Penguin £12.99 (651pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop : 08430 600 030
The Inheritance of Rome, By Chris Wickham
Friday 29 January 2010
From its opening scene of everyday torture in Roman courts to its valedictory reminder that the Caliphs of Baghdad were for a century "the strongest power in the world", this epic of European history between 400 and 1000AD leaves no cliché unchallenged.
After Rome's fall the feuding patchwork or "bricolage" of states and lordships failed to grow into a stable pattern. The "dark ages" (another idea that bites the dust) seldom – even in the time of Charlemagne - set a steady course towards national identity, "European" civilisation or any other delusion of hindsight.
So, gripping as Wickham's narratives prove from Scotland to Byzantium, his impatience with myth for a time leaves us with history as one damn thing after another. Only at the end does this majestic panorama specify the the trends behind the tales.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview is finally released after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food