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The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade

9780393059755_300A masterful narrative of the Middle Ages, when religion became a weapon for kings all over the world.

From the schism between Rome and Constantinople to the rise of the T’ang Dynasty, from the birth of Muhammad to the crowning of Charlemagne, this erudite book tells the fascinating, often violent story of kings, generals, and the peoples they ruled.

In her earlier work, The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer wrote of the rise of kingship based on might. But in the years between the fourth and the twelfth centuries, rulers had to find new justification for their power, and they turned to divine truth or grace to justify political and military action. Right thus replaces might as the engine of empire.

Not just Christianity and Islam but the religions of the Persians and the Germans, and even Buddhism, are pressed into the service of the state. This phenomenon–stretching from the Americas all the way to Japan–changes religion, but it also changes the state.

The second in a four-volume series covering the history of the world from ancient through modern times.
Publisher’s description from W. W. Norton

Bauer (The History of the Ancient World) continues her witty and well-written examination of world history with a volume that is rich in detail and intriguing in anecdotal information. In describing dramatic events (such as the worldwide –impact of the eruption of Krakatoa in 535 C.E., or civil war among the descendants of Charlemagne), near-legendary individuals (like the great general turned mercenary El Cid), and decisive historical movements from the fourth century C.E. to the beginnings of the 12th century, attention is effectively paid not only to western and eastern Europe but to North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Far East, South Asia, and the Americas. The political and military rise and fall of rulers or would-be rulers and the prominence of religion in matters of conscience and state give force and power to the narrative as does the constant impact of simple human emotion and ambition on the flow of history. A bit overwhelming in its scope, Bauer’s work nevertheless proves perfectly, and entertainingly, that the “more things change, the more they stay the same.–Publisher’s Weekly

In this second title in the author’s projected four-volume world history, narratives of monarchs, generals, and clerics transport the reader through centuries of tumult culminating in the First Crusade’s capture of Jerusalem in 1099. Intentionally general interest, Bauer’s book provides a vital scorecard in the form of rosters of rulers and dozens of maps that track successions aplenty, of legitimate heirs and usurpers alike. Rightful possession of power, as in Bauer’s History of the Ancient World (2007), thematically infuses this work’s welter of accounts of imperial rises and falls in Europe, the Near East, India, China, and Japan. If it was a truth universally acknowledged that the divine sanctioned the secular, the immediacies of the latter often required doctrinal or political adjustments in the former (as in Constantine’s Council of Nicaea in 325), furnishing (in addition to pillage) the dramatic momentum to the historical episodes Bauer presents. Demonstrating insight about invariably partial sources, humanism about actors’ motivations, and an apt dramatic touch, Bauer parlays her capacious knowledge of history into the exciting and terrifying subject it can be.–Booklist

The History of the Medieval World is a simple yet strikingly apt title for historian Susan Wise Bauer’s quietly audacious tour de force. This comprehensive and colorful work spans the entire globe–from Europe and the Mediterranean to the Indian peninsula, Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica–during the period of civilizational upheaval that began with the fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and ended with the founding of the Knights Templar in the 12th century. The organizing concept in this volume of Wise Bauer’s History is religion, and its mutually transformative relationship with state power: the redirection of violence into the paths of righteousness. While the kings profiled in her previous bestseller, The History of the Ancient World, ruled by sheer might, the rulers of the Middle Ages–across all geographical regions, cultures and civilizations–turned to faith and the conceit of ‘divine right’ to justify their dominion. From the Orthodox Christianity of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Mahayana Buddhism of northern China, the influence of religion on this period of world history has seldom before been surveyed on such an all-encompassing scale. Parallels and connections emerge between such seemingly disparate events as the schism between Rome and Constantinople, Muhammad’s establishment of Islam, the rise of China’s Tang dynasty (and its fall at the hands of the Turks), the romance of Emperor Justinian and the actress Theodora, Pope Leo’s successful mission to turn Attila the Hun away from the gates of Rome, the once-innocuous clubs of chariot-racing fans that devolved into mobs of guerrilla warriors driven to brutal battle by doctrinal differences, the unification of the German kingdom under Henry the Fowler, the repeated invasions of Britain by Norsemen and Normans, and the hideously bloody Crusades to impose Christian rule upon the Holy Land. Just about every reader will discover intriguing new characters and fascinating new stories. At more than 600 pages, the book is concise yet comprehensive; 46 maps dynamically illustrate the thrusts of armies and the flux of national borders, while dozens of fascinating timelines depict the parallel courses of events across cultures whose histories are rarely juxtaposed. The author has an uncommon ability to convey the sweep of history in intimately personal terms, taking care to depict the impact of momentous events on the general population. She has crafted a volume that will be read cover to cover with great enjoyment and consulted often as a reference work. With two further installments in preparation, Susan Wise Bauer is well on her way to completing a landmark narrative history of the entire world.–Book of the Month Club

Bauer treats her period (from the early fourth century to the late 11th century) with a fine-tooth comb, and as the chapters march across the globe and the battles and treaties, the droughts and famines accrue, there is the distinct danger that readers will be swept away in a sea of names and dates. After all, even 640 pages seem a bit skimpy up against 700 years of world history. Curiously — and much to Bauer’s credit– the reader who stays the course starts to see the globe differently, at first as the arena for myriad independent clashes, and then, slowly but surely, as a unified whole where no nation is an island.–The Providence Journal

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W.W. Norton, 2010, ISBN 978-0-393-05975-5

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