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Customer Review

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A huge feast, not without flaws, 6 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (Paperback)
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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Review Details

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Reviewer

Peasant
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: Deepest England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 188