Item description for A Short History of Byzantium (Vintage) by John Julius Norwich...
Overview A narrative history of a powerful lost civilization and its artistic heritage traces the story of Byzantium from its origins in 330 A.D., through its long reign as a Christian empire, to its ultimate fall to the Turks in 1453. 15,000 first printing. Reprint.
Publishers Description "Norwich is always on the lookout for the small but revealing details. . . . All of this he recounts in a style that consistently entertains." --"The New York Times Book Review " In this magisterial adaptation of his epic three-volume history of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich chronicles the world's longest-lived Christian empire. Beginning with Constantine the Great, who in a.d. 330 made Christianity the religion of his realm and then transferred its capital to the city that would bear his name, Norwich follows the course of eleven centuries of Byzantine statecraft and warfare, politics and theology, manners and art. In the pages of A Short History of Byzantium we encounter mystics and philosophers, eunuchs and barbarians, and rulers of fantastic erudition, piety, and degeneracy. We enter the life of an empire that could create some of the world's most transcendent religious art and then destroy it in the convulsions of fanaticism. Stylishly written and overflowing with drama, pathos, and wit, here is a matchless account of a lost civilization and its magnificent cultural legacy. "Strange and fascinating . . . filled with drollery and horror." --"Boston Globe"
Citations And Professional Reviews A Short History of Byzantium (Vintage) by John Julius Norwich has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 1160
New York Times - 04/18/1999 page 32
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 920
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.06" Width: 5.23" Height: 0.99" Weight: 1 lbs.
Release Date Dec 29, 1998
ISBN 0679772693 ISBN13 9780679772699
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More About John Julius Norwich
John Julius Norwich is one of Britain s preeminent historians and travel writers. He has written the histories of Norman Sicily, Byzantium, Venice, and the Mediterranean. Other books have been on Shakespeare s history plays, on music, and on architecture.
Reviews - What do customers think about A Short History of Byzantium (Vintage)?
Enjoyable, but approach with caution Jun 1, 2008
There is no doubt that the author accomplishes what he sets out to do: provide a concise overview of the entire history of the Eastern Roman Empire, or "Byzantium." That conciseness, however, comes at a price. Little space is given to economics or to cultural life beyond certain incidental information to provide background for political developments. Also, unfortunately, Norwich seems to have followed the great historian Edward Gibbon in his most defective tendencies: namely, a lack of understanding or even sympathy for the Christian religion, so dear to the Byzantines he writes about. Consequently, for example, he tends to characterize the great Nestorian and Monophysite controversies as dealing with "theological trivialities," even though they touched on the very nature of Christ. Furthermore, he seems to display a profound confusion for when the actual schism between East and West occured. Already--inexplicably--in the ninth century he refers to "Orthodox" and "Catholic" Christianity, a distinction that would have been meaningless at the time. Even monumental military or political events fall victim to his desire for conciseness: from this work, for instance, a reader would never know that the notorious Attila the Hun was defeated in battle by a vast alliance of Romans, Visigoths, and Franks. Apart from these caveats, it is a useful and fairly entertaining history of an often neglected subject.
Excellent primer in Byzantine history May 22, 2008
It made me wish I had bought Norwich's three volume set instead of this abridged edition.
Pure Genius May 7, 2008
It's not often that I'll re-read a book, but this is one of 'em. I first read this condensed version of Norwich's three-volume history a couple of years ago. I've since read the complete 'trilogy', but I keep coming back to the single volume. For a lay person, like myself, this book is unsurpassed in detail, clarity, and layout.
Norwich has a very engaging style that sucks you in; after a few pages, you can almost forget that you're reading a history text. It's obvious that he has a great love for Byzantium, and his enthusiasm is infectious. I challenge anyone to read a couple dozen pages of this book and put it down.
Especially helpful are the detailed maps and family trees, invaluable for keeping all those names and places straight.
If you like this one, you might also try Norwich's history of Venice, which if anything, is even better.
very good, though too concise Apr 3, 2008
This is a dense and well written tour of nearly 1200 years of history. As such, there is no way that it can provide much more than a skeleton, which it accomplishes very well and often with fascinating detail.
Due to gaps in my education, there were many things about the story that I found surprising, even astonishing. Most fundamentally, many of us think of the Dark Ages beginning with the fall of Rome to the Goths, with the breakdown of just about everything. However, I now see that this was far from the case: not only did the "Roman Empire" continue in the East (without Rome), but there was a flourishing civilization of great learning, phenomenal wealth, and imperial continuity. Indeed, Theodoric - the conqueror of Rome - was sworn under the suzerainty of the Byzantine Emperor, and had grown up in Constantinople; he was not the savage head of a "barbarian horde." That I was not taught these things I now see as a Western bias against the Eastern tradition. Indeed, given the troubles of the Western Empire, Byzantium was perfectly placed, i.e. where it was happening, both as a trade crossroads, but also in a more defensible position from invasion - the West was becoming obsolete.
In addition, it was in Byzantium that the Roman Empire truly operated as a Christian one. This too was something I had never understood, having assumed that the papacy was always supreme regarding doctrinal issues and that the Greek Orthodox Church represented an obscure backwater. Not so! For over 1000 years, the two branches engaged in turbidly esoteric theological disputes that impacted the course of both Christendom and sometimes dictated who would obtain and maintain their power. Afterall, it was Venice that led the 4th crusade against Byzantium, leading to its sack and destruction from which it never recovered. (It was over questions such as whether Christ was divine exclusively or also partly human or the limits of iconoclasm, debates that were perhaps equally as important as geo-political questions when it came to military and diplomatic force.) For a time in the early Middle Ages, with the power of the Greek Church, the Papacy was long viewed as a vassal of Byzantine patriarchs. This is ably covered in the book and was a revelation to me. Finally, it also functioned as a bulwark against the Islamic empires, slowing them down enough for Western EUrope to re-emerge during the Renaissance as the dominant power, once the center of world trade moved to the Atlantic and the infusion of new ideas (largely from imported Byzantine sources) led to new syntheses of knowledge (i.e. the scientific method) and eventually superior technologies.
Unfortunately, the book is simply too short to cover any topics in a comprehensive way. While it adds much flavor in lively descriptions, I continually felt myself wishing that I had bought the 3-volume set. For example, there were intrigues regarding power that resembled the Western Roman Empire, but the Byzantine patriarchate and popular opinion created significant differences in the transfer of kingly power. This reading made me hungry to learn more, a sign of the book's success, even though it did not make me feel any love for Byzantium. Indeed, as much of the book is about a gradual decline, first ceding territory to Christian enemies and later to the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantines were forever attempting to ward off disaster or reconquer what they lost, including Rome. Perhaps they did a good job in that the Eastern Empire lasted over 1100 years, surviving extraordinary dangers and occasionally catastrophically incompetent emperors. but it is a defensive rather than a dynamic tale, with few exceptions such as that of Justinian or the Basils.
Warmly recommended as a starting point. Norwich is a first-rate writer. Also, I read this book in conjunction with the iPod lectures series on Byzantine rules - the two are marvelously complementary.
This Book Is A Tease! Mar 6, 2008
Although this was a great book, I have to get the three volume set now. I wouldn't waste my money on this again, I would definately go strait for the full length directors cut (3 vol. set).