The contagion of this perverse and extravagant superstition has penetrated not cities only, but the villages and the country."" The quote from a 2nd century proconsular report fits appropriately on page one of this secular historian's account of the Christian society. ""Whether they were right or wrong is a matter of opinion .... All that matters in terms of history is that these first Christians believed that Jesus. . ."" is the point of view. Nonetheless, the author has almost absolute pitch for the issues, and an extraordinary gift for narrative exposition. No prior knowledge is required, and the book will carry any reader along; even the sustained wit and irony don't prove tiresome. The 245 photos, some 44 in color--and all travel-worthy--are one result of its having been written in tandem with a Granada TV series. The selection of the material around the topics of the thirteen TV episodes gives the book a manageable orderliness. Much here will be new to most readers: ""cruelty, idealism, and greed"" (here said of the Crusades) obviously operated in a richer mix than is usually recognized. The passion that gave the movement momentum is sometimes heard in the words of the participants. The author has likes and dislikes: he is for the Old Order Amish, Savonarola, the Salvation Army, William Penn (but not George Fox), John XXIII, and Voltaire. A book too intellectually accomplished to offend the censorious, and one to be much enjoyed.