Letting the rest of the world go by
This book is my favorite book I've listened to all year. Most books I listen to are because I want to find our place in the universe and how we got where we are. This book does that better than any book I've listened to this year.
The author ties the pieces of the history covered together as a coherent whole. The period of time covered is from about 330 AD (Constantin's son) to about 1315 (Dante), and makes the listener understand how the events led to the making of Modern Europe and explains how we get where we are thus adding to my understanding about our place in the universe.
Most books that mention the Islamic Civilizations from 650 AD to 1300 just give comic book like characterizations. This book does not. He tells the story by first telling the story of the early Christian Church in ways which the reader can understand. I had earlier read an audible book called "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years". I couldn't follow it, too many 'isms' unless you're an expert. Durant is expert at stepping the reader through. One thing I always like to focus on is the development of the Trinity and how it is ultimately resolved. This book shed light on that for me, for example.
I learned even more about Christianity and what they believe in and why by listening to the sections on Islam and Judaism. The author explains by comparing and contrasting between the religions (including paganism), and explaining clearly while looking within a religion.
The author has a couple of narratives that he uses to tie the book together. Perfect order leads to no liberty, tolerance of others beliefs can not exist under absolute certainty, and the part can not understand the whole.
The second half of the book covers from Charlemagne to the Italian Renaissance, which compares and contrast the progress in Western Civilization with the Islamic Civilization. The author does step away from his formula that he used in his first two Volumes. He uses a chronological approach and looks at subsets of natural entities within Europe and is less thematic than he was in his first two volumes. This allows him to be redundant and tell the same story in different places allowing the listener to relearn what he probably didn't catch the first time.
He'll spend a long time on Peter Abelard (1140 AD) which leads to a long section on Thomas Aquinas. Both allow the crack of reason into the magistracy of Faith. Once reason is permitted the relationship between man and the church will change. The Islamic civilization (at this time period) allowed theology to trump philosophy. In the end, Christian Western Europe allowed philosophy to coexist and will ultimately lead to the "Age of Reason".
As I was listening to the second half, I realized that the main character who had not been properly introduced was Dante, but he kept being mentioned. During the story, I ended up buying "Dante's Inferno", because the author would always include Dante way before he was to pop up in the story as a main character, and talks about Dante's Comedy in the final hour of the book and why it is a summary of the whole "Age of Faith". (I also bought a cheap Historical Atlas in order to follow the places better).
People, in general, avoid this period of history because it can be complex and is often thought of has not relevant to today. They are wrong, and I would strongly recommend this book.
Books like this ruin it for me since they are so much better written (and read) than the average. Each page is exciting and I couldn't wait for the next. How an author can do that about an era which I've avoided because of its dryness is a compliment to the author. What I like best about the book is now I feel like I'm a scholar of the Italian Renaissance and the Epicurean movement! I never knew that something about book binding, Epicurean philosophy, script development and a poem could keep me on the edge of my seat and eagerly awaiting for the next paragraph.
You don't have to have the faintest interest in the Italian Renaissance or Latin Poetry to appreciate this book. The author is that good of a writer, and he will make you anxiously await the next page.
Data is not understood in a vacuum, so the author first enchants the listener with the history and myths of the people of Great Britain and relates that to what his DNA analysis tells him. The story comes alive when he explains the history and myth of the British, and he writes better than almost anyone on those topics.
The author steps you through past attempts at understanding the genetics of the British and how DNA can be used to help deconvolve the problem.
He never lets the science or the data get in the way of telling a good narrative and at times the book was like listening to a beautiful song.