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Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Fun and fascinating read!

This is by far the best popular history of the eastern Roman empire of the four I've read over the years. Engaging, comprehensive, and fun to read, it brings the solemn, grimy, hugely brown-eyed figures of Byzantine iconography alive as real people whose motivations one...
This is by far the best popular history of the eastern Roman empire of the four I've read over the years. Engaging, comprehensive, and fun to read, it brings the solemn, grimy, hugely brown-eyed figures of Byzantine iconography alive as real people whose motivations one can understand.

Very important book as well, if you would truly understand the world as it is today with the split in what used to be Western civilization with Eastern European civilization. As one reads the lessons of the Byzantines, for good and ill, one can see the problems they faced and created playing out in very similar ways in today's headlines.

If the world of the Byzantines is a place you've not been in your reading to date, this would definitely be the place to start.

posted by ChuckRC on January 2, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

A Deserved Homage to Byzantium

Brownworth at least proves the thesis of this brief history: the Byzantine Empire did, in fact, hold the line for the West for nearly a millennium. Not only did it preserve the classics of Greece and Rome lost to the West in the centuries that elapsed between the fall ...
Brownworth at least proves the thesis of this brief history: the Byzantine Empire did, in fact, hold the line for the West for nearly a millennium. Not only did it preserve the classics of Greece and Rome lost to the West in the centuries that elapsed between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, but it also - just as, if not more, importantly - managed to prevent the soldiers of Mohammed from swarming west and devouring a fractured, sub-developed Europe. "The great walls of Constantine's city.delayed the Muslim advance into Europe for eight hundred years," Brownworth points out, "allowing the West the time it needed to develop" (p. 302).

This is all that can be fairly said for it though. The annals of Byzantium offer very little distinct from the late Western Roman Empire. Both were plagued by ceaseless cycles of political, economic and social instability. With an admittedly fair share of exceptions, an individual would usurp the crown of the basileus, murder/blind/tonsure him and any other potential rivals, and then, sooner or later, suffer the indignity of a similar fate himself.

Beyond that which it preserved from the Ancient Greeks and Romans it is a struggle to come up with anything distinctive of the Byzantines that would serve to guide and inspire posterity. When the minds of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment looked back it was to the Classical Age, not to the Byzantines, that they found something worthy.

The Byzantines' contribution was to ensure that the fruits of the Classical Age were still there. Byzantium essentially served as a bridge between that epoch and the modern one to which we today are a part. Without them not only would our earliest heritage have been (in keeping with the spirit of this history's title) completely lost to us but the West itself would have fallen beneath the conquering sword of Islam.

No Byzantium, no Western Civilization.

posted by GeoffSmock on July 12, 2010

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  • Posted July 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Deserved Homage to Byzantium

    Brownworth at least proves the thesis of this brief history: the Byzantine Empire did, in fact, hold the line for the West for nearly a millennium. Not only did it preserve the classics of Greece and Rome lost to the West in the centuries that elapsed between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, but it also - just as, if not more, importantly - managed to prevent the soldiers of Mohammed from swarming west and devouring a fractured, sub-developed Europe. "The great walls of Constantine's city.delayed the Muslim advance into Europe for eight hundred years," Brownworth points out, "allowing the West the time it needed to develop" (p. 302).

    This is all that can be fairly said for it though. The annals of Byzantium offer very little distinct from the late Western Roman Empire. Both were plagued by ceaseless cycles of political, economic and social instability. With an admittedly fair share of exceptions, an individual would usurp the crown of the basileus, murder/blind/tonsure him and any other potential rivals, and then, sooner or later, suffer the indignity of a similar fate himself.

    Beyond that which it preserved from the Ancient Greeks and Romans it is a struggle to come up with anything distinctive of the Byzantines that would serve to guide and inspire posterity. When the minds of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment looked back it was to the Classical Age, not to the Byzantines, that they found something worthy.

    The Byzantines' contribution was to ensure that the fruits of the Classical Age were still there. Byzantium essentially served as a bridge between that epoch and the modern one to which we today are a part. Without them not only would our earliest heritage have been (in keeping with the spirit of this history's title) completely lost to us but the West itself would have fallen beneath the conquering sword of Islam.

