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The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,433 ratings  ·  280 reviews
A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself.

The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkn
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published December 7th 2021 by Harper
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George Get (or already have) a library card and borrow a hard copy, or possibly an ebook version--it has been published that way, as examining the main page …moreGet (or already have) a library card and borrow a hard copy, or possibly an ebook version--it has been published that way, as examining the main page here will show, but every library will either have the print version or be able to get it for you through interlibrary loan. (less)

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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  1,433 ratings  ·  280 reviews

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Jan 20, 2022 rated it did not like it
The common (Western) narrative of the mediaeval era in Europe as the proverbial "Dark Ages" is, of course, incredibly frustrating. Here's a quick summation of the reality: the idea of mediaeval squalor is very much a construction of the Victorian period, and intimately connected with the ways that select European cities in the 19th century handled waste removal.

Over 90% of mediaeval populations worked the land, because they—like everyone else during that time period—were directly dependent on th
Apr 26, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hardly ever refuse a book on Medieval Europe and was tempted by juxoposition of the dark versus the bright. The Author's idea coincides with mine and I appreciated the effort on his side. I would welcome more of the social history as it interests me most. I should like to have a print copy on my shelf.
OverDrive, thank you!
Jan 28, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways, history
4 bright stars for a very readable history book on what used to be called "The Dark Ages." The authors make a convincing case that there was a continuity with the Roman legacy, both in Western and Eastern Europe. They cite many examples for their thesis that these were "The Bright Ages." One of these examples is the ceiling in a chapel in Ravenna, Italy. This blue sky ceiling is decorated with gold stars. It was commissioned by Galla Placida, sister of a Roman Emperor, queen of the Visigoths, an ...more
Jul 06, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping that the book would convince me that the Dark Ages were not all that dark. Unfortunately, it did not convince me in the least that these were not dark ages. At best, the book shows that the Dark Ages might not have been as bad as I thought. The book did a barely adequate job of discussing medieval history, and even then, I felt that the book was strongly oriented toward a too-detailed discussion of Christianity. Indeed, there was little discussion of inventions and science of mediev ...more
Jessica Rose
This really wasn't what I was expecting (an informative meander through the medieval era, highlighting all the knowledge and technology that did exist) and was instead a strange anti-Trump anti-White Supremacy manifesto that's based upon the assumption that the reader is some sort of wishywashy neo-Nazi who can be persuaded via historical anecdotes that women and minorities aren't Untermensch.

The parts where the book stays on track are interesting, that's undeniable, but the writing style and c
Diane S ☔
Feb 18, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf2022
3.5 thoughts soon.

A commonly accepted historical terminology for the very tumultuous period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD and 1520 AD is "The Dark Ages", since during that time, Europe, and the rest of the known world, were dealing with the aftermath of the fall of Rome, which was considered to be that one "civilized entity" that kept the fabric of the known world together. When Rome fell, that fabric was torn apart, and Europe fell into the chaos of the feuding "barbarians" who broug
Apr 22, 2022 rated it really liked it
A lively overview of the history of Europe and the Mediterranean world between roughly 400 and 1400. Matthew Gabriele and David Perry bring together many of the findings and trends of current scholarship on medieval history, and while there won’t be anything surprising for specialists in the Middle Ages here, I think a general audience will find much of interest here about a period that was much more interconnected and curious than popular understandings often allow for. Gabriele and Perry do a ...more
Tim O'Neill
Feb 08, 2022 rated it really liked it
It was interesting to observe the reaction to online articles that accompanied the release of this book. A remarkable number of the comments on these articles were by people who seemed, despite not having actually read the book yet, outraged that it existed. The idea that anyone would characterise the Middle Ages as not simply "not-actually-a-dark-age" but as "the Bright Ages" seemed genuinely offensive to these commenters, with no small number of them taking it upon themselves to list several t ...more
Jan 17, 2022 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book. But it throws so much at the reader, often times out of order and with limited context, and tries to do too much. It ends up doing none of it well. The prose is readable but suffers from odd syntax, typographical errors, occasional run on sentences, and lack of clear transitions that show how sections logically flow into the next thought or story. Blanket statements and assertions are made without always giving evidence to back up said statements. I find the lack of f ...more
Dec 18, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, firstreads
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

In the field of comic books, a common premise is "Everything You Know About X Is Wrong." The vast majority of these tales are terrible (Alan Moore's Swamp Thing being a notable exception.)

