For far too many otherwise historically savvy people today, the story of the Byzantine civilization is something of a void. Yet for more than a millennium, Byzantium reigned as the glittering seat of Christian civilization. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages, Byzantium held fast against Muslim expansion, keeping Christianity alive. When literacy all but vanished in the West, Byzantium made primary education available to both sexes. Students debated the merits of Plato and Aristotle and commonly committed the entirety of Homer's Iliad to memory. Streams of wealth flowed into Constantinople, making possible unprecedented wonders of art and architecture, from fabulous jeweled mosaics and other iconography to the great church known as the Hagia Sophia that was a vision of heaven on earth. The dome of the Great Palace stood nearly two hundred feet high and stretched over four acres, and the city's population was more than twenty times that of London's.
From Constantine, who founded his eponymous city in the year 330, to Constantine XI, who valiantly fought the empire's final battle more than a thousand years later, the emperors who ruled Byzantium enacted a saga of political intrigue and conquest as astonishing as anything in recorded history. Lost to the West is replete with stories of assassination, mass mutilation and execution, sexual scheming, ruthless grasping for power, and clashing armies that soaked ...
©2009 Lars Brownworth; (P)2009 Random House
In the West we are taught that after the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD that then came a long period of history called the Dark Ages. Well this was true enough from the Western Roman Empire, but the greatness of the Roman Empire lived on for another 1000 years in what is properly called the Eastern Roman Empire. In Lost to the West Lars Brownsworth provides an interesting and detailed account of one of the Great Ages of Man known as the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. The book shows that without this Empire that European history would have been completely different. That the dominate religion of Europe would have been Islam and not Christianity. An Empire that had to constantly fight for its survival, against a host of enemies. An Empire that for centuries was the only civilized nation in Europe. An Empire that was the richest and most advanced of its day. An Empire whose preservation of Greek Classical writing were the main inspiration for the Renaissance. Truly and eye opening history that I was never taught in high school or college.
I am a very bright, over educated person who has nonetheless never understood the relationship between the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Recently I went to Italy and saw the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna. That did it -- I HAD to understand how the Christian world (which was dazzlingly on display in those mosaics) had extended to Constantinople, and how on earth the so-called Byzantine style in art had arrived in Italy. This book has all the answers, and best of all is narrated with terrific panache by the author. He is a great storyteller as well as an excellent narrator, and I found the entire book mesmerizing, which is a feat given that it is also so informative. In fact, this book was so wonderful that now I have begun listening to a book about what was happening in the same thousand year period in the lands to the south and east of the Roman/Byzantine Empires, and next on my wish list would be a book focusing on the same period in Western Europe (for example Charlemagne). This book and this author have really whetted my appetite for history and even geography. I can't recommend it too highly !! Ten out of ten !!
Lars brownsworth has gained accolades for his podcast on the same subject. Both of these are oustanding and opened my eyes to an historical subject that was formerly unknown to me and many others. The downside is that fans of the podcast (who I suspect will be the major audiance) will find relatively little new in this book, so whilst I recommend either thoroughly, I cannot really recommend both.
History is one of those things that an Audible Book really makes come alive. This book is one of the best. The author and narrator has a great grasp of the historical sequence of events and presents them in a way that is both fascinating and entertaining.
In high school, I hated history with its emphasis on dates and events. If only history texts were written like this. The individuals come alive and their actions are both fascinating and horrifying. The book is especially strong when it comes to presenting the political realities of the time and explaining how they propelled events forward.
After listening to this book, I have a much greater understanding of how we got here and why the world is the way it is. It is also, in a larger sense, a cautionary tale. Our leaders are as misguided now as the rulers were back then (with the exception of the frequent murder of competing family members).
Every book we listen to is an investment of time. This one gives a lot back. Well worth every minute.
Yes. There is much detail to review.
The description of the fall of Constantinople and how the West was complicit in the destruction of the Eastern Roman Empire, the affects of which reverberate today.
It would be impossible because of its length, but i was constantly looking for opportunities to listen.
I visited Istanbul in 2008 and was blown away by the history and magnificence of the city. I now wish I had read this book before I went. It would have enhanced the experience. A must read for anyone who loves history and is unfamiliar with the Eastern Roman Empire.
The author does a fine job of reading his own work. Like any book about distant history, you've gotta pay close attention, or you can quickly lose your place and have no idea what he's talking about. But if you pay attention, the book is an excellent narrative, from the founding of Constantinople to the fall of Constantinople. You could draw a nice graph of the rising and falling fortunes of the Empire from this clearly-written, entertaining account. In a single volume, Mr. Brownworth has done a great summary of 1,100 years of history, and I found myself wanting to seek more detailed, deeper histories of certain events and people, but that's by no means a criticism of this book. If you had x pages to tell the rich story of Byzantium, you can't tell it more evenly and smoothly than this book does. I think I really did end up with a reasonably comprehensive, if basic, passing familiarity with the totality of this now-little-known empire, which basically was the center of the WORLD for 1,000 years. It's made me wish my Greek friends had a better grasp of their own history so we can talk it.
A well written narrative on Byzantine History, however, after Comneni Restoration, the book started to skip important parts, such the reign of Adronika II, Andronika III, John I, but for what it is worth, the narrative is captivating, this book should be supplemented by Thomas F. Madden's golden scholar theory - Empire of Gold, and The Fall of Constantinople by Steven Runciman, if one does not have time for Gibbons' Decline and fall of Roman Empire.
I've listened to this book several times. The stories are fascinating, and I love how he writes/describes them. Honestly I would have preferred that he had hired a more professional reader to read his book, as he has kind of an accent, but overall, this book is awesome, get it.
Easier to get through the audio in the car than sitting and reading.
Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is excellent, and it covers the Eastern Empire to the end in 1453 as well. But there is so much detail that a reader will lose his place in the story. Lost to the West has the right amount of detail to keep the story logically connected and prevent the reader (listener) from losing his place.
Discouraging to realize how often the Byzantines, and their Western Roman brothers were their own worst enemies, more losing the Empire than being beaten by outsiders.
Gibbon's books would be more appreciated if the reader had a good idea of the thread from beginning to end, which is easier to take away from Lost to the West.
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