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Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307407969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307407962
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The once common idea that the lights went out on classical and Western civilization when Rome fell in 476 C.E. has long since been debunked, but Brownsworth weighs in to illustrate that the Roman Empire's center of power simply shifted to Constantinople. In a narrative by turns spellbinding and prosaic, Brownsworth marches us through centuries of history, beginning long before the fall of Rome, and introduces the successive rulers of Byzantium, from Christian emperors to Muslim sultans, detailing a culture he describes as both familiar and exotic. He follows religious, political and cultural change up through the Islamic conquest of 1453. Christian refugees fled Byzantium into Europe, taking with them their longstanding love of ancient culture and introducing Western Europe to Plato, Demosthenes, Xenophon, Aeschylus and Homer, fanning the flames of the renaissance of Hellenistic culture that had already begun in various parts of Europe. Although Brownsworth admirably illustrates the ways that the Byzantine Empire lives on even today, Judith Herrin's Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire offers a more compelling and thorough history of this empire. Maps. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Captivating…In Lost to the West Lars Brownworth shows a novelist’s eye for character, bringing to life some of the most fascinating — and yet little known -- figures of the Byzantine era. But it is as a researcher into the obscurities of palace intrigue, treachery, and battlefield carnage that Lars really shines. With dry humor and a palette of vivid images, he recounts the dizzying game of musical chairs that placed one usurper after another on the Byzantine throne, only to be pitched off in a gaudily macabre way. In the end, one is left agog by the irony that the upshot of this centuries-long scrum was the preservation of nearly all that the Greeks have bequeathed to us.”
—Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire

“Rome never fell -- it simply moved five hundred miles East -- to Byzantium. For over a thousand years the Byzantines commanded one of the most visceral and vivid empires the world has ever known. And yet their achievements are consistently underplayed; written out of history. Lars Brownworth is a rare talent. His contagious passion brings murderous empresses, conniving eunuchs, lost Greek texts and Byzantine treasures of fairy-tale proportions blinking back into the light. Confidently striding through time and across the mountains and plains of the Eastern Mediterranean, Brownworth puts this theocratic superstate slap-bang in the center of mankind's global story; back where it should be. The Byzantines made our world what it is today. Lars Brownworth matches their verve and brio in his seductive and gripping account.”
—Bettany Hughes, PBS host and author of Helen of Troy

“This is history as it used to be, history as story-telling. In this fascinating account of the Byzantine empire, Lars Brownworth covers a thousand years of blood-letting, outrageous luxury, bitter religious disputes and vaulting ambition without giving the slightest impression of being rushed or crowded. The page turns unaided.”
—Anthony Everitt, bestselling author of Augustus, Cicero and The First Emperor

"A hugely entertaining and often moving portrait of a civilization to which the modern West owes an immense but neglected debt. Read it, and you will never use the word 'Byzantine' as a term of abuse again."
—Thomas Holland, author of Millennium, Persian Fire and Rubicon

“Lost to the West is the sort of history I wish I’d been offered in school — a fast-paced adventure story that covers over a thousand years of political intrigue, brilliant leaders, incompetent squabblers, mayhem, butchery and religious divides, and vividly pictures a bygone era that is still a vital part of our heritage.”
—Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds

"The Byzantines are back! Correcting centuries of neglect, Lars Brownworth guides us through a forgotten world and, with clarity and wit, brings it to vibrant life. Filled with a dazzling cast of ruthless Emperors, conniving generals and half-crazed scholars, Lost to the West is both entertaining and enlightening -- a great piece of popular history."
—Tony Perrottet, author of Pagan Holiday and The Naked Olympics

From the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Lars Brownworth created the genre-defining "12 Byzantine Rulers" podcast, which prompted the New York Times to liken him to some of history's great popularizers. He is the author of "Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization", and "The Normans: From Raiders to Kings". He speaks at various conferences and is currently working on a new book about the Vikings.

