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Reviewing the trilogy: Volume Three, in which Norwich describes in sometimes agonising detail the crumbling of the empire.,
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This review is from: Byzantium: The Decline and Fall (Paperback)
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 THREE is the spectacular culmination of Norwich's trilogy. Of course, we all know what's coming, but that doesn't make it any less hard-hitting when we read about the fall of Constantinople. After hundreds of pages and months of reading, it almost felt like someone I knew had died! This book is slightly different in tone again from its predecessors, in that it deals with history on the broadest of canvasses. How could it be otherwise? This was a time when Byzantium was caught up in- and eventually swept away by- events and antagonists coming at it from both east and west. This book covers the period of the crusades and the rise of the Turks to true preeminence. And yet the book and consequently the whole trilogy ends on a note of indivdual pathos, as we learn of what happened to the descendents of the last Emperor.
All in all, Norwich's wonderful trilogy is one of those works that covers so many different topics that your subsequent reading may well go off in many enriching directions. On the back of reading these books, not only have I woken up to the richness of Balkan, Turkish, and middle eastern history, but it's given me a clearer take on church history, later roman history, and, of course, the splendour of Byzantine art and architecture. Next stop Istanbul, to see Hagia Sofia for myself!