on February 19, 2002
This is the most enjoyable history book I have ever read. If the history of Europe is a long and interminably complicated one, then I would suggest that this single volume could be the key to unlocking that history and explaining the remarkable diversity of nations and cultures that co-exist within this single, small continent today. The author's clear, unpretentious prose style further enhances the readability of the book and while it is likely to be a must-read for students and academics, the general reader will find this book accessible and entertaining. Bartlett takes the reader on a rapid and utterly fascinating tour of medieval Europe, from the Celtic fringes of the British Isles to the uncharted wildernesses of Eastern Europe, and south to newly-reconquered Spain, between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. Amidst the profound social, religious, political and economic - not to mention shamelessly opportunistic - forces taking hold across the continent in this period, we can already begin to see the origins of the Europe we recognise today beginning to emerge. With countless examples drawn from historical sources from literally every corner of Europe, the reader is nonetheless given a refreshing perspective of the story of the continent as a whole - in human terms, rather than as colours and lines arbitrarily drawn on a map. I would advise anyone with an interest in Europe as it is today, and how it came to be, to read this book. This book affected me quite deeply; I now see European current affairs in a new but much richer context, and I've been compelled to re-examine the way I look at history and its implications for future generations. On another level, I found this book helped me to re-evaluate my outlook on some of the concepts we often take for granted, such as nationality, culture and identity. I can't help thinking, therefore, that by reading this book and reflecting on its implications, many Europeans or North Americans of European extraction might want to take a fresh look at the meaning of their own identities and prejudices. Ethnic, religious, nationalistic, cultural and linguistic sources of tension and conflict can be identified, often at source, throughout the pages of this stunning book. And, for all the bloodshed and medieval argy-bargy, there's the unexpected bonus of the occasional giggle. Splendid.
on February 27, 2001
The thesis of The Making of Europe is simply that Europe is not a geographical region but an idea. The power and eloquence of this statement is played out in over four hundred pages of tightly constructed and well written prose. Bartlett's writing makes for powerful and alluring reading, and I came away from reading much of the book educated and armed with an understanding of how we come to construct others as well as ourselves. Bartlett takes an intellectual historian's approach to how Europe came to be "made;" arguing that the continent was born out of the concepts of conqueror and conquered. This mentality had as much to do with the shaping of Europe as did the actualities of history. I first used the book as a reference for my undergraduate senior thesis and have since read most of it for its intellectual force and beauty of writing. Bartlett makes the usually dry subject of history moving and relevant to modern day people.
on May 5, 2006
I agree with the second reviewer. This is the best history book I have ever read--for many of the reasons already listed. This book should be assigned reading for anyone planning to write history if for no other reason than the quality of the writing, the explanation of complex ideas and the force of its argument. I should add this book has some of the best charts and maps I ever seen, in the sense of how these charts elucidate and highlight the author's arguments. They are wonderfully interwoven in the text The only other non-narratve history possibly as great as this is R.F Fosters Modern Ireland.
on December 7, 2010
This wonderful book is about the end of the Dark Ages, when trends were aligned in such a way that Europe finally began to overcome the long decline and chaos that followed the Roman Empire's disintegration. During this period (950 to 1350 CE), the vast migrations and fluidity of the early middles ages ended decisively, allowing stable states, a reformed and largely unified western church, and oases of stability to flower into what would become modern Europe. It was a time of economic boom and technological advancement, the end of centuries of external threat, and expansion outwards, not only into the holy land but to central and northern Europe. The book is the perfect followup to the more impressionistic Forge of Christendom, which evokes many of these issues but neither describes nor analyses them in the depth that I found here.
In 950 CE, Europe was a shrunken region under siege from non-christian invaders (Arabs, Vikings, Hungarians, and certain Slavs, i.e. from all directions). As the Millennium approached, many in western Christendom believed that the apocalypse was imminent. While there had been a succession of relatively effective Emperors from the time of Charlemagne, their dynasties had proven unstable, rarely lasting more than 3 generations before disintegrating into power struggles. Then suddenly, the external threats either stalled (the Arabs) or were absorbed by conversion into Christendom.
The relative calm that resulted enabled actors to undertake a series of fundamental measures that completely transformed the political and economic landscape. On the one hand, aristocrats adopted a new style of defensive fortification, the stone castle. This new technology of warfare consolidated their power base, allowing them to invest their resources into economic development - clearing land, forcing their serfs and peasants to pay taxes and stay within their territories for long-term servitude - rather than merely warfare. On the other hand, the Roman church initiated a series of reforms, in particular the clearer definition of orthodoxy, opening the way to persecutions for heresy and crushing the enormous diversity that had grown up during the extraordinary experimentation of the dark ages. Indeed, Christianity became a far more politicized ideology, a unifying glue (with administrative structures and educational institutions in place) that spawned that gigantic colonial venture called the Crusades in the Holy Land as well as east and north within Europe. While these developments narrowed diversity and did not promote political freedoms, they added focus to the work and missions of European rulers. Europe in this time became far more uniform as a territorial entity in its economy, institutional forms, political-religious ideologies, and urban plans. Even the names of rulers lost their local flavors, becoming those of the accepted saints as defined by Rome.
This was a golden age for aristocrats (the landowners, knights, and upper clergy), who intermingled, spoke common languages, and moved into geographical areas designated to them by emperors; they exploited new policy instruments to buttress their power. In exchange for service to the Emperor or King, many commoners became aristocrats at this time. In addition to the church's support, they established scholastic universities, systems of uniform law based on the legal legacy of Rome, and the foundation of cities and networks in which new economic activities could be undertaken. As the economy flourished and populations exploded in size and dynamism, Europe truly established an identity for itself. Much of the basic urban contours that they established at that time exist today.
