e. the scientific method) and eventually superior technologies.

Unfortunately, the book is simply too short to cover any topics in a comprehensive way. While it adds much flavor in lively descriptions, I continually felt myself wishing that I had bought the 3-volume set. For example, there were intrigues regarding power that resembled the Western Roman Empire, but the Byzantine patriarchate and popular opinion created significant differences in the transfer of kingly power. This reading made me hungry to learn more, a sign of the book's success, even though it did not make me feel any love for Byzantium. Indeed, as much of the book is about a gradual decline, first ceding territory to Christian enemies and later to the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantines were forever attempting to ward off disaster or reconquer what they lost, including Rome. Perhaps they did a good job in that the Eastern Empire lasted over 1100 years, surviving extraordinary dangers and occasionally catastrophically incompetent emperors. but it is a defensive rather than a dynamic tale, with few exceptions such as that of Justinian or the Basils.

Warmly recommended as a starting point. Norwich is a first-rate writer. Also, I read this book in conjunction with the iPod lectures series on Byzantine rules - the two are marvelously complementary.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 24 Dec 2000
By A Customer
This book is awesome in scope, entailing the 1000 years plus history of Greek Byzantium, the eastern Roman empire in a single volume. The author passes the test with flying colours. Not only that but the story is gripping, this true life account is more fascinating than any TV soap, from the beginning to the highly charged finale - where I was surprised to find out that the European powers had as much to do with the collapse of this great empire as the Turks did. The final Epilogue could have been bigger, but in a way its better that the story is just told. The final image in my mind is of the moving last ceremony held in St. Sophia cathedral, even as they could hear the walls of the city being battered and know it was all over, and of the last emperor Constantin XI, removing his imperial robes and throwing himself into the besieging Turks where the battle was at its thickest, never to be seen again.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Introduction to Byzantium, 5 May 2012
By 
Strictly speaking this book probably isn't good history. JJN, where possible in this edited volume, clearly enjoys those extra colourful details and isn't afraid to offer an opinion or two. But this is one of the reasons why it is so readable and entertaining. I think it makes an enjoyable overview of this period in history and a good starting point for further and more detailed reading.
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A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich (Paperback - 7 Mar 2013)
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