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on 21 November 2013
This is a condensed edition of the author's three-volume tome on Byzantium (Byzantine Empire). It is a concise and very readable book on the long political history - spanning over 1,123 years - of the empire. Its rise and fall are chronologically described.

Some maps of Constantinople, the Mediterranean world, etc. as well as family trees of various notable emperors are included. But, on top of these, maps showing the border of the empire at various times would have been very useful since the author frequently mentions its constantly-changing border as a result of military conquests and defeats. For these maps, the reader will have to refer to "The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History" by Colin McEvedy.

Being political history focusing on the rulers (emperors, empresses and their regents) and their policies, the lives of ordinary people or its great art and architecture are not covered. For these, we have to turn to other books.

In summary, this book has opened my eyes to this fascinating, but generally overlooked, empire which passed the ancient Greek cultural legacy to Western Europe and brought religion to Russia and Eastern Europe.
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on 21 February 2014
I found I couldn't put down Norwich's three volume history of Byzantium: it was the details that made it.

Unfortunately it's those details that have been cut in order to make this one volume history and with it has gone the magic. It reads like a competent (very long) wikipedia article.

If you're interested enough in the subject to consider buying this book then get the first volume of his other history of Byzantium and skip this.
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on 18 April 2001
Covering a thousand years of history in as many pages is a challenge but this 'Short History...' does a pretty good job of condensing the whole thing into a readable format.
A previous reviewer criticised the author for skimping on detail. But for a reader (like me) who's just interested in getting a flavour of the times, it's perfect. It's rather sensational at points, but more than once I found myself slack-jawed at the goings-on: plots, murders, adultery, intrigue...sometimes it's more like an extended soap opera than a history book.
So it's not for the serious academic then, but as an introduction to the subject it makes for a good read.
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on 26 February 2015
Quick and accurate delivery. A fascinating piece of reading!!! Highly recommended!
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on 18 October 2005
For all students of history, this is a great intro to a period that has been largely ignored in English schools, for hundreds of years.
It does seem a little rushed at times, but this is only to be expected from this edited version, and JJN apologises for this in the preface.
I enjoyed this so much, I am now reading the individual volumes. It's highly entertaining and a real page turner - not something one normally says about a history book.
Quite simply one of the best books I have ever read.
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on 25 July 2017
I concur with those reader-reviewers who found this book hard going. I am not sure what was pruned from the three-volume original to produce this rather dense, single-volume work, but despite my reservations I might not be put off trying the trilogy because I like Lord Norwich's style a lot. It's just that this Short History got confusing and repetitive quite quickly, and reminded me of the way I was taught history at school - this king led to this one; there was an Important Battle; a treaty was signed; everyone reneged on it; a new dynasty was founded that didn't last very long because there was an Important Battle followed by a new treaty, etc. I have to confess that the number of Constantines, Constantiuses, Theodoras and Nicephoruses ground me down. There is such a number of blindings, castrations, exilings, excommunications and banishments to nunneries that it all becomes quite horribly mundane; and while all this may be factually correct it can also make for slightly tedious reading unmitigated by the author's lively and engaging style. Having said that, I did learn a lot. It is remarkable that an Empire where the regnal line was subject so frequently to regicide, usurpation, betrayal and ill-starred marriages of convenience lasted so long, especially when it was perpetually beset on all sides by marauders: if it wasn't the West it was the Bulgars, and if it wasn't the Bulgars it was the Arabs. I was rather hoping for some insights into Byzantine culture - the art and the architecture, if nothing else - but this is side-lined in favour of the emperor-by-emperor approach. You need to keep your eye on the maps, too, if you are to get the best out of it - Thrace, Nicaea, Epirus and all that. I am afraid I didn't, by and large being content to let the precise geographical details waft over me as long I understood approximately where we were talking about. Nevertheless, it's 1,123 years and 18 days' worth of amazing history, and fascinating at the conclusion to have some light shed on those romantic and mysterious places such as Mystras and the Empire of Trebizond, the very last pieces of the greatest Byzantine mosaic of them all, which seem to glint on the edge of history. This book has become a bit of a classic, and it deserves the accolade. But while it may all be told with 'boundless zest' (The Daily Telegraph) it's a helter-skelter summary rather than an introduction. Take a deep breath and hang on to your hat.
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on 20 March 2015
"How does one write a history about an Emprire that existed for over 1100 years?", Norwich asks rhetorically in the Introduction. "By beginning at the beginning" he wittily answers his own question. And I agree, in principle, that is how most good history is written, start in the beginning and work your way forward, battle by battle, or period by period.
It's just that with the Byzantines, if you go emperor by emperor as Norwich does, you end up with a very, very big book. Which is why he split it into three volumes. This 'short history' (still 400 very, very fine-printed pages) was meant for people like myself who are put off by 3 volumes of 400 very fine-printed pages each. Rather than re-write, possibly with a different structure, the emperor-by-emperor approach was maintained, and a lot of cutting was done to reduce the number of pages.
I found the product of this cutting exercise rather dry, at times. There are a number of sections that are almost meaningless, where you only get a few emperor's names and the names of whoever murdered him to become the next emperor. This approach of leaving no emperor undescribed does not seem the right one to 'do' 1123 years of history. A better way, in my humble opinion, would be to go in depth on some exciting episodes, and treat the less eventful centuries in bird's flight, so to speak. A nice example of this approach is Roger Crowley's epic 'City of Fortune' about Venice (not quite as long a history as the Byzantines but still 500 years).
Having said this, I do think Norwich did a good job. Much of the book is actually quite exciting, even after all the cutting he had to do - so imagine what a gread read the actual trilogy would be.
Still, my verdict remains that this book is a bit of a mis-fit. The casual reader is better served by something like 'Lost to the West' which does an excellent job of providing a quick and exciting overview, while the real fan of the Byzantines should go for Norwich's trilogy.
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on 13 April 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed Norwich's work. I have gone back to reference this book several times in my subsequent reading. The book attempts to squash a whale in a sardine can and I think it succeeds. The book explains how and why the Eastern Roman Empire was created. It describes why the Eastern and Western empires were never able to truly reunite despite the external pressures to do so. Norwich goes through the history of each ruler of Byzantium including how he got there, what he achieved or lost, and how he met his end. The book describes Iconoclasm and briefly discusses other major theological controversies. The political backdrop and rivaling factions are explained. Norwich explains the interaction between the Crusades and Crusader States with Byzantium. Accomplishing all of this in one book is an amazing task.

