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May 14, 2007

The Last Apocalypse

Europe at the Year 1000 A.D.
James Reston, Jr. – ISBN – 9780385483360

After reading The Dogs of God my appetite for the reading of this book was whetted immensely (see my review of that book.) I was disappointed. Amazed and confused, to paraphrase Neil Diamond’s song.

Reston offers an absorbing discussion. Indeed it is exhausting because the subject is simply too complex for so short a treatise. The defeat and Christianization of the Vikings, the Magyars, and a small host of other “habitual invaders” is dealt with in a whirlwind sequence.

First the heathens are overrunning Europe. As they are beat back the Christians return the favor. Soon enough the bad guys are back (assuming you’re rooting for the Christians.) The names of all of the Vikings meld together in a blur . . . but never mind! Soon the names from the Central Steppes, along with the Hungarians and other nasty primitives overwhelm the text. So do the Christian defenders.

There’s Otto I, then Otto II, then Otto III. One is terribly confused—or at least I was—and the balloon of interest is deflated. I tried on at least half a dozen occasions to get into the book but simply couldn’t. I read portions of over half, just to get the “gist,” but finally gave up.

The sheer accretion of personal factoids makes this work read like a dictionary, or a biographical encyclopedia. There is far too much information, or too little. It should have been 1000 pages . . . or edited to 120, including only a quick review of the history of the era.

What I learned was that the world was a mess, from England to Jerusalem. Everyone was fighting everyone else, and finally the Christians prevailed, authoring (more or less) modern, Christian Europe.

Inasmuch as I would have been rooting for the Pope and his apostles, I’m happy with the outcome. I’ve long been aware of the barbarism of the era, and we’re all being reminded of that kind of barbarism with the current strife with the latter-day “heathens.” Again, the West is threatened. This time monotheism is certain to prevail. I can only hope that it’s the Christian version, and that it doesn’t take another century to determine the outcome.

This little volume is probably worthwhile for one who wants to read slowly, take notes, diagram the lineages involved and map the serial battles. But that isn’t my style.

Maybe I’m getting “old-timer’s disease?”

Posted by respeto at May 14, 2007 2:08 PM