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Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization Paperback – June 1, 2010
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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.
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Top customer reviews
When I hear people talk about how interesting Game of Thrones is, I can now counter with this idea; any three chapters in this book have more going on than all of the Game of Thrones. History is much more interesting than fiction.
We encounter everything from plagues to iconoclasts to the tragic aftermath of the Crusades. The book is at its best dealing with the larger than life ruler Justinian and equally strong wife Theodora, who nearly reconquered the Roman Empire, faced down a brewing internal revolt and rewrote the Roman legal code along the way.
It is a great story that got lost in the history books but is actually crucial to so much of modern history. Brownworth makes it a world well worth exploring and tells us why this forgotten empire is worth remembering.
In fact, the author points out that the inhabitants referred to themselves as Roman for the entire duration of the empire’s existence. The empire flourished with robust culture, advanced learning and strong military power, but the story of the Byzantine civilization is unknown, misunderstood or simply ignored by many people. Yet for more than a millennium, Byzantium reigned as the glittering seat of Christian civilization. The author points out that when Europe fell into the Dark Ages, Byzantium held fast against Muslim expansion, keeping Christianity alive. In addition, the emperors who ruled Byzantium enacted a saga of political intrigue and conquest as astonishing as anything in recorded history.The narrative is full of stories of assassination, mass mutilation and execution, sexual scheming, ruthless grasping for power, and bloody battles rivaling anything that Game of Thrones presents!! Reading this book I was especially impressed with the knowledge that the Byzantine Empire was a bulwark against the Arabs, Seljuk's and Ottomans, shielding the rest of Europe as it recovered from the devastation of the dark ages and slowly developed in powerful nations. The prose is simple and straightforward, augmented with excellent maps. Overall, a perceptive, insightful, and balanced book about an underappreciated very important part of history.
However, this book is the best one I have read as far as explaining the nature of the Byzantine Empire, how it evolved, how it managed to survive so long, and why it eventually collapsed. The author apparently put a lot of thought into things that he read elsewhere and did an excellent job understanding and combining them towards a readable, enjoyable and insightful book that truly adds value in this crowded space.