Grant, Michael. Dawn of the Middle Ages.

NY: Bonanza Books, 1981.

The late Michael Grant had a long and widely varied academic career and was a noted author of popular histories of the ancient and medieval world. This one, unfortunately, is not one of his more successful efforts.

But much of the blame for that must go to the unknown designer of the book. His narrative is a good, nontechnical survey of the period from the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, last emperor in the West, in 476 to the death of Charles the Great in 814. That’s as good as definition of “early medieval Europe” as any, but the author goes farther afield, including sections on the rise and expansion of Islam, the Jews in Europe and Asia, a special section on Britain, and the Slavs, Turks, Huns, and even China during those same years. For those latter cultures, which have little if any connection with Europe, the time division makes no sense, but I can’t fault Grant’s desire to broaden his readers’ awareness of the global context.

However, reading this book is a good deal more difficult than it ought to be. There are multiple illustrations on nearly every page, but they’re scattered about. A caption may be split by the image itself, or it may be isolated on the other side of the page, or several of them may be lumped together — there’s no consistency and locating the caption that goes with a particular illustration takes far longer than it should. Also, the continuing narrative may be split into several chunks on the page, separated by oddly placed illustrations, so there’s a lot of starting and stopping and casting about if you’re trying to read a chapter straight through. The text is pretty good, and the many illustrations are informative, but the organization of the whole is abysmal.

Published in: on 17 November 2013 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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