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The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

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A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself. The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkn A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself. The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkness obscures the truth; this was a remarkable period in human history. The Bright Ages recasts the European Middle Ages for what it was, capturing this 1,000-year era in all its complexity and fundamental humanity, bringing to light both its beauty and its horrors.  The Bright Ages takes us through ten centuries and crisscrosses Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa, revisiting familiar people and events with new light cast upon them. We look with fresh eyes on the Fall of Rome, Charlemagne, the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Black Death, but also to the multi-religious experience of Iberia, the rise of Byzantium, and the genius of Hildegard and the power of queens. We begin under a blanket of golden stars constructed by an empress with Germanic, Roman, Spanish, Byzantine, and Christian bloodlines and end nearly 1,000 years later with the poet Dante—inspired by that same twinkling celestial canopy—writing an epic saga of heaven and hell that endures as a masterpiece of literature today.   The Bright Ages reminds us just how permeable our manmade borders have always been and of what possible worlds the past has always made available to us. The Middle Ages may have been a world “lit only by fire” but it was one whose torches illuminated the magnificent rose windows of cathedrals, even as they stoked the pyres of accused heretics.   The Bright Ages is illustrated throughout with high-resolution images. 


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A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself. The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkn A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself. The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkness obscures the truth; this was a remarkable period in human history. The Bright Ages recasts the European Middle Ages for what it was, capturing this 1,000-year era in all its complexity and fundamental humanity, bringing to light both its beauty and its horrors.  The Bright Ages takes us through ten centuries and crisscrosses Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa, revisiting familiar people and events with new light cast upon them. We look with fresh eyes on the Fall of Rome, Charlemagne, the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Black Death, but also to the multi-religious experience of Iberia, the rise of Byzantium, and the genius of Hildegard and the power of queens. We begin under a blanket of golden stars constructed by an empress with Germanic, Roman, Spanish, Byzantine, and Christian bloodlines and end nearly 1,000 years later with the poet Dante—inspired by that same twinkling celestial canopy—writing an epic saga of heaven and hell that endures as a masterpiece of literature today.   The Bright Ages reminds us just how permeable our manmade borders have always been and of what possible worlds the past has always made available to us. The Middle Ages may have been a world “lit only by fire” but it was one whose torches illuminated the magnificent rose windows of cathedrals, even as they stoked the pyres of accused heretics.   The Bright Ages is illustrated throughout with high-resolution images. 

30 review for The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I was hoping that the book would convince me that the Dark Ages were not all that dark. Unfortunately, it did not convince me in the least that these were not dark ages. At best, the book shows that the Dark Ages might not have been as bad as I thought. The book did a barely adequate job of discussing medieval history, and even then, I felt that the book was strongly oriented toward a too-detailed discussion of Christianity. Indeed, there was little discussion of inventions and science of mediev I was hoping that the book would convince me that the Dark Ages were not all that dark. Unfortunately, it did not convince me in the least that these were not dark ages. At best, the book shows that the Dark Ages might not have been as bad as I thought. The book did a barely adequate job of discussing medieval history, and even then, I felt that the book was strongly oriented toward a too-detailed discussion of Christianity. Indeed, there was little discussion of inventions and science of medieval times, in particular, astronomy. The only reason I finished the book is because of the authors’ great conversational tone and writing style. Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Canada for the advance reader copy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    saïd

