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The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 Paperback – 28 Jan 2010
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A work of tremendous authority and breadth. With this book, as with Charlemagne's empire, one feels that an extraordinary range of things have been brought together (Noel Malcolm Sunday Telegraph)
Intensely rewarding (Jonathan Sumption Spectator)
Almost every page is full of arresting details and insights ... and a sharp eye for a revealing anecdote, illuminating even the murkiest corners of the so-called Dark Ages (Dominic Sandbrook Daily Telegraph)
The Penguin History of Europe series ... is one of contemporary publishing's great projects (New Statesman)
With five volumes now out, the Penguin History of Europe series ... is shaping up to be the best general account available, superseding all previous ones (Economist)
'[displays] meticulous scholarship ... The breadth of reading is astounding, the knowledge displayed is awe-inspiring'
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
It's a work grand in its scope and wonderfully detailed in its coverage, pitched a bit higher than a popular history, more aimed at students perhaps. There is much to be gained even for those highly familiar with the period, and I found the analysis of the Carolingian and successor kingdoms particularly informative and interesting. Highly recommended.
There has been a glut of historians chronicling the demise of the Roman Empire and the immediate aftermath (if the next 500/1000 years can be termed such). On my shelf are Tom Holland (Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom - Sep 2008), James O'Donnell (The Ruin of Rome - Feb 09), Adrian Goldsworthy (The Fall Of The West: The Death Of The Roman Superpower - Feb 09) and Peter Heather (Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe -Jun 2009). Collectively they catalogue the politics of the marbled empire descending into brutal muddy village squabbles. For the general reader seeking good writing, not an academic or someone seeking to pass exams these books are - at best - dull. The problem is a) they cover so much, politics and military entanglements, emerging economic, social and ecclesiastical structures and b) the evidence is complicated and controversial, as are the primary sources and archaeological data. Dr Wickhams' book is hardcore academic history covering six centuries and almost all of the European ""theatre" in 560 pages. He dispels the myth of the dark ages and charts the birth of nations (or entities that name can be applied to - I struggled with this). It is well written but I have a problem with this - and these - collective histories(this being part of the 8 book Penguin history of Europe). They tend to be formulaic, get it all down and fill the library shelves. Perhaps written to a deadline rather than with passion.
In these books, and specifically this book, the quantity of material and quality of interpretation is demanding if not frustrating as the non-specialist reader seeks to pull all the elements together. For their authors they are academic rights of passage, and if they get accepted as definitive historical reference the sales follow. But many of the books that got me through my undergraduate (and postgraduate) exams were instantly forgettable. I wonder had Wickham adopted thematic approach, for example the history of taxation over the same period would you get an astonishing historical perspective, political, economic and social. I find the publicani an intriguing, illuminating aspect in understanding Rome, pros and cons. All Kings tax! That would be a great book for a scholar of Wickhams's ability - some commissioning editor could make a career on this one.
Apparently Dominic Sandbrook is a cultural commentator. I wondered if his review were a spoof. Some 43 people appear to think not though "some of the people all of the time" comes to mind. My reading was this book is a excellent chronicle, all of the facts in a logical order. This is not a revisionist tirade, that the Barbarians were meek and mild (the Monty Python / Terry Jones thesis), more a well-reasoned essay in adaptation and evolution over a lot of geography. This is a work of historical scholarship but as for Sandbrook's comment that "The new year may be only a month old, but it is hard to believe that it will produce many more enduring and impressive history books than this...... No review, in fact, can really do this book justice: it is a superlative work of historical scholarship " suggests to me care in the community may have gone too far. Of the five books noted here, read one only unless you want to get serious (or confused). I'd personally opt for Peter Heather (above) or The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History also by Peter Heather (May 2006). Just how do you reach a conclusion short of doing a Phd and adding a new book to the crowded shelves?
Wickham's book is indeed huge (what else could one expect for a history of an entire continent over 6 centuries?) but it can be read as a series of chapters, with rests to digest in between. Compare it with "Lord of the Rings" or "Moby Dick" - though the names are just as silly, the plot and characterisation are somewhat livelier - you wouldn't usually try to read them in one sitting. He builds up his world in stages, layers and comparisons until a complex many-faceted picture develops in the reader's mind.
Most of the text is easy for the non-academic to understand, if you give it proper attention. I did not find myself referring to notes or skipping passages because I couldn't get to grips with them. there are occasional lapses - I THINK "intervisuality of architectural style" means 'I can see your castle, you can see my hovel, we can all see the next village's new church' but I shouldn't have to make this kind of guess.
More criticisms; there are some good photos but it isn't always easy to relate them to the text, much of which refers to buildings as the evidence which balances the written word. Black and white line drawings embedded in the text would be a help. The maps are all at the front, and again, more maps embedded in the text would save flicking back and forth. Neither of these drawbacks is serious and adding illustrations would further push up the price of the book; it is on the expensive side even as a paperback.
But these are mere quibbles. More serious is the fact that the author's sparkle progressively wears off, and the later chapters are less engagingly written than the early ones. Some chapters - noticeably the material on the Arab world, which should have been rivetting - become bogged down in interminable detail and require a high level of commitment from the reader. I would still recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the period, though; if you become fatigued, skip!