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Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization
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Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  2,338 Ratings  ·  259 Reviews

"A hugely entertaining and often moving portrait of a civilization to which the modern West owes and immense but neglected debt." --Tom Holland, Author of Millenium, Persian Fire, and Rubicon

In AD 476 the Roman Empire fell–-or rather, its western half did. Its eastern half, which would come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, would endure and often flourish for another

Paperback, 329 pages
Published 2009 by Three Rivers Press
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Sep 29, 2009 jordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prospective readers of Lars Brownworth’s “Lost to the West” should be aware what they are getting. For those unfamiliar with Brownworth, he was made famous in a uniquely 21st century way when he produced a podcast called “12 Byzantine Rulers” a narrative retelling of 1,000 years of Roman history through the lives of 12 emperors who reigned from Constantinople. The podcasts, which were told with a mix of passion, humor, facts, and a dollop of melodrama, were a runaway hit, downloaded by over 100, ...more
Oct 06, 2013 Felicia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a FASCINATING and wonderfully readable history of Byzantium, I was blown away by the detail and how REAL everything felt in the hands of this author. Such rich and forgotten things happened in this part of the world that we just don't appreciate because of our Western Bias. I would read this book again just because it's so detailed I could absorb more info on a second pass. Definitely recc for history fans!
Robert Clancy
I've recently read three examinations of the fall of Rome and the Byzantine Empire and this is the easiest, most enjoyable, most interesting read. Gibbon's Decline & Fall is a seminal work and a must to understand the entire scope of Roman history since Augustus. However, it was written over 200 years ago. Peter Heather's new examination of the reasons for the fall of Rome is labored and frankly boring to read. Brownworth breathes life into the Byzantines while showing the differences betwee ...more
Jonathan Kent
Spoiler Alert: The Byzantine Empire finally collapsed in 1453...

What an incredibly frustrating book. On the plus side the subect matter is great. The history of the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire is thoroughly neglected in Western Europe and this book goes some way to explaining why. It was an alien culture to most of the nascent Western nations emerging from the Dark Ages. It was ancient, cultured and sophisticated - probably decadent and declining too, the Western nations were vital and b
A.L. Sowards
I borrowed this from my library (in ebook form) because I’m skeptical about books that cover a thousand years of history in a few hundred pages. Quite often books like that only scratch the surface, and by not going into anything in any depth, they end up being boring. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with this book. Brownworth included enough detail to keep things both interesting and informative, and I soon purchased a copy. Of course, given all the wars, internal squabblings, and poisonings, ...more
Mar 12, 2013 Jameson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are two kinds of history.

One is the dusty, desiccated version written by dusty, desiccated intellectuals and taught by dusty, desiccated professors. This is the history that teaches us empires rose or fell because a particular currency fluctuated by a particular percentage within a particular period, causing an already strapped and stressed middle class to be unable to purchase the grain that had been imported from overseas because trade tariffs had resulted in an embargo that made economi
Dec 12, 2011 Lynne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

My problem with the book is its clear anti-Muslim sentiment. Though Brownworth paints the Crusaders poorly, they're at best portrayed as roving bands of thugs, while the Ottomans are "jihadists." He describes the capture of Constantinople as an event which plunged Europe into "five centuries of a living hell" and "enslavement." The Muslims are routinely excoriated while other atrocious acts by Westerners are at best tisked at. Now, did Mehmet commit atrocities? Of course -- they all did! It was
Zouina Sid Ahmed
Aug 28, 2016 Zouina Sid Ahmed rated it really liked it
This is a very informative account on the Byzantine Empire and its history. The narrative takes you right back to the heart of the events and was beautifully worded. However the author seemed to have faced difficulties in covering all the important events and seemed to skim on some very crucial parts of Byzantine History that I'd wished he'd explore in depth, he's hardly to blame though, summarizing over a thousand years of rich history full of turmoil is no easy task. This book offers a concise ...more
Mar 01, 2015 Adna rated it it was ok
Lars Brownworth's podcast 12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire was my entry into the world of history podcasts, and this book expands in expected and satisfying ways on that series whose title was, of course, no accident. Readers interested in the Roman Empire will be familiar with De vita Caesarum, known in English as The Twelve Caesars - a series of biographies of the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire and the man that gave his name to their title, Gaius Julius Caesar.

It's a very good readable brief history of the Byzantine Empire, and I recommend it as such to anyone who would like to familiarize themselves with the subject.

However, the subtitle "The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Saved Western Civilization" suggests a particular thesis for the book, which it does not follow. Byzantine culture is brought up on occasion, as well as the rise and fall of education during various periods. However, 'saving Western Civilization' only comes in at the end with the
Aug 13, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most Westerners think the Roman Empire ended in 476 with Odoacer's conquest of Ravenna--or more accurately, they probably think it ended "a long time ago" for "reasons"--but the popular view is wrong. The empire continued for a millennium afterward, finally ending in a heroic last stand in 1453. Western Europeans dismissed Byzantium as the "Empire of the Greeks," but its continuity is reflected in how from 476 straight through to the empire's last day, the citizens of Byzantium referred to their ...more
Jennifer Weibel
Aug 05, 2012 Jennifer Weibel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"Lost to the West" is a long recitation of Byzantine emperors. The empire expands, the empire contracts, either the emperor loses steam in his old age or shenanigans ensue and he is murdered. I was reminded of the "begat" part of the bible, with the occasional incest thrown in for a little spice.

