``We have now passed the point of no return: I . . . am enjoying myself; and if I can persuade . . . kindred spirits to share my enjoyment I shall be happy . . . .'' Thus writes the author, introducing the second volume of a proposed trilogy on Byzantium. Norwich writes with a flair; anecdotal, accurate, witty, and never boring, he covers a 300-year period of history whose intricacies and subplots could render the most hardened insomniac unconscious. Not with Norwich. Beginning with Charlemagne's coronation in 800 A.D. and the resulting split in the Christian world, Norwich traces the return of iconoclasm, political intrigues, military campaigns, atrocities, and alliances, ending with the fateful battle at Nanzikert from which the Empire never recovered. The stage is enormous, and the number of characters are bewildering, but Norwich deftly brings to life the frozen icons of the history books. If the third volume is as enjoyable and exhaustive as the first two, history fans will have the definitive work on the subject. Highly recommended.-- Judith Bradley, Acad . of the Holy Cross Lib., Kensington, Md.
Norwich combines wonderfully deadpan humor and a keen appreciation for the narrative potential of popular history in this delightful second installment in his projected three-volume study of the Byzantine Empire. Picking up where Byzantium: The Early Centuries (1989) left off—at Pope Leo III's crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor of Rome in A.D. 800, a serious threat to the political primacy of Byzantium—the deftly paced account gallops through 300 triumphant and torturous years. At the end, the Empire, lacking a stable dynasty and devastated by rivals east and west, teeters near anarchy. Not that the years in between—marked with court intrigue and debauchery, frequent usurpations, religious disputation, and near-constant warfare—were any picnic. Reveling in the curious personal arrangements and often ruinous quirks of such rulers as Michael the Sot, Norwich exposes the astonishing brutality that flourished amid the intellectual and artistic splendors of the realm. Enemies might be dispatched by poisoning (especially, it was rumored, at court), torture, or crucifixion, although the favored punishments seem to have been blinding by hot irons (a craze that reached its peak with Basil the Bulgar-Slayer's treatment of 15,000 war prisoners) and castration (which disqualified the victim from claiming the throne). In brilliantly colorful prose, enlivened by his gift for droll understatement (Empress Irene, who had her son blinded "in a particularly barbarous manner," is described as "deeply unpleasant"), Norwich brings a complex subject to vivid life. And, although he disclaims any attempt at rigorous economic and social analysis, the extensive and measured considerationof contemporary records and later scholarly studies makes this an excellent introduction to a daunting field. Not a world in which many would want to live, but, in this superbly enjoyable overview, well worth any reader's visit. (Thirty-two pages of photographs, 16 in color—not seen.)