    The common (Western) narrative of the mediaeval era in Europe as the proverbial "Dark Ages" is, of course, incredibly frustrating. Here's a quick summation of the reality: the idea of mediaeval squalor is very much a construction of the Victorian period, and intimately connected with the ways that select European cities in the 19th century handled waste removal. Over 90% of mediaeval populations worked the land, because they—like everyone else during that time period—were directly dependent on t The common (Western) narrative of the mediaeval era in Europe as the proverbial "Dark Ages" is, of course, incredibly frustrating. Here's a quick summation of the reality: the idea of mediaeval squalor is very much a construction of the Victorian period, and intimately connected with the ways that select European cities in the 19th century handled waste removal. Over 90% of mediaeval populations worked the land, because they—like everyone else during that time period—were directly dependent on that land for their survival. The risk of famine and starvation, and indeed dependence on crops, is a phenomenon by no means unique or distinctive to the Middle Ages; rather, it depends on weather patterns, population density, land use policy, etc., and is still a major concern today, in the ostensibly "modern" age. Europe was by no means culturally isolated, nor culturally monolithic; mediaeval peasants were not a socially, economically, or culturally homogenous group, and should not be treated as such. In fact treating "Dark Ages"-era Europe as some unclean uneducated unenlightened backwater, however well-intentioned, perpetuates the dangerously reductive idea of Orientalism, positioning the "East" as a highly civilised and exotic "Other," possessing luxuries and philosophies unknown to and unappreciated by the "West," i.e., the misconception that mediaeval Europeans bathed once a year at most. The European mediaeval period was, like the entirety of history before and after, a dynamic era of human society and development that can and should be studied without resorting to outdated, inaccurate, and overly reductive terminology like "Dark Ages." However, the opposite is also true: overly glorifying the mediaeval period is no better than demonising it; focusing exclusively on the positive aspects of the period (which spanned multiple centuries and the study of which neither can nor should be distilled into a single book) and avoiding the actual negative aspects is equally reductive. Fighting misinformation with misinformation is not a solution but rather a different yet equivalently harmful problem. In this book, for example, the topic of slavery—which was very much present and active during what is commonly known as the Middle Ages—is glossed over as a lingering remnant of the past (i.e., the Late Classical period). This is incorrect: the international Eurasian-North African slave trade was vibrant and flourishing at the time, even if the modern concept of chattel slavery had not yet developed to the point at which it would align with the 18th-19th century slave trade and its repercussions, which is usually what people think of when the term "slavery" is mentioned. In its interest to repudiate the stereotypes of the so-called "Dark Ages," the book fails to acknowledge that, like any other period in history, the good and the bad were hand-in-hand. The definition of "Europe" is shaky at best (which is fair), but significant when it comes to neglected topics such as Hungarian migration to Carpathia and subsequent raiding, or how raiding in Eastern Europe caused significant depopulation of native Slavic groups, which were often then channelled into the slave trade. The focus is also predominantly on Christianity. While this is understandable, as it was the dominant religion in Europe at the time, little attention was paid to non-Christian populations, something which (I'd hope) unintentionally played into the stereotype of the mediaeval period as a draconianly religious culture. The fact that the book also neglects to mention many of the scientific, medical, and technological advancements of the time does not help this case. The 100 Years' War, the Great Western Schism (alias Year of Three Popes), the Hussite movement, etc.; all of these were ignored. Scandinavian Viking culture was dismissed as having only "supposed misogyny" instead of systematic oppression of women (although the book does indeed mention raiding, pillaging, and gang rape!). "Turkish" and "Turkic" are mistakenly conflated—actually, the treatment of Asian cultures generally bothered me, everything from the conquest of Altishahr being mentioned in only a single sentence to the linguistic error that Mongolian is a Uyghur script (Old Uyghur is not an ancestor of the modern Uyghur language—that's actually a Karluk language). The book takes great pains to focus on the fact that Europe, according to the authors, was never devoid of "people of colour" (a term I hate and will never use willingly), but neglect to mention that the concept of race as discrete from ethnicity and/or nationality would not be invented until a century after the end of the mediaeval period. Similarly, the authors, two white American men, rail against "white historians," while making absolutely no distinction between, say, Slavic and Italian peoples. Furthermore, the idea that the Roman Empire never "fell" but rather mutated into the Byzantine Empire, while admittedly a popular theory, is taken to an even greater extent in this book, which claims that, not only were the Byzantines the literal successors of the Romans, but also that the Byzantines were Romans—something Justinian et. al. would undoubtedly have enjoyed. I'll concede that the Eastern Roman Empire didn't "fall" inasmuch as it transformed, but claiming that Byzantium remained socially, politically, culturally, or meaningfully ancient Roman is nonsensical. The advent of Christianity in Rome turned the Roman Empire into the Byzantine, just as the advent of Roman religion turned the native Germanic tribes into Romans. Some distinction has to be drawn. The final nail in the coffin for me personally was the shocking and unavoidable lack of any supplementary material: footnotes, appendices, works cited, bibliography, annotations, anything. These should be par for the course in any work attempting to challenge "common" understandings of a topic, and doubly so if the work in question positions itself as academic. Read The Light Ages instead.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. In the field of comic books, a common premise is "Everything You Know About X Is Wrong." The vast majority of these tales are terrible (Alan Moore's Swamp Thing being a notable exception.) This book takes the idea into academia, where it doesn't work so well either. The authors, pretending Huizinga and other authors don't exist, tell us what "we know" about the middle ages is wrong, and that they weren't "Dark" but "Bright." Throughout, there is the aroma of I won this book in a goodreads drawing. In the field of comic books, a common premise is "Everything You Know About X Is Wrong." The vast majority of these tales are terrible (Alan Moore's Swamp Thing being a notable exception.) This book takes the idea into academia, where it doesn't work so well either. The authors, pretending Huizinga and other authors don't exist, tell us what "we know" about the middle ages is wrong, and that they weren't "Dark" but "Bright." Throughout, there is the aroma of fear of being cancelled. A reader might learn something, but anyone who is familiar with the era should probably skip it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marcy Graybill

    A look at old evidence with new eyes. The authors' premise is that Rome did not fall, it just was redesigned, and the dark ages were not so dark. They focused mostly on Christianity and left out many of the scientific discoveries of the times. I enjoyed the writing style it's definitely accessible to the average reader. Covering nearly a thousand years and ranging from Western Europe to Africa and Asia, there's no possible way it can go into historical details, leaving out quite a bit of informa A look at old evidence with new eyes. The authors' premise is that Rome did not fall, it just was redesigned, and the dark ages were not so dark. They focused mostly on Christianity and left out many of the scientific discoveries of the times. I enjoyed the writing style it's definitely accessible to the average reader. Covering nearly a thousand years and ranging from Western Europe to Africa and Asia, there's no possible way it can go into historical details, leaving out quite a bit of information. For someone who is interested in history this would be a great overview of what really happened during the Middle Ages.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Holsinger

    "A lively, searing, and transformative reimagining of the medieval world, The Bright Ages is brilliant in every way, both lucid in its arguments and sparkling in its prose. A gripping and compulsive read." [my endorsement for the publisher] "A lively, searing, and transformative reimagining of the medieval world, The Bright Ages is brilliant in every way, both lucid in its arguments and sparkling in its prose. A gripping and compulsive read." [my endorsement for the publisher]

