An energetic look at a still-misunderstood period in late antiquity.

A history lecturer illuminates the fractious, little-studied period between the fall of the Roman Empire in the West and rise of the Ottomans in the 15th century.

With the breakup of the Roman Empire by Diocletian in the third-century CE into West and East, largely along linguistic lines, two distinct identities were forged over the succeeding centuries and grew increasingly estranged from and antagonistic to each other: Latin vs. Greek and Catholic vs. Orthodox. Brownworth examines the long-maligned Eastern half of the Empire, which saw its capital of Nova Roma chosen by Constantine the Great in 328 CE become the glorious, inimitable city of Constantinople. The author reminds us that the denizens of the East always referred to themselves as Roman, and the term Byzantium was later applied by Enlightenment scholars. Brownworth traces the highlights over the next 1,000 years of violent upheaval and murderous dynastic succession: e.g., early doomed attempts by Julian to repaganize the empire; fighting back the assaults by the barbarians and the sacking of Rome; the golden age under Justinian, who established Roman Law and reconquered numerous lost lands; and meeting the Islamic challenge from the seventh-century onward with holy wars and crusades until the ultimate devastation of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. While the East held many of the ancient secular texts safe from the so-called Dark Ages that stymied the West, the author concentrates mostly on military, rather than cultural, events. Brownworth delivers just enough of the big picture for interested readers to pursue specific events in greater detail.

An energetic look at a still-misunderstood period in late antiquity.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-40795-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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