A lively, full-to-bursting history of the turbulent 10th century in Europe, when inner dissention and external marauding began to give way to cohesion and centrality.
Australian nonpracticing Catholic priest and historian Collins manages to enthrall readers in the vicissitudes of an early medieval era marked by random violence and unpronounceable Nordic names via his thorough knowledge of the epoch and ability to spin an engaging tale. While giving the brilliant learning of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) its due, he agrees with Thomas Cahill that the Irish and specifically monks indeed “saved civilization” by their stewardship and dissemination of Latin and Greek learning. Collins presents chaotic upheaval across Europe in an organized and riveting fashion. He provides a rich depiction of the physical landscape, which was experiencing a medieval warm period, allowing the Vikings to settle Greenland in the 980s after the North Atlantic sea ice had retreated. He recaps the important democratic shifts and religious conversions thanks to the inroads of Charlemagne in northern Europe and the Muslims in the south; notes the destabilizing terror struck constantly by the marauding Vikings, Saracens and Magyars; delineates the messy and increasingly dangerous papacy; and one by one takes up the dramas of important galvanizing leaders who emerged to impose some sense of order and centrality of government, even if briefly—e.g., the Saxon king Otto I, King Alfred in England and Brian Boru in Ireland. Along with stories about the likes of Liutprand of Cremona, Otto’s diplomat, the remarkable regent queen Theophano and polymath Gerbert of Aurillac (aka Pope Sylvester II), Collins also explores the lives of ordinary people in a convulsive time.
Who knew the 10th century could be so compelling?