Cy's Reviews > Byzantium: The Surprising Life Of A Medieval Empire

Byzantium by Judith Herrin
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's review
Jul 05, 12

bookshelves: historical-non-fiction
Read from July 05 to 07, 2012

Histories tend to focus on the "men in funny hats", or the kings, emperors, popes and generals that direct civilization. I don't subscribe to this theory. Men in funny hats are influential in history's course, but no more than the culture and societies from which they spring.

So it was with great relish that I read Herrin's book which focused primarily on the culture of Byzantium and not the tedious listing of emperor after emperor. It was rich, colorful, and even I, a hardcore Byzantinist, learned quite a bit from what is ostensibly a book for "Byzantine newbies".

I have a couple of reservations, however. Her method of documenting the "forgotten empire" was different: each topic was given its own chapter and the topic was explored in its entirety from Constantine's time to 1453. This is interesting, but confusing. She drops names in an early chapter, but doesn't discuss them in detail until later, or she talks about a person and then name drops them later and expects the reader to remember every detail. In addition, the chapters are so comprehensive that names and dates and facts whiz past your head. Finally, I was served well by this book because I have a mental timeline of Byzantine history, but someone who is not familiar with at least the basics of its rise and fall might struggle a bit.

Regardless, it's still a fantastic book with a great focus and one that will certainly go towards helping those willing to pick it up with understanding the world's "forgotten empire".
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