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on 1 July 2015
Enjoyable read, if confusing at times. I had to go back and forward a lot to work out who was who and when and then realised how short a period of history the book covered. Would have to say that the book was written in a very conventional way by someone who views history in a very male orientated way. i enjoyed reading about the women of the time but felt that women were still marginalised and somehow not important in mainstream history, with Emma pictured one-sidedly as a cruel and hard woman, the phrase 'even girls' used when talking about children raised in a war-like environment, and the interesting situation of women across Europe governing for the child male heirs all meeting together to discuss the future reduced to half a paragraph. Agnes of Aquitaine was ruling in her son's behalf : 'a challenging responsibility for a woman'..... excuse me? Women it seems are still not the stuff of history books. nevertheless I learned loads and loved the excitement of the whole Stamford Bridge episode, something we never covered in history at school. gave me a whole new impression of Harold.
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on 12 January 2013
A very good read taken at great speed.
Rather difficult to read for more than a couple of hours without your
brain going on strike.

Could do with a clearer timeline as it is difficult to keep track of what is going on in the different countries.
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on 5 January 2017
In my personal judgement this is not Tom Holland's finest. In fact I found it rather strange and woolly. there is some fascinating information in it but in the end I judged it not worth the effort. Others may well disagree - perhaps it's just me!
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on 2 March 2016
Taken for what it is, which is a fast and furious romp around Europe just before and after the turn of the first millenium, this is an excellent introduction and overview. If you're looking for a more in depth academic analysis, this isn't it.
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on 18 October 2015
I bought this book to take on holiday. Although I found the writing style difficult at times, the content was truly fascinating. I can only begin to imagine the amount of research necessary to put together a book like this.
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on 17 October 2009
The years surrounding the Millennium, and the centuries leading up to it are brought vividly to life by Tom Holland's brilliant book. Covering the Normans, near East, Vikings, the connections to the Romans, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Turkey, Jerusalem ... and much more, showing how they connect with eachother. Covering a huge span of history, and many countries it inevitably contains many characters, and Tom Holland helps us to understand what they thought, their motivations, ambitions.

If you want to ENJOY history, this is the book to read!

Only criticism - the index needs more detail of the minor characters.

Chris Hollins
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on 30 January 2015
I bought this book for my husband. He likes the author's style of writing - he makes history interesting and keeps it fast-paced. He lost a star for embellishing the facts to fit his story occasionally.
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on 19 June 2011
I picked up this book in complete innocence: never having read any of Holland's previous work, and not having read much on the Middle Ages, either. The evening before, much to my dismay and disgust, my Kindle had gone south, metaphorically, taking all its contents with it, and here I was in the small English section of this bookshop in northern Sweden, trying to decide which books would be my companions in the cottage by the lake. My lift back to the wilderness was tapping her foot; I was in a hurry. My decision to buy this book was based largely on its heft and the absence of the spooky woods and lurid splashes of blood that graced the covers of most of the other books in the section.

It turns out that Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights might have been an appropriate cover illustration - a sprawling mass of unbelievable oddities, each set out in hallucinatory detail, the one only tenuously related to the next, and the whole both baffling and hypnotic.

I'm not sure who Holland is writing for - me, perhaps, an ignorant sponge? - or what he intended to achieve with this book. What he did achieve, in my case was in equal measure delight, horror, admiration, and frustration, both with respect to his writing style and the story he tells.

His style is a little bombastic, and somewhat erratic, but colourful and charming: "Left behind as a corpse on the field of battle was the English commander, Britnoth, a white-haired and valiant earl, who had stood with all his bodyguards together unyielding amid the slaughter, arrow-feathered, axe-hewn, refusing to bow." Um, OK. Here and elsewhere he achieves immediacy by assuming knowledge that we do not have, as, for example, "once, back amid the upheavals that had followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, there were those who had slipped entirely free of their landlords, liberating themselves so successfully from an enfeebled regime of extortion that they had ended up almost forgetting what it meant to be screwed for taxes." As a result, this book seems neither quite history nor fiction; Holland has written a docudrama.

If the cover of the book - a boatload of armoured Normans - verges on the stolid, the same cannot be said of the text. Many of the tales he tells teeter on the edge of lurid, but are sufficiently convincing that no reader would wish to be resurrected in the age he describes. Much of it sounds frighteningly nasty. Given the age in which we live, loaded as it is with menaces, much of it also sounds upsettingly like an apocalyptic future toward which we might be heading.

Docudrama it may be, but docudramas are normally constructed around some premise. Holland seems to change his mind about this book's premise as he goes. It's the coming of the apocalypse, it's the spread of Christianity in Europe, it's the myth of chivalry and the reality of barbarism, it's the rise of the papacy, it's... until at last, I felt that the premise of the book can (perhaps rather unfairly) be summarised by its last two sentences: "Already in the summer heat the corpses were starting to reek. Antichrist did not appear."

I enjoyed the book despite my frustrations, but ask me what this book is about, and I will respond with the same kind of fractured incoherence as I would if you asked me to describe from memory the Garden of Earthly Delights.
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on 4 September 2014
This book re-wired my brain from the simple historical version I learned at school (many years ago) to provide a comprehensive explanation of why we are and who we are.
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VINE VOICEon 12 January 2009
An interesting, easy to read look at the history of Europe - or Christendom - as it approached and then went beyond the first millennium.

It seems, perhaps, a little odd to find a book about the first millennium published now - one's first thought is that Holland has missed the boat for these sorts of books by about eight years. Don't let that put you off, however. If we were treated to a glut of Millennium inspired books a few years back, few were as thoughtful and informative as this. This is the story of how the years around 1000 (and 1033) played an important part in changing western society, the story of how the early medieval (or dark ages) became the medieval and eventually led to secularism.

Holland shows the same imaginative gift for history and character - a reflection of his work as a novelist, perhaps - that marked out 'Rubicon' and 'Persian Fire'. The sweep of history is perhaps more wide ranging and diffuse here than in either of those books. It suffers for it, unfortunately. Similarly named characters from different generations makes for a degree of confusion at times - a list of the main protagonists might have been helpful. And some of Holland's assertions caused my eyebrows to raise, where I felt he'd not got things right - but these were matters of detail. What Holland gets right is far more important. This is grand narrative history with an important story to tell, important for all of us in understanding how Christianity shaped us and how its conflicts are still with us.
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