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!
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.
Mark Twain did not see himself as a religious man, and yet he was still captivated by the story of Joan of Arc. I share in Twain's fascination, and I've read a handful of accounts about the Maid of Orleans over the years. Some were in the larger context of the Hundred Years War, others were varying accounts trying to distinguish if Joan was just psychotic or not. Up until this particular biography, I've felt like the only account to actually attempt to understand Joan within her own time and circumstances was the historical fiction account that Twain himself wrote.
This book is quite possibly the most fair and balanced account of Joan I've ever had the privilege to read. Instead of dismissing claims as "it could not happen, therefore it didn't," Spoto instead looks at the facts and tries to make sense of them in more broad strokes. He compares Joan's story with Biblical stories and alongside religious figures ranging from Jesus to Mohammed to Buddha, pointing out the parallel themes and ideas. He tries to offer explanations that toe the line between the mystical and the simply human, and to my mind he walks that tightrope quite admirably. It's a completely new paradigm that explores the tale in terms of how it would appear to those in 15th century France and dares to suggest that, regardless of what your own spiritual background may or may not be, there is indeed something special about one called Joan of Arc.
When studying the Middle Ages, Christianity isn't just so wound up with it as to be inseparable. Christendom is the world view of the age for most of Europe and for others in different parts of the known world at the time. Most overviews of this era will hopscotch around certain topics and tie it in to world events, and most histories of Christianity will simply be come across as "history from the perspective of the Church." This book is a bit different, and it fills a niche.
This book's focus is all about how Christianity spread and evolved during this time, and to that end it touches upon a little bit of everything. Practitioners in secular life? Check. Monastic orders and life within those walls? It's in there. How the faith interacted with other beliefs? Yes. Crusades? Of course! The movers and shakers that redefined the various sects are covered, as well as everything from scholastic preservation to inquisition. There's just enough of nearly every topic of discussion without venturing into the depths of true scholastic oblivion. If you're looking to go there, this book will certainly give you plenty of launching points to do so. At the same time, what it does offer has plenty of depth that a person unfamiliar with this era could walk away with a considerable understanding.
As narrator for the audio, Pete Larkin has a perfect radio announcer voice and delivery. He does stumble with pronunciation from time to time, but it's not nearly often enough to derail the book.