I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
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.
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.
This book is a fascinating look into the history, mythology, and socio-religious aspects of what it means to be a redhead, backed by science and the popular culture (art, stories, film, etc.) of different eras. The author's writing style makes it even more so, instantly engaging the audience in the topic. On the whole, it's a brilliant topic designed to push past the stereotypes and understand how and why they might have came about in the first place.
My only gripe comes early on when Cleopatra is mentioned. This seems to be a touchy subject for many people, as though seemingly every racial and/or regional group out there wants to claim the Queen for their own. Interestingly, the opposite occurs here. The author is quick to dismiss the idea that Cleopatra was very likely a redhead because of her Egyptian origins. It's as though because Cleopatra lives up to the hurtful stereotypes the author is trying to undermine. The defensive attitude is therefore understandable given the author's quest here. However, historical fact is just that and cannot be dismissed due to inconvenience. Cleopatra was a Ptolemy, the product of an incestuous family line from Macedonia. She had not one single drop of Egyptian blood in her, thus negating the author's rather short argument. It doesn't prove she was a redhead, but it doesn't dismiss it either, especially given the science of just how rare the gene is and why it expresses itself. If anything, the case is stronger than ever despite the author's attempt to gloss it over.
Save for this one tiny exception, the whole of this book is meticulously researched and thoughtfully executed. The author narrates her own work, which very rarely works out, but in this case kudos for her clarity and enthusiasm.