The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

Harper. Dec. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780062980892. $29.99. HIST
The so-called Dark Ages have long been associated with intolerance, war, and disease. Gabriele (medieval studies, Virginia Tech; An Empire of Memory) and historian Perry’s (Sacred Plunder) illuminating history argues that those notions are self-serving myths designed to show that the Middle Ages were “the opposite of what we want our modern world to be.” Gabriele and Perry are concerned with telling a version of medieval history that deepens our understanding of the events and ideas that shaped the medieval world. The sacking of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 is often said to mark the beginning of the Middle Ages; Gabriele and Perry, however, begin with an image of a mosaic dome of a church built by empress Galla Placidia in the fifth century. Cultural and political continuity are major themes in the book’s treatment of a wide range of subjects, from the well-known (Beowulf) to the more obscure (the mystic visions of Gerbert in the 11th century). In a short epilogue, the authors argue that liberating ourselves from simplistic notions of the Middle Ages will enable us to better understand both the horrors and the fullness of our own age.
VERDICT This accessible trip through the medieval world is well worth taking for anyone wishing to better understand its complexity.
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