I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
Anyone who thoroughly enjoys Medieval and Renaissance history as I do can tell you that the history of Christianity is so bound up with it as to be inseparable. The thing is, a great many history books will give you only what's necessary specific to the topic at hand and very little else. Even books on the Crusades, which presumably center around religion, will leave the underlying faith as an accepted and understood issue, touching upon the heretical issues as they come up.
This book is specifically geared towards pretty much anyone who wants the details as well as the broad strokes. It covers the history of Christianity from the onset of Judaism as an offshoot of earlier traditions, Christianity's beginnings as an offshoot of that, and covers its evolution not just in Western Europe, but also in Greece, Russia, Africa, Korea, and all parts of the globe where the cross is held high. It goes even further as Islam splinters from that, and the history of the Middle Eastern faiths are examined as an intertwined whole. As it goes, the reader is given another portrait to absorb as the beliefs evolve in the various corners of the globe, across time and through politics or scholarly pursuits.
In short, this is the most complete picture of Christianity that I've certainly ever encountered, and it's helped my understanding of history considerably. Special kudos not only to what it covers and why, but also how, as the outline for this book is nothing short of daunting. To cover this topic so completely is nothing short of a feat.
As one might expect, a history of this depth and magnitude will likely call into question the faith of a devout individual reading this book as not everything is as tradition holds to be true in our day and age, and as that tradition may vary depending on which sect you follow. I would challenge that the scholarly will find a great deal of wealth here, and the religiously-minded will be confronted with questions fundamental to their faith. How those questions are answered will ultimately be determined by individual willingness to see past the rigid and into the changing waters of history. Some are more readily accepting of this than others, obviously, everyone has to approach the question their own way. Being a hefty monster of a tome, however, this one is most definitely aimed at the serious scholar, regardless of the historical or spiritual approach.
I find that in my studies of history, comprehensive and sweeping overviews are invaluable, both to help keep people and events in perspective, and to give me an idea of where I might want to dig deeper later on. I've gone through a number of such overviews over the years, though not one as ambitious as this one. From the mists of legend through to the fall of Rome as the title suggests, Bauer weaves together all of the broad strokes of human history in this time period. For the earlier accounts, history is extrapolated from mythology and archaeology, translating symbolism into human events. Another high point of praise is that most overviews like this will pick a single nation or perhaps a hemisphere. This covers East and West, putting the rise and fall of various dynasties on a timeline that allows the reader to compare and contrast in an way that I've not seen with such effectiveness. Bauer has similar titles for Medieval and Renaissance history, and I'm looking forward to connecting those stories as one larger tapestry.
As much as this is a book of political monarchs in highly turbulent times, this is also the personal story of siblings and how they related to one another. Once again, Alison Weir has knocked another one out of the park, bringing even the most nuanced aspects of this realm and time period to life in such a way that even a foreigner of the modern world can understand it in a deeply meaningful way. As a narrative history, this excels.
Weir does state that this book is a follow-up to her book The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which I've also given top marks. Indeed, I would agree that in conjunction with that work, Tudor history becomes a very human story, something far beyond a soap opera. Having read her biography of Henry VIII in paperback, I can say that anyone serious in Tudor studies via Weir should start there, proceed to Six Wives, then this. This focuses on the time period between Henry's death and Elizabeth's ascension, spotlighting Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth. Next in line is her Life of Elizabeth, which will no doubt build on all of these other foundations, and which I'll be adding to my reading list soon. It's all dense storytelling, but it's also expert level history made as friendly as if reading a novel, building the layers as an artist does a painting. It's that good.
Simon Prebble is as authoritative and as engaging as ever in his role as narrator. He's just got one of those instantly respectable and friendly voices that's perfect for documentary narratives and lends itself so well to works such as this.
What an extraordinary piece of writing. I am so glad that I got to listen to this wonder piece of non-fiction. Narration is wonderfully delivered to summarize one of the 20th centuries’ greatest follies. If you are history fan, like my-self, this book cannot be missed. To think that the entire war, in the first month of conflict could have ended in so many different ways, will simply astonish you. One day I will have to listen to it all over again. Thoroughly recommended!