Look, I’m NOT a medievalist. Sure, I’ve posted a thing or two here and on Frontier Partisans about medieval plagues and warfare and misrule and such — as one does. Actually, my most recent post was on the Ottoman Empire and the Taking of Constantinople, wasn’t it? And I did kind of go on a Yorkist binge last winter…
Oh, never mind. What I’m getting at here is that my historical focus is on Early Modern and Modern frontiers, not on Castles and Crusades. I have a massive reading pile that MUST NOT include thick tomes on medieval history.
Dammit Dan Jones! Are you listening? Do you even care?
Clearly not, because this wry and witty English historian and presenter keeps cranking out books that I can’t help but grab up and read as though possessed. The Plantagenets. The Wars of the Roses. The Crusades… Now he’s produced a 600-page single volume history of the entire era, titled: Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages. And, by all accounts, it’s great. I mean, really great. The Times of London says:
Confident, colourful and compelling, Dan Jones’s unapologetic narrative is simply the best popular history of the Middle Ages… This magnificent doorstop is bookended by two sacks of Rome: AD410 and 1527. A thousand years race by in a terrifically colourful and compelling narrative history, with all the confidence, bravura and swift judgments essential to an overview of such a vast time span. Jones also possesses a keen eye for how the ideas and passions of the medieval era are with us still — “for better or for worse,” as he observes on more than one occasion. Equally praiseworthy is its freedom from any queasy, muddy undercurrents of obsequious apology and guilt that dog so much contemporary western historiography. It’s always reasonable and fair.
My favorite history podcaster, Dan Carlin (who is responsible for luring me into the creation of The Frontier Partisans Podcast) had this to say:
“An audacious, entertaining page-turner. Dan Jones covers a thousand years of history with elegance and panache.”
This is one of the paciest 600 plus page books I have ever read. Powers and Thrones is cannily structured and embroidered with style. The book takes us from Marcus Aurelius to Henry VIII, without a single wasted paragraph. The narrative addresses epochal moments and movements (such as the demise of Rome, the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the Black Death, Protestantism) – which are interspersed with lively portraits of remarkable and representative figures during the period, including William Marshal, Dick Whittington, Charlemagne, and Christopher Columbus to name but a few. Not every character in the vast cast list may be deemed admirable or virtuous, but none are dull.