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VINE VOICEon 11 August 2009
I read this book a few months ago and just picked it up again having read Dominic Sandbrook's effervescent review (above).

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 For their authors they are academic rights of passage, and if they get accepted as definitive historical reference the sales follow.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?
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on 1 March 2009
Although very well written, with plenty of personal anecdote to enliven it, this volume in the Penguin History of Europe Series is definitely aimed at the serious student of history; I thought I knew quite a lot about the so-called Dark Ages, but Professor Wickham shows just how much there is to know. Those who have readMillennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom Tom Holland's excellent book, which partly overlaps Professor Wickham's, will no doubt want to progress to "The Inheritance of Rome" - but be warned! It is very dense and will keep you absorbed for a long time.
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In the past, opines Chris Wickham, histories of early medieval Europe have fallen victim to two fallacious grand narratives, of the birth of nations and the teleological progress towards modernity. Here Wickham strives to analyse the era on its own terms without the benefit of hindsight, and with its own values, breaking down into geographical eras and considering their trends across the period.

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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 January 2011
Most of the rave reviews, and indeed the most critical ones of this book, have come from historians. This gives the general reader relatively little guidance. I do not have a degree in history and would describe myself as an "intelligent layman with an interest in history". As such I am finding the book immensely enjoyable and have now got a rich idea of an early Europe where once I only had a few disconnected impressions.

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!
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on 4 June 2012
In these Amazon reviews, a lot of the readers of this book complain that the book is too detailed. If they want to
get a good overview of the material in the book whilst reading it, take the Open Yale Course - Hist 210 The Early Middle Ages(free to all) which uses the book as a companion text. Yale University has put a selection of its student courses online (videos) free for anyone to use. The courses are called Open Yale Courses.

To find the course Google:

Open Yale Hist 210 The Early Middle Ages
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on 26 November 2009
I struggled with about half of this book, before finally becoming too frustrated and discarding it to read something else.

The book is very interesting - this is beyond doubt. There is a real wealth of information in it, for the committed reader. But as much information as there is, there is an equal amount of historiographical justification, and sometimes that historiography feels a little strained. Often I found myself agreeing with the theories that Wickham advanced after some thought, but then tiring of reminding myself of this every time I picked the book up.

I came to feel that The Inheritance of Rome was as much a book about modern historians and their debate on the Late Roman/Early Medieval period, as it is a book about that period. Perhaps for someone who was more committed to this period, this book would be more manageable. For me, interest in the book's premise and arguments was eventually outweighed by the tedious battle with the attending historiography.
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on 7 May 2009
In 500 plus pages this is an overview of the period 400 to 1000 A.D. It has been widely praised in the national press and on this site. BUT I have to say that I was disapointed for two reasons. Firstly because, in general, the enormous scope of the book makes it impossible to generalise about the different cultures from Spain to Armenia and everything in between. In consequence many of his statements on, for example, the aristocracy or the peasants have to so qualified as to make them not very valuable. Secondly because space does not allow him to deal adequately with some important matters. For example, I could not understand how or why the Visigoths came to overrun France and Spain, nor how the Lombards came into northern Italy. Further, I dont think he dealt adequately with the history and influence of the Roman Church. (I am not a historian and perhaps he takes the reader's general knowlege too much for granted). Having said all that, he writes excellently and I read the book with pleasure while forming these reservations.
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on 21 March 2014
There isn't much for me to add here, but I'll give my opinion briefly anyway.

This is a book I learnt an awful lot from - it has made me ponder many fascinating points and has very successfully set a framework for my further reading into Early Middle Ages. I very much pleased that this book has done that for me.
A drawback to this is that it wasn't the most enjoyable history books I've ever read. I found it to be a very straight book, and, as many people here say, a detailed one. This isn't bad in itself, of course, I'd be the first to say I'm not a fan of journalistic or light histories. Perhaps it's more to do with the way it is written, and the way the information is presented - though I personally couldn't begin to explain such things.

But anyway, one can garner a lot from this work if you put your mind to it, and it earns my respect for that.
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VINE VOICEon 12 February 2010
I found this book profoundly useful, both as a narrative overview which covered societies and regions which are often ignored (such as Ireland), and as a stimulus for further research and consideration. We need some books available outside specialist academic libraries to people who are seriously interested in a topic. As Mr. McRorie says, there have been several books on this period written for a more generalist market, and a good thing too. But that doesn't mean that there is no place for a more in depth study.

I find this book to run on very effectively from Peter Beard's Fall of Rome, and to stand beside that, Gibbon, Norwich's Byzantium trilogy and the Konemann 'Romanesque' (for visual reference) to form a useful bedrock of books to consult on a regular basis. It seemed to me to be both more considered, more wide-ranging and less judgemental than Roger Collins 'Early Medieval Europe' which covers a similar period.
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on 31 July 2012
This book is perfect for undergraduate study. I am in my second year at university, studying the world of Charlemagne and the fragmentation of Europe under the Carolingian dynasty. It is a comprehensive resource, well-written and engaging. It is an essential tool for any aspiring historian or anyone with an interest in early Medieval Europe. A top buy.
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