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I wanted to like this book. But it throws so much at the reader, often times out of order and with limited context, and tries to do too much. It ends up doing none of it well. The prose is readable but suffers from odd syntax, typographical errors, occasional run on sentences, and lack of clear transitions that show how sections logically flow into the next thought or story. Blanket statements and assertions are made without always giving evidence to back up said statements. I find the lack of f I wanted to like this book. But it throws so much at the reader, often times out of order and with limited context, and tries to do too much. It ends up doing none of it well. The prose is readable but suffers from odd syntax, typographical errors, occasional run on sentences, and lack of clear transitions that show how sections logically flow into the next thought or story. Blanket statements and assertions are made without always giving evidence to back up said statements. I find the lack of footnotes, a works cited page, and bibliography disturbing. This makes it hard to cross reference their research with other books on Medieval history. The further reading section is not well laid out either. The book's attempt at commentary on current trends in modern politics and historiography felt forced and out of place. There is little to no discussion of art, science, music, or literature. Referring to the Medieval period as the bright ages became tiresome, much like this book, after a while. The book told me history is complicated but didn't show it. Much of the violence is only somewhat addressed. It was apparently good to be a woman during this era. Sick 'em Christine de Pizan! Oh wait, you left her out of your book... You cherry picked stories to fit a narrative. You also left out the era of the three Popes, the 100 years war, the Hussites, and a larger framework for the stories you did tell. Now were those stories interesting but somewhat boringly told? Yes. Is this book completely without merit? No. There are interesting historical people in this book. I just sadly think you will have a better understanding of them and their contributions to history and our present day by reading the Middle Ages: A Graphic History or watching Extra Credit History and Overly Sarcastic Productions on YouTube than by reading this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Александър Стоянов

    The book sets on a path of depicting the Middle Ages in a new, bright light. The "bright light" motive is repeated in each chapter. The perspective is intended to be modern-liberal. Unfortunately the end result is somewhat wanting. Terms like "white supremacists" just hang in the air, as if deliberately stuffed in the narrative. The book is West-centric even though it strives to show us a New Look at Medieval Europe. Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Baltics and Balkans are all left out. The narrative The book sets on a path of depicting the Middle Ages in a new, bright light. The "bright light" motive is repeated in each chapter. The perspective is intended to be modern-liberal. Unfortunately the end result is somewhat wanting. Terms like "white supremacists" just hang in the air, as if deliberately stuffed in the narrative. The book is West-centric even though it strives to show us a New Look at Medieval Europe. Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Baltics and Balkans are all left out. The narrative is somewhat only touching upon facts and stories. There is a general lack of depth and a trend of generalisation - things the authors claim are the reason why the Middle Ages were thus far wrongfully perceived in the first place. For a historian that is in no way expert in the period, the book offers too few new facts and info. It claims to build a new perspective on Medieval history, but that new perspective has been taught to me in highschool two decades ago, so nothing new here. For a non-historian the book would probably seam chaotic and blurry. Too many names and places are out of context. The study lacks a proper set of footnotes to explain terms and places. Some basic understanding of Christian and Muslim dogma is required for any Medieval study. None is provided. The idea of a liberal new look at the Medieval period is a good thing. Turning this idea into words didn't work out quite fine.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam Peretz

    I am very interested in revisionist histories of the Medieval Period that seek to shift the focus away from the grim-dark veneer that popular culture has grafted onto it. It was, like all of the eras that came before and after it, a dynamic era of human activity that can be studied and understood without resorting to using outmoded and inaccurate terms like "the Dark Ages." Unfortunately, this book feels like it goes completely in the opposite direction by focusing on the positive, "bright" aspe I am very interested in revisionist histories of the Medieval Period that seek to shift the focus away from the grim-dark veneer that popular culture has grafted onto it. It was, like all of the eras that came before and after it, a dynamic era of human activity that can be studied and understood without resorting to using outmoded and inaccurate terms like "the Dark Ages." Unfortunately, this book feels like it goes completely in the opposite direction by focusing on the positive, "bright" aspects of the period in its attempts to downplay the negative, "dark" associations. One area in which this is very noticeable is its treatment of slavery, which was still very much present and dynamic during this time period despite the book posing it as a lingering remnant of the Late Classical Period, at least in Italy. The authors do not seem to have engaged with recent scholarship on the international Eurasian-North African slave trade, besides where it concerns the Volga River route where they still downplayed its importance in favor of bringing in the Rus-Silk Road connection (which is also where I found an error in the writing, as the authors wrote that the Khazar leadership converted to Judaism and then to Islam in the 10th century, but the conversion of some Khazars to Islam in the aftermath of Sviatoslav's invasion was different from the initial conversion and moreover was not tied to the leadership in the same way, the Khaganate having been mostly destroyed by that point). Beyond the topic of slavery, I think the title of the book and its insistence on referring to the era as "the bright age" is problematic in general because of what it chooses to focus on rather than what it chooses not to. It is true that art, music, and other examples of high culture continued throughout this time period, but to me that would still make the term "bright age" hyperbolic at best given the general state of society at the time. Even before the book gets to the traditional High Medieval Period, it fails to bring up events such as the Hungarian Migration to Carpathia and the subsequent raids throughout Europe, occurring at the same time as the Viking raids in Western and Eastern Europe. Eastern European raids from Rus, Turkic groups, Hungarians, and local Slavic groups resulted in archaeologically significant depopulation of Slavic populations from the Elbe River into Russia, funneled into the slave trade. This was also a period that I would identify as pivotal to the emergence of modern Europe, so while I disagree with the hyperbole of the title and the term, I don't think the book is without merit.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Montgomery

