Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Byzantium soup, condensed but not dehydrated
on September 2, 2001
It's not easy for an author to put 1,000 years of history into 1,000 pages of text and still provide enough detail so that the reader comes away with more than a simple chronology. This book manages the task well. It is a condensation of Norwich's three volume history of Byzantium, and he gives us a good overview of Byzantine history and culture. By necessity, it's a top-down view that focuses mostly on the history of the rulers rather than on the history of the ruled. The strong points: Norwich manages to present the high points of what could have been a mind-numbing pageant. He has a wry sense of humor. He brings in some of the cultural and architectural elements and does well at explaining arcane religious quarrels that roiled society. He evaluates the intelligence and competence of the many players and rather than giving us just the dry facts he speculates that this or that sudden and unexplained fatal illness was probably parricide or fratricide or plain old homicide. And the useful maps and family trees at the beginning of the book help the reader find his or her way through the maze of places and emperors. The weak points: What's missing here is a better job of proving context. Norwich does well enough at linking the history Byzantium with major events in the West, but he does a less effective job of linking it to the contemporanius history of the Arabs. And he links it in only the sketchiest way to events in the Persian empire. The lack of context is particularly noticeable if you compare the book to Jason Goodwin's "Lords of the Horizon" on the Ottoman empire, or Bernard Lewis' "The Middle East", both of which provide excellent historical context. So he gets four stars and not five -- but the book is enjoyable and very well written.