Top positive review
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Excellent survey of Byzantine Empire
on 7 January 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well written for general readers, and is very accessible. Its coverage is wide-ranging. In 29 chapters, it explains many aspects of the empire such as its foundation, the Church, emperors, the court, iconoclasm, economy, the decline (after the disastrous Fourth Crusade), the fall (1453) and the empire's legacy. It depicts a culturally highly-developed and vibrant society.
The descriptions are generally brief due to the lack of space. But, the reader will be able to learn so much about this fascinating empire that lasted as long as 1,123 years. It left so much legacy to the rest of Europe, including Russia: classical Greek learning (which led to Renaissance), written Slavonic language, art and architecture, the system of government, to name but a few.
Yet, the empire's importance is generally overlooked nowadays and its place in the European history undervalued. Not only that, only negative aspects of the empire appear to be emphasized so that the word "Byzantine" has a negative connotation like "inflexible", "complicated" and "underhand". The role the empire played in defending Europe from the hostile forces (in northern Europe, Near East and Asia Minor) after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West for many centuries until 1453 appears to be totally forgotten. The author says "without Byzantium, there would have been no Europe", i.e. Europe as we know today.
There are reviews on Amazon that criticize poor proofreading because of a few minor errors on historical events. I think they miss the point; the author was inspired to write the book for general readers when she was asked by a couple of workmen at her college what Byzantium history was about. Although ideally everything in the book should be accurate, I think it is thoroughly recommendable as an introductory book for general readers. Those who want to learn the empire's political history in much more detail can turn to other specialist books by historians such as John Julius Norwich.