This book takes the idea into academia, where it doesn't work so well either. The authors, pretending Huizinga and other authors don't exist, tell us what "we know" about the middle ages is wrong, and that they weren't "Dark" but "Bright." Throughout, there is the aroma of
Marcy Graybill
Sep 16, 2021 rated it liked it
A look at old evidence with new eyes. The authors' premise is that Rome did not fall, it just was redesigned, and the dark ages were not so dark. They focused mostly on Christianity and left out many of the scientific discoveries of the times. I enjoyed the writing style it's definitely accessible to the average reader. Covering nearly a thousand years and ranging from Western Europe to Africa and Asia, there's no possible way it can go into historical details, leaving out quite a bit of informa ...more
Александър Стоянов
The book sets on a path of depicting the Middle Ages in a new, bright light. The "bright light" motive is repeated in each chapter. The perspective is intended to be modern-liberal.
Unfortunately the end result is somewhat wanting. Terms like "white supremacists" just hang in the air, as if deliberately stuffed in the narrative.
The book is West-centric even though it strives to show us a New Look at Medieval Europe. Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Baltics and Balkans are all left out.
The narrative
Feb 15, 2022 rated it did not like it
TL, DR: don't read this book. It's full of inaccuracies and twists historical evidence to support the authors' view, often with incredibly large omissions of context. Pretty much any other book about the european middle ages I've ever read is more informative. It's also much less progressive in outlook than the authors would us like to believe.



This book is terrible. It's the worst kind of pop history writing: the authors have a thesis, and will throw scattered facts and pretty wor
Feb 17, 2022 rated it liked it
The authors argue that the medieval period in Europe should not be regarded as a time of cultural stagnation, violence and misery. In short chapters, they survey the many developments of that period: from the rise of Islam to the theological development of Christianity, from female power to intercontinental trade routes, from the influence of the Vikings to growth in architecture. The authors include elements like the Crusades and the Black Death and argue that even these negative parts of this ...more
Oleksandr Zholud
Mar 01, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great overview of current mainstream views on the (chiefly European) Middle Ages. There is a great distance between how the general public sees the period, usually still called the Dark ages, and what modern scholars think about it. I read it as a part of buddy reads for February 2022 at Non Fiction Book Club group.

The book is a broad general overview of the period. For the people, who are interested in medieval studies there is not a lot of new stuff, but for a wider public, it is a g
David Montgomery
Dec 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a collection of vignettes set over the roughly 900 years from 430 to 1321 CE, all aimed to refute the popular idea that the end of "antiquity" was followed by the "Dark Ages" in which people were mired in ignorance and poverty until the Renaissance restored light and learning. Gabriele and Perry highlight a range of interesting (though not always admirable) characters and events from the period they dub "The Bright Ages," an effective rebuke to anyone who buys into the most reductive ide ...more
Bruce Holsinger
Dec 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"A lively, searing, and transformative reimagining of the medieval world, The Bright Ages is brilliant in every way, both lucid in its arguments and sparkling in its prose. A gripping and compulsive read."
[my endorsement for the publisher]

Adam Peretz
Dec 26, 2021 rated it it was ok
I am very interested in revisionist histories of the Medieval Period that seek to shift the focus away from the grim-dark veneer that popular culture has grafted onto it. It was, like all of the eras that came before and after it, a dynamic era of human activity that can be studied and understood without resorting to using outmoded and inaccurate terms like "the Dark Ages." Unfortunately, this book feels like it goes completely in the opposite direction by focusing on the positive, "bright" aspe ...more
K.J. Charles
Apr 27, 2022 marked it as pass
reminder to goldfish future self to pass
Feb 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
I listened to the audiobook.

For decades I have occasionally come across the concept that the Dark Ages were not so dark, that Constantinople was the New Rome, that women indeed were participatory or claimed agency. Yet no book I have read has put these and other ideas together. To better understand what the historian Matthew Gabriele is saying, I will have to read the print bookas soon as becomes available in the venues I use to read books.
Susan in NC
Mar 30, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable look at a period the authors readily admit is popularly portrayed as dirty, violent, riddled with dragons, death and disease.

