A Short History of Byzantium

( 9 )

Overview

"Norwich is always on the lookout for the small but revealing details. . . . All of this he recounts in a style that consistently entertains."
--The New York Times Book Review

In this magisterial adaptation of his epic three-volume history of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich chronicles the world's longest-lived Christian empire. Beginning with Constantine the Great, who in a.d. 330 made Christianity the religion of his realm and then transferred its capital to the city that would...

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Overview

"Norwich is always on the lookout for the small but revealing details. . . . All of this he recounts in a style that consistently entertains."
--The New York Times Book Review

In this magisterial adaptation of his epic three-volume history of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich chronicles the world's longest-lived Christian empire. Beginning with Constantine the Great, who in a.d. 330 made Christianity the religion of his realm and then transferred its capital to the city that would bear his name, Norwich follows the course of eleven centuries of Byzantine statecraft and warfare, politics and theology, manners and art.

In the pages of A Short History of Byzantium we encounter mystics and philosophers, eunuchs and barbarians, and rulers of fantastic erudition, piety, and degeneracy. We enter the life of an empire that could create some of the world's most transcendent religious art and then destroy it in the convulsions of fanaticism. Stylishly written and overflowing with drama, pathos, and wit, here is a matchless account of a lost civilization and its magnificent cultural legacy.

"Strange and fascinating . . . filled with drollery and horror."                          
--Boston Globe

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This accessible abridgment of Norwich's three-volume work is an lively look at what happened when the center of Christianity moved to Constantinople upon the fall of the Roman Empire.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1995, the third and concluding volume of Lord Norwich's magnificent chronicle of Byzantium was published to wide acclaim; now the author has condensed his sprawling narrative into a single volume of locomotive power and magisterial concision. Norwich presents deft and wide-ranging scholarship (backed by a lengthy bibliography but no footnotes) through dry but invigorating prose as he guides the reader at breakneck speed through Byzantium's defining moments, from its foundation in A.D. 330 by Constantine the Great through the agonies of its final conquest in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. The result is a dizzying litany of plots and intrigues, palace revolutions, theological controversies and encounters with myriad hostile neighbors over the course of 11 centuries. Norwich buoys his colorful narrative with trenchant assessments of individual potentates, linking the character of each to the destiny of the empire as a whole. A rich-and ultimately poignant-epic of Christendom's great empire in the East, this history brims with humanity, historical understanding and unrelenting drama.
Library Journal
Seeking to reach a broader audience, Norwich has abridged his acclaimed three-volume history, Byzantium (LJ 3/1/89 and LJ 1/92), into one volume that has been published to coincide with a major exhibition on Byzantine art and culture at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. Byzantium was disparaged if not ignored by English-speaking historians until Robert Byron's influential The Byzantine Achievement (1929), which did much to rehabilitate its reputation. For over 1000 years, Byzantium shielded a developing European culture from invasions from the east. The Byzantines not only helped to preserve and disseminate the heritage of Greece and Rome to a Europe seeking its classical roots but also developed a sublime artistic tradition that flourishes to this day. This work provides a marvelous introduction for students and the general reader. Libraries that have not acquired the three-volume work should consider adding this one. Highly recommended.Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., Minn.
School Library Journal
YAA condensation of Norwich's three-volume study of the Byzantine Empire. It is the story of a civilization that flourished economically, militarily, and, most importantly, as a center for culture and the arts while the rest of Europe struggled through the Dark and Middle Ages. Despite the empire being the most powerful nation in Europe for over 1000 years, its history reads like a soap operawith grand intrigue, despotic rulers, madmen, conquests, betrayals, religious schism, crusades, and eventual decline. The book is massive in scope and although every other ruler seems to be named either Constantine, Constantius, or Constans, the book is surprisingly easy to read. Detailed maps; charts showing the lineage of the major personalities; and lists of emperors, sultans, and popes help readers keep track of who was who and where the major events took place. An extensive index makes this book useful as a reference tool.
— Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679772699
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: ABR
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 266,969
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2003

    WOW!!

    I have read many history books specially about the early and late roman empire. Most of them have been written by well known scholars but i have learned a writer is born not made. This man is a natural writer i just CANT stop reading the book but at the same time the faster i go the sooner I will consume its wonderfully written pages...what a shame..it should have more pages.... this book is worth every penny and more...is like watching a movie but better...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Brief Yet Comprehensive

    The deep and comprehensive knowledge Norwich has of Byzantium -- borne out in the three volume history he has written on the topic -- is only confirmed with this abridgement. If one is looking for a comprehensive yet brief history of the world's longest standing Christian empire this book is ideal.

    With that said, I experienced a considerable level of frustration while reading this. In order to condense three volumes into one Norwich had to sacrifice much of his own personal analysis of the history being covered for the history itself. The upshot is an often dry and unyielding catalogue of names, dates and geographic locations buttressed by a sentence or -- at most -- a paragraph of Norwich's provocative commentary. For this reason I can hardly wait to delve into the complete three volume version. Norwich's deep understanding of Byzantium adds a considerable level of gravity to his opinions and to his ultimate assessment of the Byzantines.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2005

    Surprisingly Readable on the Subject

    I had not read anything on this subject and kind of backed my way into it after reading the Fourth Crusade and Rubicon, finally deciding that I needed some background in the Byzantine Empire. Norwich's abridgement of his full works is sufficiently entertaining that I feel motivated to read all three volumes of the original. The personalities of the era appear in full color and the process through each chapter is rapid. The charts on dynastic relationships and the maps are also very helpful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2005

    Great book about Byzantium

    One of the more interesting history books I have read. It was entertaining and informative. Though on the down side it was a bit drawn-out, I don't think Lord Norwich had to go through quite every single emperor to tell the story of Byzantium. But it was nonetheless fascinating. I now am familiar with a civilization of which I knew little or nothing before picking up this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003

    The best text-book read of my college career...

    From sexual intrigues, conspiracies to murder, and the constant tensions between the roles of the emperor and the patriarchs, this book, based upon Norwiches three volume work, is a must have for anyone interested in the medieval world. Rome didn't decline, it simply relocated, and till 1453, it walked a dichotomous line between decadence and spirituality. Norwich sums it all up, giving plenty of juicy details of a sordid yet entertaining nature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2003

    Byzantium Explained

    One of the best books I have read on the Byzantium Empire. Concise and easy to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2001

    A View from the Top

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book¿having read it twice. The plots, intrigues, murders, battles and ultimately conquest are fascinating. It is so amazing that the machinations of emperors, kings, popes and patriarchs took place across the continent of Europe and Asia Minor. However, one does not come away with much understanding as to the legacy of this empire and the reasons, or at least theories, as to it rise and fall. The explanation for events in given only by the character and decisions of the emperors and their advisors in the fields of war and diplomacy. There is little description or examination of the governance in terms of political and economic structure. The book does explain, or at least trace, how various people ended up where they did. But it doesn't describe in what ways the empire left a legacy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2009

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