This book had a chance to shine. The ancient history of the middle east is fascinating, especially in the paragraphs dedicated to the root differences between Orthodoxy, Christians, and Islam. The probl
Jul 06, 2012 Liz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I stumbled upon this title in the footnote of another history book (Civilization: The West and the Rest) and the reviews on Goodreads seemed to be universally quite good, so I was quite excited to pick up this book and perhaps broaden my knowledge of the Byzantine Empire.

However, after reading this book, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills, because I hated it by the end of the second sentence of the introduction. Maybe this is because I have a degree in Medieval Studies, but I take extreme umbrag
Ireney Berezniak
"Lost To West" is a highly accessible introduction to the history of the Byzantine Empire. The author focuses on the most relevant, high-level episodes of the empire's history, highlighting its more colourful and controversial leaders, and largely ignoring the less eventful reigns. As such, this title is certainly not aimed at serious scholars, but rather laymen such as myself interested more in a smooth overview, rather than a dry political or theological discourse.

Lars Bronworth's style is qui
David Bales
Certainly one of the best books I've read this year, "Lost to the West" chronicles the Byzantine Empire, (or the Roman Empire in the east) from around 300 a.d. and the age of Constantine until 1453, when the empire fell to the Ottoman Turks. Amazing tales of intrigue with emperors, kings and generals over a thousand years. The Byzantine Empire served as a barrier between the East and West and was far in advance of Western Europe during the "Dark Ages" after the fall of the Western Empire. Brownw ...more
Feb 04, 2011 Douglas rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a bad book. It begins with a false premise - that Byzantine history has been forgotten in the west. This is not true. I have read a number of books, all targeted at the non-scholar, about Byzantine history. John Julius Norwich's trilogy is excellent and far more detailed than Brownworth's breezy overview. Another false premise is that we are ingrates for supposedly forgetting Byzantium, because we owe it something for "saving Europe" from Islam. This would come as a surprise to the Span ...more
Chris Jaffe
On the one hand, there is a lot of info here on the Byzantine Empire and its ups and downs. Also, it is a well-written story that is easy to read and engaging. In those respects, this is an excellent example of pop history.

But it left a bad taste in my mouth. For while it highlights the best strengths of pop history, it also shows the biggest weaknesses. The text throughout is punctuated by howling errors. For example, he claims Constantine created the feudal system in Europe. There are numerous
Roxana-Mălina Chirilă
A readable history of the Byzantine Empire, but one which left me with a bitter taste (and not just because the Empire finally succumbs to Turks). It feels rushed, which is perhaps a given for a short book covering an entire millennium of history... and it focuses on the many military campaigns and struggles of Constantinople's emperors, which are uniformly depicted in a downcast light. For all intents and purposes, it sounds like an empire with unfortunate rulers, which took its sweet time dyin ...more
Not bad but makes you appreciate more JJ Norwich masterpiece; a good narrative keeps the the book entertaining and the pages turn by themselves, though I strongly recommend to try JJ Norwich trilogy for a full appreciation (and even the abridged one volume is deeper than this one, as well as being quite entertaining too)
The Roman empire not not fade quietly into history in 474, when a Gothic warlord decided to run the city of Rome directly instead through a faux-imperial proxy. It went out in a blaze of glory, in an epic battle in which an Emperor himself stood in the line and bid a massing enemy to do its worst. For Rome continued long after the Empire faded from Italy, and it not only prevailed but flourished against a host of enemies until finally falling a millennium later. Lost to the West is highly storie ...more
Jun 29, 2015 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went into this book knowing very little about the Byzantine Empire. I recently read another of Lars' books, The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings, which mentioned the B.E. enough to pique my interest. While not exhaustive, (or exhausting for that matter) I closed this book with an understanding of the Byzantine Empire's place in the world, the role it played in European history, and the depth of the loss when it finally fell in 29 May 1453 to the Ottomans.

The Roman Empire fractured into Eas
Abraham Gustavson
I went looking for a fast-paced read on Byzantium and found everything I wanted in this book! Lars Brownworth brings the reader through almost 1,200 years of the history of Byzantium without getting bogged down in the gritty details which hampers other works I have read on this subject. Brownworth's footnotes are incredible, they usually give side story or explanation on the greater narrative. For example noting that the conqueror of Rome Alaric was buried under a diverted river and then those w ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Notable quotes :

Regarding Basil of the Macedonian dynasty, which was both impressive in the Byzantine era, and was only labeled Macedonian by accident rather than by birth-right ---

"Basil asked his guest for advice on how to prevent dissension in the future. The answer, he was told, was to declare a virtual war on those of noble birth. “Exhaust them with unjust exactions, to keep them busy with their own affairs. Admit no woman to the imperial councils. Be accessible to no one. Share with few yo
May 15, 2015 Sharon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book tells the history of the Eastern Roman Empire that continued on after the 476 A.D. deposition of Romulus Augustulus. It is not intended for serious students of history but should be viewed rather as an introduction to the Byzantium Empire.

