Customer Review

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dickens would approve, 24 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom (Paperback)
This book is interesting DESPITE Holland. I've read his other two and I think I said the same thing. (See Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic.) Like Dickens, he loves long, meandering, comma-infested sentences. Sentences that by the time you've got to the end of them, you forgot how they began. So you have to read them again. And often again. I constantly had to do this. Like the old saying of not being able to see the wood for the trees, I couldn't see the story for the words. Words and sentences should be merely a tool put to use to convey a story, not an end in themselves. Surely if an author regularly has to put ten commas in a sentence then he's doing something wrong? The language is pompous and archaic.

As to the subject matter, so far as I could discern it through the pointless verbiage, it was interesting. But then I'm interested in this period of history so an author would have had to have been REALLY bad for me to have disliked this book. It's nice to get a more global view of history. The Norman Conquest of 1066, for example, wasn't an isolated event, as it might appear to be when studying it at school or in a history book devoted to it, but an event born of its times and this book helps to put it into context. It's too easy to see each event in history as a discrete occurrence, whereas in fact they are one contiguous, homogenous whole. This book underlines that.

The Papacy in particular, and organised religion as a whole, is portrayed as being very foolish and corrupt in this book. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, after all. I think it was Oscar Wilde who once said that any club that would have him wasn't worth joining (most pithy quotes are usually his or George Bernard Shaw's) and I think that in a similar vein, any god who WANTS to be worshipped isn't worth worshipping. Surely it's the height or immodesty and hubris to demand to be worshipped? What happened to the meek inheriting the Earth? Why, that's SO last millennium.

The central thesis of this book is also quite suspect. Supposedly Pope Gregory VII and Western Roman Emperor Henry IV's meeting at Canossa in 1077 was THE single most important event in shaping Western Christendom as we know it today. The separation of Church and State and all that goes with it. Henry was the supplicant and penitent, Gregory's pawn, the first time the Pope was calling the shots. Except that later on in the book we learn that not only was this not the first time the Pope had influence over the emperor, it wasn't the last time Henry dismissed a pope and installed his own puppet! To be sure, this was an important event, but methinks a certain historian has 'bigged up' his own pet project when objective evidence for his conclusions doesn't exist.

As with Holland's other books, for example Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West, the great and the good are his staple fare. Emperors, princes, kings, dukes, popes, caliphs, emirs, sultans. No, not for Holland the humble farmer or peasant. He has no interest in them whatsoever. Of the ordinary person he couldn't care less. We learn nothing of their lives in this book. Nothing of their routine, their beliefs, their aspirations, their leisure, their work. This book is about power struggles. Battles, wars, coronations. It's about dates and names to be memorised. Facts. This books is about facts.

PS: I wonder why the subtitle "The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom" was excised from the front cover of the paperback? Did the mention of Christendom scare some people off? Also I like the cover.
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SAP
(VINE VOICE)   

Location: Wales

Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,975