Bartlett covers this for the most part from the optic of "colonialism" - the movement of populations to new, often unoccupied areas for development. It was more or less the end of the migrations that established the essential outlines of the ethno-linguistic groups that exist today. This is, of course, only one dimension of the process: there was also an intellectual movement (scholasticism) that is largely uncovered, the economy is only occasionally mentioned, and other related developments (e.g. the Gothic era, another way to define the entire period) are neglected. The reader will need to explore those elsewhere. Also, it is so analytic that there is very little narrative, which makes it read a bit dry at times.
This book is so full of ideas that it was very hard for me to put it all together in this review. I do not feel I have successfully covered either the nuance or even the substance, which means I must read it again. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the West and/or the middle ages. It is fundamental reading and has forever changed my perception of the period.
on April 21, 2011
In 950, Latin Christendom consisted of the remains of the Carolingian empire (France, northern Italy, and Germany west of the Elbe), plus Anglo-Saxon England and the tiny kingdoms of northern Spain--and had no awareness of itself as "Latin Christendom." Over the next 400 years, this culture expanded via conquest, colonization, and/or diffusion: south to include all the Italian peninsula plus the islands, and almost all the Iberian; from England north and west throughout Scotland, Wales, and Ireland; from Germany north to include Scandinavia, and east to include the Baltic littoral, great tracts of Slavic forests, and the Hungarian plain; and from all of the above south and east to conquer Byzantium and the Holy Land. All but those last two conquests lasted, and by 1350 the area that could be (and now was) called Latin Christendom was several times larger and much more developed than it had been in 950. The book tells how that happened.
Sometimes it feels disjointed: the chapters are organized thematically rather than chronologically or geographically, so you don't get a story but instead a series of studies of military science, agriculture, town laws, guild systems, religious orders, etc., on the peripheries of Europe. The title, and the introduction and conclusion, try to claim that this makes it the story of how Europe became *Europe*, and there's something to it, but it can get awfully hard to see that forest when you're deep in all them trees.
Which brings up another point worth mentioning: Bartlett from time to time throws out some wild-ass metaphors from out of left field. Sometimes they work ("Many Celtic or Slavic lords were willing to seize these new...conventions to raise themselves yet higher in the saddle, even if they ended up riding a horse of a different colour"); sometimes they're just weird ("They [the Franciscan and Dominican orders] combined the reproductive rate of the rabbit with the self-containment of the crustacean").
Wonderful scholarly apparatus: 70 pages of notes, 30 of bibliography. But the text is just a little too disjointed for me, I like to have more narrative.
This is an unusually enjoyable book. Part of this book's appeal is the very interesting topic but this is also an unusually well written book featuring Robert Bartlett's skilful melding of analysis and narrative, and general overview with well chosen anecdotes. Bartlett provides an excellent exposition and analysis of the expansion of the European cultural zone. The key features of European culture were feudal political structure, the Latin Christian church obedient to Rome, and increasing local and long distance trade centered in relatively dynamic cities. This cultural package expanded from the Carolingian heartland of northern France, the Low Countries, the Rhine Valley, and northern Italy into the Celtic "fringe" of Britain, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the Iberian peninsula, and much of the Mediterranean. In the latter case, this included the transient dominance of places like Palestine, parts of Anatolia and Greece, and Cyprus but also permanent dominance of Sicily and parts of the Adriatic coast.
Bartlett shows that this process was driven by increasing population growth in the Carolingian heartland (probably partly a function of improving climate) and the vigor of European institutions that allowed effective conquest and assimilation of regions across the borders of the heartland. Bartlett shows the "cellular" nature of this process with the duplication of core institutions in the newly conquered zones as a natural though often brutal extension of the feudal system. The expanding Europeans possessed the advantages of superior military technology, some institutional advantages in the form of better agricultural and commercial methods, and a substantial contribution by Papal encouragement of expansion. Much of this expansion occurred by conquest, as in much of Eastern Europe and Iberia, but some by emulation, as in the cases of Scandinavia, Poland, and Bohemia, where native dynasties adopted European methods to boost their power.
Bartlett has thoughtful discussions of the relationships between conquerers and conquered, the role of the church, the role of the peasantry. He concludes with an interesting discussion of how these traditions would feed into a later period of European expansion in the early modern period.
on March 11, 2013
A great reading for anyone interested in understanding how the dynamics of power, war, religion and capital came to form Europe. The books is especially interesting inasmuch as it provides a clear perspective that the making of Europe did not result only from the movements within Europe, but also from the continent's reactions about being surrounded by Islam. A great insight that helps explaining part of what is going on in the world today.
on July 12, 2014
Near the end of this book I began to feel guilty for all the eye-rolling impatience I'd shown at the tedious detail Bartlett used to build his case. And the reason I felt guilty is because his case, in the end, is eye-opening. I kept trying to remember all those tedious details because they'd become important and interesting in the context of the big picture that emerges through the course of the book. A big picture that is indispensible in understanding why Europe is the way it is today.
on June 28, 2014
I found this book very accessible and good introduction to medieval history.
In particular it explained the colonisation of Europe by the use of "mansus" which was how the land was carved up and allocated.
It seems a system was found early on to share out the land in parcels and pay tax to the lord who in turn paid the king.
The church was central to the system : somehow overseeing the operation.
on September 22, 2015
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