12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Simply doesn't do what it claims,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe (Paperback)
"Justinian's Flea" is subtitled, "Plague, Empire & the Birth of Europe". It is about no such thing. It is simply a selective account of events during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, and a pretty uneven one at that.
The opening chapter is an introduction to the Byzantine empire, concentrating on the reign of Constantine the Great. The second chapter skates over the following two centuries very unsatisfactorily, seemingly in an attempt to get to Justinian as quickly as possible; but if that's the intention, why bother with such a superficial account of Constantine at all?
Much of the rest of the book stays with Justinian, but while some events from his reign are covered in great detail (there's a fairly good account of Belisarius, for instance), others are passed over in a mere sentence or not mentioned at all, and one searches in vain for any objective selection criteria. There are much better accounts of this period: John Julius Norwich's superb "Byzantium" triology, for example, manages to leave one with a much better appreciation of Justinian's life and times despite using far fewer words.
For a book which is supposed to show the impact of the plague on European life, it takes an astonishingly long time to get on to its subject matter. There are 325 pages of text, yet plague isn't mentioned until page 167, more than half way through the book. Plague then receives only two short chapters (much of the material here being in too much scientific detail to be able to hold the interest of the average history reader), before dropping out of the account other than for occasional afterthoughts. The book simply doesn't cover the material it claims to. There are laws against this kind of thing, you know.
There are subjective parallels with events of modern history, and pointless digressions throughout. The Persians are introduced only to be removed from the story on account of (allegedly) the threat of the plague, and towards the end of the book there is a diversion into the silk trade - for what purpose, it's hard to say.
And as for "the birth of Europe" - well, it receives precisely two and a half pages at the very end (yes, that's it - I'm not joking). These offer only a shallow and rather childish "what if" scenario, postulating that no plague would have meant no Holy Roman Empire, no Crusades, no Napoleon and no Hitler. What nonsense.
"Justinian's Flea" is a moderately interesting read of sixth century history, but it is no more than that. This is the first book by William Rosen, whom we learn has made his living more as a publisher than as a writer. One cannot help wondering whether a fellow-publisher backed this venture just to allow him to get one book to his own name. His own confession that this book was written in response to the question, "What would you do if you were unafraid to fail?" speaks for itself.
Grammar and punctuation confirm to American standards, which is irritating for readers of British English. There are errata throughout, which should have been picked up by even an inexperienced proofreader.