Top positive review
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A brilliant work of history
on November 13, 2001
Fletcher's _The Barbarian Conversion_ is the best book on this subject I have read. As a longtime student of the early medieval era, I enjoyed Fletcher's perceptive and astute elucidation of this well-buried era. In some sections of the book, I had read (often repeatedly) every primary source mentioned, and I was continually astonished at the way he drew new insights out of familiar material. Although the middle section does drag a bit (particularly the chapter about the conversion of Scandinavia and Viking settlements), on the whole I love the author's style, his penchant for witty comments, and his eye for humor in his material. Seldom has a book on the early Middle Ages made me laugh out loud as much as this one. It's the details--a woman's garment that shows the adoption of Byzantine necklace fashions, the Greenlander who purchases a bishop for his fledgling settlement with a live polar bear--that bring history to life, and this book is full of them. Never forgetting the complexities of his material, and often showing that the line between Christians and pagans was never firm, Fletcher illuminates an often obscure story.
I also want to add that this book provides the best overview of the situation of the Jews in Europe during the early Middle Ages that I have ever seen (and I have been looking). Most authors begin with the persecutions of 1096 and only toss off a line about the tolerance that marked the first 500 years of the Middle Ages; Fletcher actually examines the tensions and accomodations during those centuries, and his account has thoroughly persuaded me that looking at the fluidity between Judaism and Christianity casts a needed light on the larger characters of both religions at that moment in history. Likewise, his extensive treatment of the conversions of the Slavic and Baltic regions alongside the more familiar terrain of Western Europe is a welcome reminder that the history of the Middle Ages must include Eastern Europe. Although only a devotee of the subject matter would want to read a 500-odd page book on the barbarian conversions, a medievalist who does will be richly rewarded.