Lars Brownworth

Finding History Blog:


Customer Reviews

I haven't read much about the Byzantine before picking up this book, and I'm very glad I did pick it up.
If you want an interesting and entertaining history of Byzantium and what it means to Western Civilization as we know it, then I highly recommend this book.
Jon Murphy
Easy to read, lots of fun historical stories and Lars Brownworth makes a very complex era of history much easier to understand.
Alan Dale Daniel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

126 of 132 people found the following review helpful By George P. Wood TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Roman Empire fell on Tuesday, May 29, 1453, when Mehmed II sacked Constantinople, and Constantine XI Dragases stripped off his imperial battle gear and died alone and unrecognized. If you dated the fall to September 5, 476, when Romulus Augustulus surrendered his crown and scepter to the Vandal Odoacer, you would be half right. That is indeed when the western half of the empire fell, setting off the so-called "Dark Ages" in earnest. But the eastern half lived on for another 1000 years, waxing and waning in influence from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates and from the Balkans to the Nile. It was finally eclipsed by the triumph of the Ottomans, never to rise again.

Lars Brownworth is not a professional historian, but he is a fantastic history-teller. "Lost to the West" is a portrait of the history of the eastern half of the empire from its founding by Constantine the Great to its demise under his namesake. The major "great men" (and women) as well as big events find a place in his fast-moving narrative: Constantine, Justinian, Belisarius, the Council of Nicea, the erection of Hagia Sophia, the Great Schism, and the centuries long battle with Islam.

Professional historians will probably find something to quibble with here and there. But if you know nothing about Byzantium (as the eastern empire came to be known), then Brownworth is the place to start. He includes a list of primary and secondary sources at the end of the book, as well as a chronological list of eastern emperors.

Highly recommended.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Enjolras TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book comes recommended by Anthony Everitt and Tom Holland, two of the best popularizers of ancient Western history. As such, I figured it had to be pretty good. Following his successful podcast, Lars Brownworth introduces the Byzantine empire to the modern world. Often overlooked, Byzantium was the heir to Rome and a major civilization that lasted 1,000 years after the "fall of Rome" in 476. As Brownworth points out, Western civilization owes a huge debt to Byzantium, from modern legal codes to defending Western Europe against Islam. Brownworth makes this thousand-year story accessible to the modern reader.

[Note: the book covers the same territory as the podcast, although the book is more detailed and worth reading if you liked the podcast.]

Brownworth's Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization is literally the thousand-year history of Byzantium. It begins with Constantine and ends with the Muslim conquest in 1453. Sometimes this means the book reads too quickly, with emperors dying before the reader even gets to know them. Golden ages fade quickly into dark ages - and then back again to golden ages. However, Brownworth's goal is to introduce Byzantium to the 21st century public and, as he puts it, whet the reader's appetite for more. Doing so requires speeding past decades, or even centuries, of history, but this is often necessary to complete the story in one volume. The scope is ambitious, although I think by and large Brownworth succeeds in both providing enough detail to make Byzantium real and not getting too bogged down within a particular time period.
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Format: Hardcover
The Byzantine Empire - and by extension, the Roman Empire- existed for 1,123 years and 18 days. Yet most of us know little about it other than he word "byzantine" being vaguely synonymous for highly intricate, complex, murky or devious dealings. In fact, the story of the Byzantine Empire is the telling of what we now know as Western Civilization. Beginning as the capital for the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, its primary city Constantinople became the center of a very vibrant society the preserved Greek and Roman traditions while Western Europe slipped under the control of barbarians and into what we call the Dark Ages.

Lars Brownworth has written an absolutely stunning popular history of the Byzantine Empire. Remarkably, he covers in surprising detail more than a thousand years of growth, decline, war, peace, prosperity, poverty, devastation by plague, earthquakes, invading armies and internal sloth, corruption and incompetence in just over 300 pages. His writing style is relaxed and easy, yet packed with facts. There are occasions when things become confusing because he doesn't mention the years of certain event often enough and sometimes skips ahead by decades or even generation. By these are tiny criticisms to make in the context of his great achievement, making the history of the Byzantine Empire easily accessible.

I consider myself to be a history buff. Though my area of concentration is primarily 19th Century Europe and the United States, I consider myself well versed in global history. But I couldn't go more than a page or two in "Lost To The West" without learning something new to me. Without Byzantine standing in the way for centuries, the onslaught of Islam might not have been stopped.
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