the history of actual places
The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade Susan Wise Bauer. Norton, $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-393-05975-5
Bauer (The History of the Ancient World) continues her witty and well-written examination of world history with a volume that is rich in detail and intriguing in anecdotal information. In describing dramatic events (such as the worldwide –impact of the eruption of Krakatoa in 535 C.E., or civil war among the descendants of Charlemagne), near-legendary individuals (like the great general turned mercenary El Cid), and decisive historical movements from the fourth century C.E. to the beginnings of the 12th century, attention is effectively paid not only to western and eastern Europe but to North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Far East, South Asia, and the Americas. The political and military rise and fall of rulers or would-be rulers and the prominence of religion in matters of conscience and state give force and power to the narrative as does the constant impact of simple human emotion and ambition on the flow of history. A bit overwhelming in its scope, Bauer’s work nevertheless proves perfectly, and entertainingly, that the “more things change, the more they stay the same.” 20 illus., 85 maps. (Feb.)I was one of the proofreaders for this book, and I heartily concur with PW's assessment of the quality of the writing. I'd like to add something, too: you see that little number at the end of PW's review: "85 maps"? That should actually say "100 maps"...PW made a mistake there. But whether it's 85 or 100, that amount of maps is a big deal.
Susan, working with artist Sarah Park, created 100 maps for this book to ensure that readers can quickly identify where they are, in the swirl of medieval kingdoms & empires. So many history books go for the cheap option: 3 maps at the beginning, and then we're off into a million place-names that the reader doesn't recognize, leaving history floating in the air instead of grounded in terrain. For instance, John Keegan's The First World War, stuffed with references to places from Belgium to Baghdad, only contains 17 maps.
In this book, the reader is never more than a couple of pages from a map specially drawn to depict the places & events of the chapter he is reading. It took lots of extra time, effort, and expense on SWB's and Sarah Park's part, but it's so, so worth it.
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