- Series: The Penguin History of Europe
- Paperback: 688 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 3, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143117424
- ISBN-13: 978-0143117421
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 68 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 (The Penguin History of Europe) Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Building on the foundation he laid in Framing the Early Middle Ages, award-winning Oxford historian Wickham constructs a magisterial narrative of the political, economic, cultural and religious fabrics that constituted the crazy quilt of Europe's Dark Ages. Negating what he calls a common teleological view of this period as the source of European nations and a modern sense of European identity, he draws on archeological evidence and rich historiographical methods Wickham challenges standard views of the early Middle Ages as barbarous and bereft of political and cultural structure, and recreates a stunning portrait of the breakup of the Roman Empire and its consequences for Europe. Wickham looks at the immediate post-Roman polities in Gaul, Spain and Italy; the history of Byzantium, the Arab caliphate and its 10th-century successor states, including Muslim Spain; the Carolingian Empire and its successors and imitators, notably Russia and Scotland. Under this narrative layer lies a focus on the accumulation of wealth, the institutionalization of politics and the culture of the public. Wickham's achievement contributes richly to our picture of this often narrowly understood period. Maps, illus. (Aug. 3)
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.
From The New Yorker
Just as astronomers no longer call Pluto a planet and paleontologists no longer recognize the Brontosaurus, historians have stopped referring to the European era from A.D. 400 to 1000 as the Dark Ages. The latest scholarship, Wickham explains, has made it possible to look at the period “without hindsight,” without moral judgments, grand theories, or modern nationalist myths. The result sounds like a historiographical stunt: a single volume that, using only a slender and unreliable documentary record and no narrative crutches, covers six centuries and at least seven major rival powers. Wickham largely pulls it off. His wide net catches some striking comparisons: apparently, all early medieval societies used coins except Ireland, “where valuations were in slave women and cows.” If anything, Wickham is too careful, reluctant to draw conclusions about an epoch that, no matter what new discoveries are made, will likely remain in partial eclipse. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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If you are willing to expend the effort to finish it, however, The Inheritance of Rome is without a doubt one of the most insightful and knowledgeable books on the Early Middle Ages out there. There's nothing else I've seen that comes close to being as expansive yet compact.
It's been asked: Who is the intended audience for this book? I imagine it's someone like me, a person who is ahead of a Wikipedia article and behind a college course. The Inheritance of Rome is a gigantic summary more than anything else - no one book can capture all the subtleties of 600 years - but it's the closest a lay reader can get to a proper knowledge of its subject matter. Superficiality has no place in it; it is 100% knowledge for knowledge's sake. I, for one, appreciate it.
Up to this point, I was quite enthused about Professor Wickam's description, and, as someone who knew very little about the time in question, I was eager to get on with it. Unfortunately, I became bogged down in the text almost immediately, and from there slogged through the succeeding chapters. I cannot remember another book that I wanted to put down mid-way through as much as this one. One of the reasons is surely Professor Wickam's style, which will appeal to some and not others, as well as some stylistic tics that I thought became tedious after a while. Yet after finishing, I believe that I could have made it past any of those issues, but that I am particularly unsuited for the way the author organized his material.
As I said, I knew little about this time frame, and the danger was that its figures and events would simply turn into a litany of names and dates without any correspondence with each other. This eventually was my experience with THE INHERITANCE OF ROME, though perhaps any survey of this scope would run into the same difficulty. Rather than follow any one group through a sequential timeline, examining all of the cultural and political changes through the years, the author instead chose to look at a particular social, economic or educational reality and then compare it across the broad spectrum of the existing peoples. For example, one chapter may deal with the plight of peasants, and describe in general what their conditions were in England, Carolingian France, Andalusian Spain, as well as other regions, and encompass a span of several hundred years. The next chapter might describe economic development in Northern Europe, but adhere to the same general pattern. Thus, while each subject was covered in depth, I had an enormously difficult time placing it in context of the timeline. A leader such as Louis the Pious, Charlemagne's son, might be mentioned across several chapters - once in relation to the state of the aristocracy during his reign, again according to economic development, then in relation to the rise of intellectuals at the court, and again and again and again. This continual forward and back method of relating may very well subvert any nationalistic reading of history, but it failed to give me anything on which to hang the larger story. Add to that the habit of many rulers to take the name of a forefather, and I found myself floundering in a sea of names and events.
This sort of organization lends itself to a deeper conversation about the events. I suspect a text such as this would be perfectly suited for a classroom, one where students would have the time to discuss each of its topics and bring context to them. Did I learn anything despite my quibbles with the layout of information? - certainly. But I feel as if most of it is tenuous - after all the time spent on the book, I can't say I have a very good grasp on the period even still.
THE INHERITANCE OF ROME may very well be intended to be 'comprehensible to people who know nothing about the period', as the author states in his introduction, but I found it just barely so. Others may find the structure of the book suits them much better - that is the reason for my three stars. There is no doubt Professor Wickam knows his subject, and I can see myself perhaps even turning back to certain sections for reference. But its lack of linear advancement from point a to b left this general reader in the dust - and still looking for a readable history of the period.