    No Byzantium, no Western Civilization.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    Fun and fascinating read!

    This is by far the best popular history of the eastern Roman empire of the four I've read over the years. Engaging, comprehensive, and fun to read, it brings the solemn, grimy, hugely brown-eyed figures of Byzantine iconography alive as real people whose motivations one can understand.

    Very important book as well, if you would truly understand the world as it is today with the split in what used to be Western civilization with Eastern European civilization. As one reads the lessons of the Byzantines, for good and ill, one can see the problems they faced and created playing out in very similar ways in today's headlines.

    If the world of the Byzantines is a place you've not been in your reading to date, this would definitely be the place to start.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    In A Nutshell

    Somewhat of a disapointment to me. This book is more of an overview of the Byzantine Empire that you might get from a history class, than a serious study. The writing is in a style that is more storytelling(as described in one of the reviews on the book)than history. The dates fly by and the main characters have a couple of quick antecdotes or events, then on to the next chapter. Nice appendix on the emperors though which helps to keep the story straight. Might try Gibbon next.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    Worth a look

    A good introduction on the Byzantines, but even now after finishing the book, I can recall my college history professor telling me when the Roman Empire ended. It was not when the Byzantines were crushed in 1453 or Russia in 1917. But the 5th century. Period. It's a quick read, focuses on the highlights very much like you would read in college. Nevertheless, public libraries should consider adding this book to their collection.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2009

    Not just lost, Forgotten!

    From Constantine to Constantine XI Dragases, a span of eleven hundred twenty eight years, the Eastern Empire kept alive the glory of Rome, long after Rome ceased to function as the capital of the Roman Empire. Reading much like a historical novel, "Lost to the West" recreates that millenium with all the glory, irony, deceit and courage that any group of fallible humans will create and encounter over eleven hundred years. In the process, it tells a story that, if mentioned at all in secondary and general college history, has been relegated to a brief blurb; an unworthy fate for the empire which kept alive the core of western civilization during the dark ages to the dawning of the modern era.

    From the "Conquer in this sign" of Constantine's vision to the greatness of Justinian and Belisarius to the final seige and destruction of Constantinople by Islamic hoards, the story is a sprawling epic, all the more remarkable for your never hearing about it at all.

    If you think you know western history, you owe it to yourself to learn about the Greeks, Thracians and Albanians who became more Roman than the Romans and who certainly remained citizens of Imperial Rome long after the western capital had fallen to the barbarians of northern Europe.

    It's a must read for history and a total pleasure to peruse just for the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent Introduction to Byzantium

    Though no one will trump John Julius Norwich's immaculate three-volume introductory study on the Byzantine Empire, Brownworth's work is brilliantly succinct, and perfect for the novice reader. It is about time that the Byzantine Empire receive proper accolade for not only preserving the classical legacy, but protecting Western Europe from the surging tide of fundamentalist Islam--Brownworth makes sure to note that Islam is often given false, or too much credit for helping save the remnants of classical Greek and Roman civilization. Really a treat to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    Great Historical Narrative

    History should always be presented as it is in this book. It's easy reading and a great exposition of history. He makes it seem like a novel
    or a news article rather than a dry exposition of historical information.
    It's a great read.

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  • Posted January 10, 2013

    Chatty and anecdotal, the book shows signs of hasty writing (or

    Chatty and anecdotal, the book shows signs of hasty writing (or sloppy editing): the phrase "spent force" is used way too many times; clangers like "stand toe-to-toe with Norman arms" and "laconic defenders" (maybe they just had nothing to say) occur too frequently. But it is overall a good introduction to a subject usually ignored or skimmed over in most introductory Western Civ. courses. Give it a try, but don't expect great scholarship.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2013

    ...until reading this book, I had very little understanding of t

    ...until reading this book, I had very little understanding of the Byzantine Empire and its place in history. The information concerning the Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople was a 'surprise ending' for me. Prior to Brownworth's book,
    I had recently finished an excellent book called '1491'. It appears to me that a historical pattern involving one 'institution' emerges...and that the 'rock' on which this institution us based appears to be comprised primarly of Calcium phosphate.

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