I find nonfiction books difficult to review, as I am not an expert, and can only comment on whether I enjoy the writing style, the illustrations, or whether I learn something new.

In this case, I did enjoy the writing, found the illustrations of the ebook beautiful, and learned a lot that was new. The authors went off down several “rabbit holes” of names, d
Mar 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2022nf, own
Non Fiction>History>"Middle Ages"

This was an awesome overview of 7th century through 14th century history-mostly European but also covering Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
This was a buddy read with the Non Fiction Book Group for Feb 2022.

This book would be a great starting point for learning more about the Middle Ages, crusades, religions of the time, evolution of Christianity, Judaism, Islam. Below I have given brief overviews of what is covered in each chapter---first I give the Chapter #, then
Dec 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Bright Ages is a lively and engaging history about a commonly misunderstood period. Beginning with a persuasive argument that Rome never fell but was instead transformed over a long period, Gabriele and Perry challenge the common conception of medieval life as "nasty, brutish, and short," as Thomas Hobbes put it. The medieval world was not a stagnant, fragmented, and unchanging one, but rather was "always in flux, with permeable borders, and signs of movement and cultural intermixing everywh ...more
This is one of those popularizing books on the Middle Ages (sorry, Bright Ages) which come out every once in a while, which are trying to make it clear that the Middle Ages were not a swamp of illiteracy, superstition and nastiness as Renaissance thinkings characterized it, but a vibrant and interesting time in its own right. As someone who is drawn to elements of the Middle Ages, I have to admit my sympathies here and now. It is tedious to constantly hear the tired, old characterizations of tha ...more
Jan 28, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: genre-nonfiction
An interesting and highly relevant book that's at its best when it reminds us that all our views about the Middle Ages can't be separated from our modern politics: hence why the era is simultaneously seen as 'backwards' and 'barbaric' but also for some a last bastion of racial hegemony and superiority (not at all true). It did deviate from my personal interests at times - the authors are much more interested in the interactions between Christians, Jews and Muslims and their influence on religion ...more
Catherine Davis
Jan 18, 2022 rated it liked it
This book was fascinating, disappointing, confusing, not completely convincing, and not what I expected. I thought the book would set out to disprove the oft-expressed theory that nothing worthwhile was invented or written between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance by detailing such things as the great medical and scientific discoveries or the significant artwork, literature, law,and religious theories that occurred during the Middle Ages. While some of these works were mentioned, descriptions ...more
Dec 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
A stocking stuffer for the racist uncle or nephew or in-law in your life. The authors are concerned about how white supremacists, especially the homicidal ones, rely on their ahistorical beliefs about the middle ages in Europe. An extremely approachable survey of about 1000 years of history. Each chapter could be the topic of several books, and the authors' "for further reading" guide at the end points you to good sources. ...more
Kelsy Morrison
Mar 09, 2022 rated it really liked it
This is one I wish I had physically read rather than listen to. Overall a well-done overview of 1000 years of history, illustrating through selected examples how the Middle Ages are more complex and nuanced than conceived on the popular (and sadly also often the non-specialist academic) imagination. It is engaging and accessible. I think the epilogue is particularly worth reading, as the authors touch on why how we think about this time period matters even today.

I am curious what sources the aut
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Matthew Gabriele is a Professor of Medieval Studies and Chair of the Dept. of Religion & Culture at Virginia Tech.

His research and teaching focus on religion, violence, nostalgia, and apocalypse (in various combinations), whether manifested in the Middle Ages or modern world. This includes events and ideas such as the Crusades, the so-called “Terrors of the Year 1000,” and medieval religious and

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  The glint of fangs in the dark, the sound of tap-tap-tapping at your window, the howling of wind (or is it just wind?) in the trees...that's...
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“Beginnings and endings are arbitrary; they frame the story that the narrator wants to tell.” 0 likes
“Scientists can measure the oxygen isotopes in dental enamel to determine where in the world long-dead people were born. From the Bronze Age through to the medieval period, we’re finding people buried in British graves who were born in Asia and Africa. That number peaked, unsurprisingly, during the Roman period, but never falls to zero throughout the Middle Ages.” 0 likes
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