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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 29 April 2005
'The best history book ever'? A rather extravagant claim I admit, and impossible to substantiate, but this is truly a superb book for anyone with even the slightest interest in history. It has two main advantages:
1) It covers 1,000 years in barely 100 pages for less than 10 pounds. You could read it in an afternoon
2) It covers the entire sweep of European and Middle Eastern history together, so that every major event can be seen in its context

The main body of the book consists of political maps - the same basic map every time - showing the medieval world at roughly 30-year intervals. Turn the pages fast enough and empires rise and fall like a cartoon show (quite a long show in the case of the Byzantine Empire). The book also pauses occasionally to show the growth of the major religions, trade and population.
But an unexpected bonus comes with the writing. McEvedy writes with informal clarity and a deft use of language that makes every paragraph engaging and brings the story to life in a way quite unlike most history books (the Kwarizm Shah, he writes, "fell back to rest against the teeth of the Mongolian dragon"; "the King of France was a lunatic, the Duke of Burgundy open-minded about his loyalties and the French nobility as confused as ever about the difference between tournaments and tactics"). Reading him is a pleasure.
The book is substantially updated from earlier editions, justifying the addition of 'New' to the title. Some more subtle analysis has been added, without significantly boosting the word count. The population graphs are also new, so owners of 20-year old editions should consider upgrading.
Two gripes: firstly, 1980s editions excluded Iceland, northern Norway and the fringes of Arabia, explaining that including them would compress the crucial central area for the sake of a few backwaters. These areas have been included now, and it shows that the original judgement was correct.
Secondly, the book fails to mention the Great Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, which is one of the defining moments of medieval Christianity. But it's still easily worth five stars.
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on 27 March 2003
This unfolds the history of Europe and the Near East as a continous
story, rather than focusing on one country at a time which is perhaps
the more common way to compile this type of atlas. So there are no
in-depth analyses of individual Kingdoms or dissections of their
political and administrative hierarchies. It does not provide that
level of detail, but rather attempts to give an account of what was
happening in the region as a whole, for example how the Black Death
spread between 1346 and onwards, or the penetration of Christendom
in the region in the year 1000, on so forth. The period covered
stretches from the rein of Constantine the Great (year 362 being the
first entry in the atlas), which is also around the time when the
Roman Empire began to decline, to the Voyages of Discovery at the
end of the 15th century (1483 being the last entry).
There are 47 maps, visualizing the 'playing field' like trade routes,
religions, political and economical development, populations, the
range of The Known World, lighuistic groupings, and so on. Rather than
detailed disseminations and dissections, the text that accompany the
maps deal mainly with over-arching topics like The Crusades, The Black
Death, Migrations, etc. This is not to say that you do not find references
to more insular topics, such as what individuals like Joan of Arc did
in 1429, or how the weavers of Flanders affected the price of wool, etc.
The point is that the atlas is painting a bigger picture of the region
with the information sectioned in chunks of years rather than organized
according to single countries. I wont say that I know the information to
be accurate, or how many controversies it contains, or what can or is
disputed in the community of historians, but I feel the atlas is a good
complementary perspective to additional and more detailed literature.
On a different note, to me the cover promises a perhaps prettier book
illustration wise. The front is a detail from an illumination from the
"Book of Marco Polo". But he maps are pretty dull in their schoolbook
like appearance being all blue and black and white. There are no other
illustrations other than the maps.
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on 18 February 2007
If you are a fan of history and have not yet discovered this wonderful series of atlases, you are in for a real treat.

I have to agree with the reviewer below, that taken as a whole this volume might be one of the greatest history books ever published.

It's hard to imagine someone with an interest in history who would not enjoy reading and re-reading this book. It also makes a handy reference book. Wonderful!
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on 18 April 2013
This the best digest of medieval history I have come across. I haven't come across a better way of getting an overview of the history of the time, how Europe changed, how it interacted with the rest of the world. It will give every reader the overview of the period which he needs before plunging into the history of particular countries, topics etc.
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on 22 July 2014
As with the others in the Penguin History Atlas series, the understanding of a period's history by seeing the movements of power, peoples and bounderies as history unfolds - identifying kingdoms, principalities, duchies, khanates,and despot-lands, so many no more than half-forgotten names outside specialist historical circles - is greatly enhanced by Colin McEvedy's wit-spiced commentary: a joy to read
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on 10 June 2015
When you spend your school history lessons learning lists of English kings, there is something missing. When you travel to European cities, e.g. Florence, how do you tie this together with some battle, such as Crecy, which loomed so large in our lessons. This will tell you the answer and show you how relatively unimportant our kingly struggles were in the bigger picture. And it will make you laugh, at the same time. It is my third copy, as I keep giving away my copy to friends.
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on 9 March 2013
Wonderful illustrations in this clever and very informative book which I can go back to again and again. It brings history into perspective and makes it much more chronologically clear
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on 28 February 2000
Along with the other books in this series that I have read, Ancient, Modern and Recent History, this book is a solid and occasionally witty overview of the sweep of European development. It is fair to say that I have worn the book out as I often reread and refer to it. A must have on any bookshelf.
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on 10 February 2013
Bought to accompany several books I have on the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Medieval Europe up to and beyond Charlemagne. It has proved really useful in understanding the exact geographical references made in those books and the changing shape of dominions within Europe during that period.
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on 2 November 2014
As always with this author you get a very good grip of the bigger picture and major events, with maps supporting them. A great way to summarize and support you while studying those other text-heavy tomes in history class. And you do smile a bit more often when checking this one out than when you read the heavier stuff, so that's a nice bonus.
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