    This is a collection of vignettes set over the roughly 900 years from 430 to 1321 CE, all aimed to refute the popular idea that the end of "antiquity" was followed by the "Dark Ages" in which people were mired in ignorance and poverty until the Renaissance restored light and learning. Gabriele and Perry highlight a range of interesting (though not always admirable) characters and events from the period they dub "The Bright Ages," an effective rebuke to anyone who buys into the most reductive ide This is a collection of vignettes set over the roughly 900 years from 430 to 1321 CE, all aimed to refute the popular idea that the end of "antiquity" was followed by the "Dark Ages" in which people were mired in ignorance and poverty until the Renaissance restored light and learning. Gabriele and Perry highlight a range of interesting (though not always admirable) characters and events from the period they dub "The Bright Ages," an effective rebuke to anyone who buys into the most reductive idea of the "Dark Ages." Casual readers will come away with a more nuanced view of the medieval period, and probably a more positive one. A more informed reader might have a different experience. To list one example I'm familiar with, the book doesn't really engage at depth with some of the more recent scholarly debate about — the "fall of Rome," where contemporary scholars arguing that Rome fell have much more sophisticated and less moralizing arguments than the conventional understanding of the "Dark Ages" that Gabriele and Perry are focused on rebuking. That's fine, and readers who are familiar with the historical Middle Ages will still find plenty to ponder in this book, but as a member of this class I half-wished for a more deeply argued thesis as I read it, even as what was there gave me plenty to think about.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A stocking stuffer for the racist uncle or nephew or in-law in your life. The authors are concerned about how white supremacists, especially the homicidal ones, rely on their ahistorical beliefs about the middle ages in Europe. An extremely approachable survey of about 1000 years of history. Each chapter could be the topic of several books, and the authors' "for further reading" guide at the end points you to good sources. A stocking stuffer for the racist uncle or nephew or in-law in your life. The authors are concerned about how white supremacists, especially the homicidal ones, rely on their ahistorical beliefs about the middle ages in Europe. An extremely approachable survey of about 1000 years of history. Each chapter could be the topic of several books, and the authors' "for further reading" guide at the end points you to good sources.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    The Bright Ages is a lively and engaging history about a commonly misunderstood period. Beginning with a persuasive argument that Rome never fell but was instead transformed over a long period, Gabriele and Perry challenge the common conception of medieval life as "nasty, brutish, and short," as Thomas Hobbes put it. The medieval world was not a stagnant, fragmented, and unchanging one, but rather was "always in flux, with permeable borders, and signs of movement and cultural intermixing everywh The Bright Ages is a lively and engaging history about a commonly misunderstood period. Beginning with a persuasive argument that Rome never fell but was instead transformed over a long period, Gabriele and Perry challenge the common conception of medieval life as "nasty, brutish, and short," as Thomas Hobbes put it. The medieval world was not a stagnant, fragmented, and unchanging one, but rather was "always in flux, with permeable borders, and signs of movement and cultural intermixing everywhere you look." Like most good histories, The Bright Ages listens to its sources carefully for what they have to tell us about medieval events, personalities, and worldviews in order to upend assumptions, biases, and agendas that have shaped how we read them. The book takes as its central metaphor light, convincingly dispelling any notion that the medieval period was a "dark age" of any kind. Light was essential to medieval theology, literature, architecture, art, and more, speaking to a world in which innovation, creativity, and hope for the future could co-exist comfortably with instability and conflict. It's incredibly nuanced for a wide survey, and it is beautifully written. I recommend this book with my whole heart.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    Advertised as something like "everything you know about the European Middle Ages is wrong", the book is really a fairly conventional narrative history of the early middle ages, concentrated on events and thought that is widely known and accepted, that pays special attention to the multiple occasions of aspects of those circumstances that go against the conventional wisdom about the middle ages. It is well researched, well constructed, and a genuine pleasure to read. Advertised as something like "everything you know about the European Middle Ages is wrong", the book is really a fairly conventional narrative history of the early middle ages, concentrated on events and thought that is widely known and accepted, that pays special attention to the multiple occasions of aspects of those circumstances that go against the conventional wisdom about the middle ages. It is well researched, well constructed, and a genuine pleasure to read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Davis

    This book was fascinating, disappointing, confusing, not completely convincing, and not what I expected. I thought the book would set out to disprove the oft-expressed theory that nothing worthwhile was invented or written between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance by detailing such things as the great medical and scientific discoveries or the significant artwork, literature, law,and religious theories that occurred during the Middle Ages. While some of these works were mentioned, descriptions This book was fascinating, disappointing, confusing, not completely convincing, and not what I expected. I thought the book would set out to disprove the oft-expressed theory that nothing worthwhile was invented or written between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance by detailing such things as the great medical and scientific discoveries or the significant artwork, literature, law,and religious theories that occurred during the Middle Ages. While some of these works were mentioned, descriptions were not particularly detailed and the inventions and thoughts of the time took second place to a treatise on diversity. The latter was interesting in its own right as the authors put forth the proposition that the Roman Empire did not fall but that its point of centrality moved from Rome to Ravenna to Constantinople to central Europe and pointed out that people of different races, religions, and ethnicities coexisted and travelled freely across continents via trade routes just as they did in ancient Rome. But when forced to confront the fact that much of the diversity of both the ancient and modern Roman Empires was due to the enslavement and forced dislocation of conquered peoples, or that periods of seeming tranquility and peaceful coexistence were interspersed with religious/political wars, they fell back on the justification that "history is messy." Their point that the determination that the middle ages were "dark ages" was developed (and history rewritten) in later centuries to justify white superiority would play better if they had kept the discussion to the middle ages, which is what the book is about, and not veered into current politics. The inference is obvious, even without the lecture.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Rose

