I bought this book because I wanted to know a bit more about early Christianity in particular, but I also wanted a general overview of the development of the religion. This book provides both in a really accessible format. There are short 4-8 page spreads on small topics such as the gnostics and Charlemagne, meaning that it is also really easy to use as a general reference text if you're interested in particular topics. Visibly, each chapter is accompanied by gorgeous photos which complement the text (i've found that to be a surprisingly rare quality). There are also occasional text boxes which outline myths or historical characters to supplement the information or elaborate on a particular theme. At times, the layout can be a bit 'busy' and I wasn't sure what to read first, but overall the book looks really glossy and attractive and the text is broken up making it easier to read. In terms of content, i've noticed no glaring mistakes and the book seems well written and well researched. A short section for further references is provided, but if you're looking for a springboard for personal research this isn't really going to help all that much. This isn't a basic text but it isn't too dry so it's quite readable. I would probably recommend it to anyone from their late teens upwards. I would class this as a mid-level text on Christianity- too advanced for those completely new to the subject (despite a decent glossary) unless they're determined. If you want a more in depth and advanced read, try McCulloch. Recommended.
Basically, I had been looking for a book like this for a long time, as I had wanted to fill in the gaps of my own knowledge of Christian history (and that includes Orthodox, Ethiopian, Coptic and Syrian churches to name but a few). You often hear ideas in popular currency these days and wonder if they are true such as "a Roman emperor, Constantine, made Christianity the State religion and from then on it became corrupt" or variations on this theme. While corruption may always accompany human activity, I learned from this book that in fact what Constantine did was to repeal laws and practices that prohibited open practice of Christianity (which had been persecuted under previous Emperors), but did not make it a 'state religion' or an obligation of any sort. Indeed Christianity suffered further bouts of persecution even after this from other Roman emperors as well as the 'barbarians' that destroyed the Roman empire later. The story is indeed complex but this book really helps clarify events.
This book is full of such interesting information that helps set the record straight so to speak, and has very useful timelines and 'fact boxes' in each of its 50 chapters for quick reference. The 50 chapter format was a good idea, because each deals with a particular aspect of the development of the Christian story (such as say, the rise of Christendom, the Crusades, the great Schism between Roman and Orthodox churches) while at the same time being roughly chronological. It is a very, very readable book, not really requiring any specialist knowledge and very accessible to most people I think.
The book is also beautifully illustrated throughout and the presentation very tasteful, which really enhances the pleasure of the reading experience.
It might help if you already know something about Christianity, though, for example, I knew almost nothing about the Nestorian or Orthodox churches before reading this book, and at least I feel I now have a reasonable overview of them, as well as some of the issues that arose between the various Churches. If you are one of those people who thinks Christianity is a mainly 'western' or 'Roman' phenomenon, be prepared for some surprises!
In fact, I wish I had had a book like this on religion / Christianity when I was in secondary school instead of some of the awful and insipid texts I did have. It might not be for every school student, but I would have devoured it from cover to cover! It doesn't try to teach religion, instead it gives a very coherent and straight account of the development of Christianity from the beginnings to the 21st century.
A happy mix between the church histories that overdo the lavish at the expense of the comprehensive, and those that overdo the comprehensive at the expense of your eyesight.
David Bentley Hart appears to have read everyone, from all the Gnostics, through Nietzsche, to the Russian devotional mystics, and that, and his own Eastern Orthodox faith means that his church history isn't skewed just to the Western (heard of St Herman of Alaska? Me neither).
I found hardly a misstep in the book. His hobby of unravelling the myths and fairy tales that New Atheists tell to their children at bedtime (for a fuller account of which, see his 'Atheist Delusions') informs some of his chapters, notably those about the early modern period. My favourite of all the church histories I have read. Get someone to give you this book for Christmas.
By the way, I bought the book from Waterstones.com here in the UK, which actually stocks and discounts the book, unlike, unusually, Amazon.