It deals mainly with politics and military campaigns. The biographies of a select few emperors are included as Brownworth seems to be a follower of the 'great man' theory of history.

If you know little about this time of history this book would be a go
Oct 24, 2012 Erwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
American textbooks about History jump from the "decline of the roman empire" directly into the "dark ages" and eventually "the enlightenment" and then a set of modern "revolutions/ages" (industrial/atomic/jet/space/information). Personally, I think we put far too much priority on the last 300 years, and far too little emphasis on the lessons learned millennia ago.

The story of Western Civilisation is really the story of "The Mediterranean", but with western bias editing out the contributions and
Warren Watts
May 18, 2012 Warren Watts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Before reading this book, I knew little about the Byzantine Empire. I am embarrassed to say that I wasn't even aware it was the eastern offspring of the Roman Empire. This book definitely opened my eyes to a whole region of world history completely unknown to me.

The book is a lot more than an introduction to the Byzantine Empire, somewhat surprising considering it's relatively small size. The author does a great job of squeezing 1,100+ years of history into ~350 pages without drowning the reade
Feb 16, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction, 500s
Covering over 1000 years of history in 350 pages, Lost to the West is a fascinating and enjoyable overview of the Byzantine Empire. Focusing on the greatest emperors and the most significant events, Brownworth's love of the subject is contagious. As he states in his title, his two main points are that western civilization would not have survived without the presence of the empire seated in Constantinople, and that we in the west have forgotten them. The latter was plainly true for me, which is w ...more
Elizabeth Sulzby
A very readable account of the Byzantine world and how it kept literacy, philosophy, art, etc., alive during the so called "Dark Ages."

I learned lots from this book and it certainly provides part of the puzzle of what was working in the world that wasn't ruled by Roman Christianity. I had wondered when and why the "church" formally broke into Roman and Orthodox branches (Brownworth dates it as 1054). It gets tiresome because he goes through the Byzantine Tsars/csars/rulers one by one. On the oth
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 David Withun rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I was very, very disappointed with this book. I had a lot of very high expectations before I began reading and the book fell short of those in every possible way. Rather than the engaging read I was expecting, I instead got a rather boring rote recitation of dates, names, and places. The author also chooses to stick to the already quite debunked myths of people like Edward Gibbon on a great many matters, especially his examination of the reign of St. Constantine the Great. Then there are the unf ...more
Jordan Cloud
Aug 18, 2013 Jordan Cloud rated it it was ok
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, however I cannot rate higher than 2 stars in good conscience. As a work of history this book is hardly a success. While the author clearly knows his history, he appears to lack training in historical writing. Citations are few and far between and the book only offers a brief selected bibliography. The author also relies heavily on a handful of ancient sources, which are frequently unreliable. For some periods of history he reveals that he relies on a single source ...more
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Lars Brownworth is an author, speaker and broadcaster based in Maryland, USA.

Mr. Brownworth created the genre-defining 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast, which prompted the New York Times to liken him to some of history's great popularizers. His recent book titled Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization, is available in bookstores and online. He answers questio
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“*Vladimir had been interested in changing religions for some time. According to legend, he sent ambassadors to the major surrounding religions to help him decide. Islam was rejected for being without joy (especially in its rejection of alcohol and pork!), and Judaism was rejected since the Jews had lost their homeland and therefore seemed abandoned by God. Settling on Christianity, he sent his men to discover if the Latin or the Greek rite was better. It was hardly a fair fight. The ambassadors to the West found rather squat, dark churches, while their compatriots in Constantinople were treated to all the pageantry of a Divine Liturgy in the Hagia Sophia. “We no longer knew,” they breathlessly reported back to Vladimir, “whether we were in heaven or on earth.” The Russian prince was convinced. Within a year, he had been baptized, and Russia officially became Orthodox.” 2 likes
“on that last Monday of the empire’s history, the mood changed. There was no rest for the weary, of course, and work continued, but for the first time in weeks, the inhabitants of the city began to make their way to the Hagia Sophia. There, for the first and last time in Byzantine history, the divisions that had split the church for centuries were forgotten, Greek priests stood shoulder to shoulder with Latin ones, and a truly ecumenical service began. While the population gathered in the great church, Constantine gave a final speech—a funeral oration, as Edward Gibbon put it—for the Roman Empire. Reminding his assembled troops of their glorious history, he proudly charged them to acquit themselves with dignity and honor: “Animals may run from animals, but you are men, and worthy heirs of the great heroes of Ancient Greece and Rome.”* Turning to the Italians who were fighting in defense of Constantinople, the emperor thanked them for their service, assuring them that they were now brothers, united by a common bond. After shaking hands with each of the commanders, he dismissed them to their posts and joined the rest of the population in the Hagia Sophia.” 2 likes
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