    This really wasn't what I was expecting (an informative meander through the medieval era, highlighting all the knowledge and technology that did exist) and was instead a strange anti-Trump anti-White Supremacy manifesto that's based upon the assumption that the reader is some sort of wishywashy neo-Nazi who can be persuaded via historical anecdotes that women and minorities aren't Untermensch. The parts where the book stays on track are interesting, that's undeniable, but the writing style and c This really wasn't what I was expecting (an informative meander through the medieval era, highlighting all the knowledge and technology that did exist) and was instead a strange anti-Trump anti-White Supremacy manifesto that's based upon the assumption that the reader is some sort of wishywashy neo-Nazi who can be persuaded via historical anecdotes that women and minorities aren't Untermensch. The parts where the book stays on track are interesting, that's undeniable, but the writing style and constant nudge-nudge wink-wink towards modern day politics was tiresome and bewildering. I guess I just wasn't the target audience for this. Maybe you have to be a conservative white man to really appreciate it. Also, this falls foul of something I always see self-appointed Progressive White Men™ stumble on - the idea that because one women (or minority, etc) had power once, then that means the past wasn't horrifically misogynistic (or racist, etc). Galla Placidia being regent while her son was too young to reign doesn't mean Rome was a bastion of equality, which is the shakey supposition the rest of the house of cards that is The Bright Ages is built upon. No one would argue that Mary and Elizabeth's reign makes Tudor England not sexist. No one would say Wu Zetian's existence made Tang China not sexist. And thus Galla Placidia spending a dozen years in charge does not a Bright society make! And only a man could write of the Vikings committing gang rape, and then follow it up by talking merely of their "supposed misogyny". There were also a few errors re: Turkish vs Turkic towards the end of the book, and also Mongolian being called a Uighur script despite Old Uyghur/Yugur being a very different thing to Uighur (which is, despite the name, actually a Karluk language). This might seem like a petty thing to get hung up on, but considering the somewhat callous way (a single throwaway sentence!) the author covered the mass rape, murder, and forced conversion of the population of Altishahr and surrounding cities, I feel like he ought to have at least pretended to have enough respect for Central Asian history to not make such basic mistakes. All in all, this felt like it was written backwards - that the author came to a conclusion ("the past wasn't racist or sexist, actually!!! minorities were beloved and women had agency!!! look at this one Roman woman who might have married her captor willingly!!! take that, bigots!!!") and then cherrypicked parts of medieval history to prove it. Not worth reading, in my opinion. Though the cover is very pretty.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Norman Smith

    The authors are history professors, and it is easy for me to imagine this book as a fascinating introduction to European medieval history for students in their first-year classes. If I had read this when I was in my first year of university, I would have been very happy with it. However, I have spent 50 years since then reading other histories, and my reaction to this was that it was rather superficial to the old poop that I am now. As a text book, it might fare better with students digging into The authors are history professors, and it is easy for me to imagine this book as a fascinating introduction to European medieval history for students in their first-year classes. If I had read this when I was in my first year of university, I would have been very happy with it. However, I have spent 50 years since then reading other histories, and my reaction to this was that it was rather superficial to the old poop that I am now. As a text book, it might fare better with students digging into the "Further Reading" recommended at the back of the book, but for me, I'm on to something else. In general, the book was well-written and the subject matter was certainly interesting. My gripe with it, other than it skims over a lot of stuff, is that nothing is really demonstrated. This is a book of assertions, and some of them really needed some evidence. For instance, the authors state that there was never a time when Europe did not include people of colour in its population. I have no trouble with that assertion, especially when talking about the Mediterranean parts of Europe. But how about further north? Were there many? A few? Vanishingly small numbers? The authors don't have anything to say. And yet, they thought it worth while making that assertion. The authors also tend to move from topic to topic within a chapter just when, in my opinion, the first part is getting interesting (which, to be fair, is pretty much every chapter). I think this would work better in a lecture setting, because the lecturer (professor) could adjust the delivery to accord with student reaction. For a reader, though, I think the approach works less well. Finally, I was annoyed by the authors' snark directed at their predecessors in the history business, referring to "white historians" as if that automatically meant something. Earlier historians were, as the authors are today, a product of their societies, and in this particular case I thought it was an instance of the salt calling the sugar white.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mande

    This book merely skims the surface and does not offer enough context clues for the casual reader of history. I think it would be more frustrating than anything for most who pick this book up off of a library shelf. Appreciated the premise, and the work itself is quite accessible to the casual reader, but so many subjects and areas were left out - too many, even given the vast expanse of the "known" world at the time. This book merely skims the surface and does not offer enough context clues for the casual reader of history. I think it would be more frustrating than anything for most who pick this book up off of a library shelf. Appreciated the premise, and the work itself is quite accessible to the casual reader, but so many subjects and areas were left out - too many, even given the vast expanse of the "known" world at the time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rosann

