In this lively, absorbing ""saga"" of Europe (which, the author makes clear, is as much imaginative re-creation as history) at the end of the last millennium, Reston (Galileo, 1994, etc.) depicts a turbulent Europe as expectant of an imminent apocalypse as are today's doomsayers. In his 11th book, Reston paints end-of-millennium Europe as a benighted, besieged place--in 950 A.D. it seemed to many as if pagan and Muslim enemies of Christendom were on the brink of conquering the Christian kingdoms, while the Church was undermined by pervasive corruption and internecine conflict. Yet by the year 1000 the Church was ascendant everywhere, having converted the savage Norse and Magyar chiefs and helped to check the Muslim advance into the Iberian peninsula. Reston explains how this transformation occurred, bringing vibrantly alive the dominant personalities of the period, among them King Olaf Trygvesson of Norway, whose conversion to Christianity marked the beginning of the end of the ravages of the Norsemen; Gerbert of Aurillac, the brilliant intellectual man of action who helped Hugh Capet assume the throne of France and who, as Pope Sylvester II, led a revitalizing reform of Western Christianity; and the Magyar Vajk, ruler of the terrible horsemen who had terrorized Central Europe, who converted and became King Stephen of Hungary. Reston vividly evokes significant battles, including the heroic stand of the English against the Vikings at Maiden and the destruction of the Viking fleet by the Greeks on the Black Sea. He also convincingly argues that it was the conversion of pagan rulers to Christianity that truly made possible the transformation of the embattled kingdoms of 10th-century Europe into the familiar ""Christendom"" of history. Ultimately, Reston shows, the period was in fact a kind of apocalypse: As a result of all this turbulent activity, the old world died and a new one arose in its place. A thoughtful, briskly told narrative that makes the period come alive.
Pub Date: March 2, 1998
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998
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