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The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century Hardcover – February 12, 2013
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Under the Carolingian rulers, and especially under Charlemagne, medieval western Europe enjoyed a period of relative political stability and a modest cultural renaissance. After the death of Charlemagne, in 814, much of the area reverted to internecine internal wars while Viking raiders plundered both coastal and inland regions. Collins, an ordained Catholic priest and radio and TV presenter, asserts that the tenth century brought order out of this chaos, transformed the basic institutions of medieval society, and laid the foundations for the future nation-states of western Europe. Although the apogee of the temporal power of the Papacy would come two centuries later, Collins illustrates how the church played an essential role in the achievements of the tenth century, which included forming a largely successful working relationship with Germanic kings. Collins provides a broad panorama of the age, presenting characters great and small, including kings, magnates, popes, and peasants. This is a well-done study suitable for both scholars and general readers. --Jay Freeman
The Birth of the West is a re-making of what we think we know about the end of the Dark Ages”. It is also the gate to the utterly unexpected cosmos of European forebears. In some ways, from waterlogged England by way of the folk beliefs of French peasants, to the ambitious consolidation of Germany, corruption and reform in the Papacy, the machinations of Constantinople and the continuing presence of Moorish culture in Western Europe, the characters who people The Birth of the West' are as familiar as relativesas indeed they aregroping their way to a cohesive Western culture as yet dominant in the world. The Birth of the West' is thus the tale of our birth, and Collins tells it with a narrative grace and elegance which will make readers cherish it.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A lively, full-to-bursting history of the turbulent 10th century in Europe Collins presents chaotic upheaval across Europe in an organized and riveting fashion.”
Jay Rubenstein, Professor of History, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and author of Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse
Collins provides a broad panorama of the age, presenting characters great and small, including kings, magnates, popes, and peasants. This is a well-done study suitable for both scholars and general readers.”
He makes a lively case that the foundations of 11th-century expansionby the end of which, Europe was powerful enough that, after fighting off or assimilating invaders on all fronts, it was able to start invading its neighbours in the First Crusadewere laid in the 10th century.”
Dallas Morning News
Very readable The 900s are a fascinating time in history, and many lessons might be derived from the era's amazing and usually violent changes in reigns and rulers Collins follows the lead of other recent historians in seeing this period not just as brutish and stagnant, but also rich in its cultural and spiritual life, and his best chapters focus on everyday people and experiences.”
”An engaging account of an often overlooked era.”
National Catholic Reporter
Australian Collins, historian and former priest, has a masterly touch throughout, for he writes the book on the several levels. He describes Europe, physically. He tells us what we are looking at, the stage set of history, the extensive woodlands, the major massifs and plateaus. All the while he is populating this landscape. This is truly history from the bottom up, layering the terrain Collins' history is telling that though the ages were dark, not all the lights had been turned off. What we are receiving from Collins' sure hand is what happened after the fall of Rome This is an intriguing 395-page read that gradually comes together at the end as Collins pulls on all the threads to tie into a fine knot.”
Paul Collins as he shines a lantern into the Dark Ages. Whether or not Collins is correct in naming the 10th century as thesignificant turning point for Western Civilization, he uncovers many fascinating details.”
The narrative is interesting and on the whole easy to follow Collins has excellent section on landscape, battle tactics, and weapons as well as vivid biographies of key players, such as the Empress Theophano, Gerbert of Aurillac, and Liutprand of Cremona.”
In The Birth of the West, Paul Collins makes accessible and exciting the world of tenth-century Europe. With a sense for both the grand narrative and for the quirks of particular personalities, Collins makes this central medieval century seem not so dark. Rather, lit by the fiery eyes of three German kings named Otto, who stand at the heart of Collins' story, it is an era of significant cultural achievement and political advancethough no less bloody for it.”
Western Europe claws its way out of the Dark Agesjust barelyin this hair-raising history. Writing with a supple prose and an eye for colorful detail and vivid characters, Collins shapes some of history's most appalling behaviorfirst prize might go to Pope Steven VI, who exhumed his predecessor's rotting corpse and placed it on trial for heresyinto a lively narrative with a comprehensible story line. Behind the blood-lettings and betrayals of medieval politics, he sketches an illuminating interpretation of a society and worldview shaped by insecurity, superstition, and personal loyalties. The result is a fascinating account of how a desperate struggle for survival bequeathed a civilization.”
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Collins weaves together narratives and problems from across Europe during this time, covering the civil upheavals in Rome, the Saracen incursions into southern Italy and France, the Magyar invasions, and the collapse of central government with the disintegration of Carolingian government. He then effectively narrates the rise of the Holy Roman Empire under the Ottonians so as to create something approaching political stability in central Europe.
Of course, that much could be had from scads of books about this time or from many general medieval histories. So why read this book?
I know a lot of medieval history and yet I kept reading this book because it presents a lively and engaging narrative of the age. It delves into personalities and quirky events (like the trial of Formosus) in ways that other histories of the period underplay or cast to the sides. It gives prominence to the struggles over the control of the papacy that other works underplay (not surprising as Collins has written well on the history of that office). We learn about powerful women and influential background characters, whether nobles, bishops, viking lords, abbots, or monks. The book brings the age to life in the way that typical histories I've read do not.
And in the end I'm fascinated with Collins' thesis that the rise of the Ottonians constitutes the Birth of the West, that is, the world as we know it (and see disappearing, bit by bit). I normally tend to suspect these kind of claims (i.e., "How Ireland save the World," etc.), but I think he may be on to something here. It's probably in the Ottonian age that the West recovered something of the late Roman (i.e., Constantine's) balance of secular and sacred, with tolerance for outliers like Celts and Goths and Neo-Platonists and whatnot. Not that Europe headed down the path of tolerance (e.g., the Cathars, etc.), but it's still the world we came from and in some ways, the world we still aspire to.
So I'm glad I read this, and recommend it highly to those who have not yet dug into medieval history. Collins is an engaging and interesting writer; he provides good frames of reference and background; and he doesn't assume too much on the part of his reader except a modicum of interest and intelligence.
Check it out!