    Though the idea of The Dark Ages being in inaccurate descriptor of the Medieval period, authors Gabriele and Perry bring together solid research and analysis combined with good writing to comprehensively examine this time. They bring to vivid life this historic period so often overlooked and labelled savage, unsophisticated, grim and culturally lacking.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    -- well 4- First the good stuff: the writers are definitely storytellers. They have chosen an engaging premise and use a wide range of vignettes and anecdotes to make the material come alive. Writing style is appealing, if a tad wordy. Also, sometimes writers seem unclear as to their audience: they seem to assume that readers have a fair bit of general knowledge going in, but then choose to provide definitions for words that are not particularly obscure (like "anthropomorphic"). It's a physicall -- well 4- First the good stuff: the writers are definitely storytellers. They have chosen an engaging premise and use a wide range of vignettes and anecdotes to make the material come alive. Writing style is appealing, if a tad wordy. Also, sometimes writers seem unclear as to their audience: they seem to assume that readers have a fair bit of general knowledge going in, but then choose to provide definitions for words that are not particularly obscure (like "anthropomorphic"). It's a physically attractive book, and the illustrations are well chosen as supports for the writers' arguments. The book seems to fall into two sections. For the first 160 pages, this was my response: This is a remarkably coherent narrative. I like the way the concept of re-imagining the middle ages allows the writers to expose the reader to such a wide range of material. As a non-expert, I'm not sure about how new the interpretation is -- I remember studying one of these ideas -- that the Roman Empire never really ended -- back in the 80s. Still, I like the way they focus on multiculturalism and the porousness of the different communities. Even if most of this material is familiar to me, I feel that I am seeing it in a new light. For the last 1/3 of the book, I was less enthusiastic: Suddenly, I feel that I've lost the plot. The sections on France seem to be supporting stereotypical visions of the Middle Ages, rather than subverting them. Whereas what I enjoyed about the first part of the book was the sense of interconnectivity, here the focus feels much narrower, both geographically and thematically. The metaphor feels a bit more forced here. I mean I get it -- stained glass windows bring brightness into grey spaces, but that's a lot more simplistic than the point the writers were making earlier. The last chapter, on how misrepresenting the Middle Ages is politically dangerous, raises fascinating points, but they need to be developed more fully. Still, and impressive endeavour; solid scholarship translated into a more accessible idiom, with some beautiful moments.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella

    Consider this book a sampler of medieval European history. The authors are both professors. Matthew Gabrielle noted in an interview that many college students will only take one course that touches medieval history so he wants to capture their interest in that short time. The Bright Ages seems underpinned by that goal - not to tell the entire, comprehensive story of the Middle Ages - but to give just enough to ignite an interest in the topic. This book consists of 17 brief chapters in general chr Consider this book a sampler of medieval European history. The authors are both professors. Matthew Gabrielle noted in an interview that many college students will only take one course that touches medieval history so he wants to capture their interest in that short time. The Bright Ages seems underpinned by that goal - not to tell the entire, comprehensive story of the Middle Ages - but to give just enough to ignite an interest in the topic. This book consists of 17 brief chapters in general chronological order. Light is used as a motif throughout the book and a general organizing principle for the story. The chapters may circle around the dazzling stained glass of a chapel, the glimmering embers of burning books or the golden stars on the domed ceiling of a mausoleum. Hence we get the title, "The Bright Ages", which the authors use throughout the book to refer to the period. So that's the gist of the book. The main issue for me was that the stories felt like a hodgepodge mix. The chapters were too short for me to become engaged or find that same passion for the subject as the writers had. Though I know Gabriele and Perry tried to avoid this, everything had a textbook Name/Date/Place feel to it. It was... I'm so sorry... boring in some places. Just plain boring. There were many times I had to reread the same paragraph because my mind wandered halfway through. I'm a sucker for details - what did these people eat, wear, do for fun, etc. This isn't the kind of info you're going to get here and it's omission just makes the reading dry, in my humble opinion. Two big pros here. First, the conversational tone ("The year was 1292 and the people of Florence, which is to say 'certain good men, merchants and artificers,' were pissed off."). You know how it is when you're listening to a friend speak casually but really passionately about a topic they're interested in? That's how this book can be in places which I liked. Secondly, there's a really great list of further reading at the end. They seem to have really put some time into that list and I'll be using it to guide my further reading. One last point is that this book discusses in several places why learning the full story of history, messy as it is, is important in light of how this period's story has been distorted to spread a narrative of hate and misinformation. I almost feel like the book should have revolved around this or it should have been placed in a separate part of the book if they were going to discuss it. The way the topic is kind of peppered in felt disjointed. I'm not sure. Easier to sit on the sidelines and make these kind of comments than to be the one having to figure out how to incorporate topics like this. Overall, a short, readable, factual entry into medieval European history that's worth the time investment to read it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Philip J Cardella