The work does not delve deeply into many events or issues that you may want more information on, but it completes its objective of providing a concise history. If you are a new reader and you want in depth information on every topic during this 1000+ year span and are willing to dedicate the time, I would suggest getting the three volume work that this book is based on. (Byzantium: The Early Centuries: The Early Centuries v. 1,Byzantium (II): The Apogee,Byzantium: The Decline and Fall: 3).

Norwich has a smooth inviting style of writing that keeps the subject interesting. You will find yourself amazed that many emperors followed the same path to destruction. You will find yourself wondering if one event had happened differently the whole world we live in would be drastically different. This book will show you how important Byzantium was to the entire Western civilization, this empire that most people know nothing about. I recommend this book to anyone that has the slightest interest in the history of western civilization.

For those interested in history and video games, you may also enjoy Rome: Total War - Barbarian Invasion Expansion Pack (PC CD), where you can play as Byzantium.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 October 2007
"A Short History of Byzantium" is a condensed version of author John Julius Norwich's three volume work. It covers the Byzantine Empire from its founding by Constantine the Great in AD 330 through its final destruction by the Turks in 1453.

I began the book with little knowledge about the Byzantine Empire with which to place what I was reading in context. This may have handicapped me as I proceeded through it. Much of this book consists of a seemingly endless list of Emperors, Empresses and challengers. It contains relatively little about other pieces of the Byzantine puzzle, such as the economy, the arts and other social forces which contributed to the whole picture. I did find interesting the sections dealing with the relationship of Charlemagne to the Empire and the occasional attempts, usually the result of foreign pressure, to heal the breach in Christendom.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I finished it with little more understanding of Byzantium than I had when I started. It may be the nature of the subject itself, but I feel that I need to look elsewhere for a good initiation into the Byzantine World.
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on 1 May 2002
JJ Norwich manages to condense over 1,000 years of history into a single volume and does it with style. The book is well-written and keeps the reader's interest from beginning to end. For me, this has certainly whetted my appetite for buying and reading the original 3-volume work and also other books on this amazing period in European and Asian history. It is amazing how much of our culture and knowledge is owed to the Byzantines and until you read about them, how little most of us know.
I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in understanding more about how religion, ambition, greed, courage, vice, weakness and many other factors intertwined to dictate the course of the Empire and indeed most of Europe and Asia Minor over such a long period of time.
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