41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
The Original Millenium Bug?,
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This review is from: Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom (Hardcover)
Tom Holland does history and historians a great service. He brings areas of history such as the ancient world or the middle ages that have been increasingly the preserve of academics back to the general populace. He does this with wit, clever anecdote, narrative history and the confidence to nmatch his history with the trends in academia.
Millenium in this respect is a triumph of writing. First he succeeds in providing a highly cohesive narrative for a landscape that was divided amongst so many kingdoms and cultures, this is a victory in itself. secondly he ensures that his narrative is not the dull constitutional histories of the past that are a collection of dates but instead tries to really understand the motivations of the history.
Significantly he addresses the importance of religion and especially the Christian pre-occupation with the second coming. In an age that increasingly doesn't understand faith or wishes to downplay it's involvement in history, Holland masterfully draws in a clear and fair image of religion in keeping with current trends in middle ages history. He is very good at discuss the abbey at Cluny and using the abbey to draw a detailed image of the periods religious landscape. Skillfully he also looks at Muslim and Jewish attitudes and beliefs in the period and amazingly manages to fit into his narrative some well thought insights into the intellectual relationships between these faiths. It is often the downfall of historians of this period to take too Christian a view of events, but Holland succeeds in rising above this, it is to say the least refreshing.
The quality of his language and the structure of the book are also expertly compiled and depsite the need to travel both backwards and forwards in time to describe a kingdom or development, Hollands literary ability shines through.
I have only given the book 4 stars and need to explain why. In part Holland's great success in creating a unified history by focusing on Millenial angst also hinders the development of the work. First he never really addresses the extent to which we see AD 1000 as the millenium rather than the people of the middle ages who were less certain of dates and also using a plethora of religious dates to formulate an idea of the millenium (i.e. Christ's birth, crucifixtion, the birth of Mohammed etc), and that there were other reasons for the development of the period. He is disappointly uncritical of his entry point into the period, the millenium which feels like an opportunity wasted.
All in all a terrific work for a difficult period, Holland has made an accesible, intense and engrossing piece of history.