    The Bright Ages by David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele is a necessary and yet readable retelling of the so-called Dark Ages that helps the reader not only see the Medieval Period in a new way, but casts a much needed light on how the "memory" of the period influences us today. The book is easily digestible, at times humorous, at times somber, but at all times takes the reader into an astonishingly beautiful and diverse period in human history. Stretching from the shores of the Pacific in the Eas The Bright Ages by David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele is a necessary and yet readable retelling of the so-called Dark Ages that helps the reader not only see the Medieval Period in a new way, but casts a much needed light on how the "memory" of the period influences us today. The book is easily digestible, at times humorous, at times somber, but at all times takes the reader into an astonishingly beautiful and diverse period in human history. Stretching from the shores of the Pacific in the East to the sands of the Sahara to the Viking ships in Greenland, the book deftly covers a huge time period with an amazing collection of peoples, men and women, Jews, Gentiles, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and a range in-between and beyond in a way that shows both the beauty and the horrors of this very human time. It is a dazzling star in a constellation of outstanding work by modern historians.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tiago

    A strange book this. It goes from interesting to infuriating in a single page. Clearly this is not so much a purely historical book but more a modern political one. The authors go out of their way to include all the sources and stories which involve powerful women in favour of more general ones. They also emphasize the non white element in European medieval History. Coming from Iberia, sometimes it is baffling how for example arabs and north africans are not mentioned in our Histories, although A strange book this. It goes from interesting to infuriating in a single page. Clearly this is not so much a purely historical book but more a modern political one. The authors go out of their way to include all the sources and stories which involve powerful women in favour of more general ones. They also emphasize the non white element in European medieval History. Coming from Iberia, sometimes it is baffling how for example arabs and north africans are not mentioned in our Histories, although nit picking to include them is as wrong as not doing it. If you have read most books by american academics you will know what I mean which is a pity, as the subject is quite interesting and should have more research done on it. As for the writing itself, it is quite good and easily understood by non anglos such as myself

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    There was a great deal of interesting material in this book- too much, in fact. The authors threw a ton of information at the reader, without always showing why it was relevant. They tried to cover way too much for a book of that length and, consequently, didn't provide enough depth or context. And, IMHO, they failed in (what I consider) the key responsibility of a good history book: to show us how the history covered made the world what it was today. I also found the constantly repeated use of There was a great deal of interesting material in this book- too much, in fact. The authors threw a ton of information at the reader, without always showing why it was relevant. They tried to cover way too much for a book of that length and, consequently, didn't provide enough depth or context. And, IMHO, they failed in (what I consider) the key responsibility of a good history book: to show us how the history covered made the world what it was today. I also found the constantly repeated use of the term "bright ages" annoying and gimmicky. It makes sense to use it for the title, to make the point, but using it constantly seemed trite. Imagine doing the same thing in a Civil War history book called "The Un-Civil War," or a WWI history book called "The Not-So-Great War." Sure, use it in the title, maybe the introduction, to illustrate your point; after that, it just sounds silly. Not a bad book, but not necessarily one I would recommend to someone looking to delve into medieval history- there are too many that are better. But it had some very interesting material and I would happily read more focused work by these authors.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    This book does a great job of taking you through almost a thousand years of history at a pretty quick pace. I think the authors do an excellent job presenting their argument about the so-called "Dark Ages" and it certainly made me rethink how I not only look at that time period, but history in general. It's interesting to see how humans have supposedly changed but at the same time, it feels like we haven't at all. This book does a great job of taking you through almost a thousand years of history at a pretty quick pace. I think the authors do an excellent job presenting their argument about the so-called "Dark Ages" and it certainly made me rethink how I not only look at that time period, but history in general. It's interesting to see how humans have supposedly changed but at the same time, it feels like we haven't at all.

  24. 4 out of 5

    K

    Perfectly fun, but I wanted more about music. Any music, really, apart from a brief mention that Hildegard of Bingen was a composer and theorist. But yeah, this is a concise read that made me want to read more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Emily Paige Ballou

    I laughed, I cried, I went "wait, what the fuck?" a lot. I definitely wanted to read more about the Middle Ages afterwards. I laughed, I cried, I went "wait, what the fuck?" a lot. I definitely wanted to read more about the Middle Ages afterwards.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rosann

    Though the idea of The Dark Ages being in inaccurate descriptor of the Medieval period, authors Gabriele and Perry bring together solid research and analysis combined with good writing to comprehensively examine this time. They bring to vivid life this historic period so often overlooked and labelled savage, unsophisticated, grim and culturally lacking.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    I'm not happy with this book. It's an easy ready, but it irritates me. It pays lip service to the violence and bigotry of the past, then tries to downplay it or excuse it as distorted reflections of more modern events. On the other end of the spectrum, it hammers home its idea of an interlinked world that still existed, but seemingly ignores the fact that compared to the Roman empire it replaced, western societies were a basket case, and were far from the Roman-ish successsor states it attempts I'm not happy with this book. It's an easy ready, but it irritates me. It pays lip service to the violence and bigotry of the past, then tries to downplay it or excuse it as distorted reflections of more modern events. On the other end of the spectrum, it hammers home its idea of an interlinked world that still existed, but seemingly ignores the fact that compared to the Roman empire it replaced, western societies were a basket case, and were far from the Roman-ish successsor states it attempts to postulate. Finally, it's obsessed with making it sound like the Roman empire didn't disappear, but continued as the Byzantines or transmuted into a new form...when I believe this is absolute poppycock. The Rome of Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian & Marcus Aurelius died...no matter how loud Justinian and his successors claim they continue to be Romans. I could probably rant even more...but I'll leave it at that. The author and I must simply agree to disagree, and move on.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marian Thorpe

    Many many years ago, I read an article on how the primate research of Jane Goodall, Birute Galdikas and Dian Fossey changed the views of the power structures and interactions within primate families by virtue of one thing: they brought a female viewpoint to a male-dominated field, and saw cooperation where their predecessors had seen competition. While no doubt simplistic, it is true that in any field of study, every individual brings a set of preconceived ideas through which they not only inter Many many years ago, I read an article on how the primate research of Jane Goodall, Birute Galdikas and Dian Fossey changed the views of the power structures and interactions within primate families by virtue of one thing: they brought a female viewpoint to a male-dominated field, and saw cooperation where their predecessors had seen competition. While no doubt simplistic, it is true that in any field of study, every individual brings a set of preconceived ideas through which they not only interpret, but use too to sort and sift, choosing what fits within their constructs, discarding outliers. (As I was taught to, in applying statistical analysis to my own graduate research.) In the past decades, and accelerating in the 21st C, many historians and archaeologists are interpreting the events of the past through different lenses, challenging long-held views. Facts are looked at in different lights, or new techniques: warrior burials thought to be men are women; DNA studies change what we know about how Yersinia pestis spread across the world. But not just through science, but through viewpoints from different traditions and scholarship, and by listening to voices marginalized or dismissed, another picture can and does emerge. In The Bright Ages, authors Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry use these new interpretations and new knowledge to give us an overview of the time known until recently as ‘the dark ages’: from the decline of Rome’s power in Western Europe to the beginning of the Renaissance. Choosing a series of events on which to focus, ones that may be familiar to readers with an interest in this time period, they illustrate how interconnected the world was. Aggression and conquest were part of this time; atrocities on all sides happened. But so did the exchange of knowledge and ideas, whether in technology or philosophy, theology or medicine: men and women met in person or by letter to debate, challenge, and change the interpretations of secular and religious thought and practice, enlightened by the exchange across cultures, beliefs, experiences -- just as is happening today. The Bright Ages is an eminently readable book, the style casual enough for a non-specialist reader but with enough rigor to make it a starting point for more investigation. (Helpfully, the authors provide a section on further reading for each chapter, which may strain my book budget.) It is a solid, useful adjunct to scholarly research (not easily accessible to many) re-evaluating knowledge, thought and belief about medieval Europe.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Snowe

    The authors present an entirely different interpretation of the "Dark Ages" than is most often given by historians. Using available documentation, they show us that glittering, literate, and cultured civilizations progressed during this era, as opposed to collapsing into barbarism and chaos. For those of us who are fans of medieval history, this isn't a new idea, but the authors cover the history of the world in the first millennium, C.E., that we rarely read about. Culture in the Arab world, In The authors present an entirely different interpretation of the "Dark Ages" than is most often given by historians. Using available documentation, they show us that glittering, literate, and cultured civilizations progressed during this era, as opposed to collapsing into barbarism and chaos. For those of us who are fans of medieval history, this isn't a new idea, but the authors cover the history of the world in the first millennium, C.E., that we rarely read about. Culture in the Arab world, India, Asia, as well as Europe--progressed in science, mathematics, literature, art. Women played prominent roles in "barbarian" Europe--perhaps that is why men of the European Renaissance considered it barbaric. All in all, a very interesting addition to the many books about Medieval history. Don't, however, expect an examination of "daily life in the Bright Ages." This is a history book covering over a thousand years, on several different continents. And why the title, "The Bright Ages"? The authors link the monumental architecture, art, and literature to the idea that medieval peoples were looking towards the heavens for enlightenment, and that the more light in art or architecture, the more godly they were. A profoundly interesting theme, woven into the narrative of the book. The major downside of the audio-book was the reader. This was a guy with a loud voice, perhaps a retired news anchor, who was more concerned with pronouncing the words clearly, than in the work itself. He seemed to have no interest or understanding of the material, and his voice, while clear, was almost a monotone. Even when he modulated his voice, it was inappropriate. Had it been a more talented, dedicated reader, I would have enjoyed the book even more. But it was sometimes almost painful to listen. I got bored with the voice. Someday, I'll listen again, hopefully I'll get past this awful voice.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I came to this book already having a decent understanding about the so-called "Dark Ages," a time period I understood as having both wonderful and horrifying events. As a middle school teacher of world history, I strive to teach my students about the complexities of human beings during this time period. With amazement and wonder, we examine how technological achievements affected the expansion of agriculture, cities, and human population, how kingdoms and empires gained power over people, how re I came to this book already having a decent understanding about the so-called "Dark Ages," a time period I understood as having both wonderful and horrifying events. As a middle school teacher of world history, I strive to teach my students about the complexities of human beings during this time period. With amazement and wonder, we examine how technological achievements affected the expansion of agriculture, cities, and human population, how kingdoms and empires gained power over people, how religions spread to multiple cultures, and how cultures were interacting heavily during this time period. Likewise, with horror, we analyze the atrocities from these interactions and their effects on certain populations. What this book did for me was to illuminate these themes even more and expand on my understanding in a way that I can explain to my students. The authors share stories and perspectives that I did not know before reading their book, and are ones that give me great pause and, quite frankly, rattle me a bit. This book is going to allow me to do a much better job presenting the complexities about the Bright Ages to my students and, importantly, how this impacts us today. I loved this book and I especially appreciate how accessible the writing is. The Further Reading section is fantastic, too. Highly recommend.

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