One of my favorite editors in the world, John Wilson at Books and Culture, just put up a reflective and interesting podcast about the History of the Medieval World. (Note–the podcast will start as soon as you click on that second link, so don’t let it startle you. Or click on it if you’re sitting in bed with your laptop, next to a sleeping spouse.) I like this bit, from his print intro:

Susan Wise Bauer…is writing the history of the world. Not the history of salt, or the history of the year 1492, or the history of the color blue. No, the whole shebang.

I never thought about writing the history of the color blue, but now I’m picturing such a project in my mind.

And the book just got this notice, from the Book of the Month Club:

The History of the Medieval World is a simple yet strikingly apt title for historian Susan Wise Bauer’s quietly audacious tour de force. This comprehensive and colorful work spans the entire globe—from Europe and the Mediterranean to the Indian peninsula, Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica—during the period of civilizational upheaval that began with the fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and ended with the founding of the Knights Templar in the 12th century. The organizing concept in this volume of Wise Bauer’s History is religion, and its mutually transformative relationship with state power: “the redirection of violence into the paths of righteousness.” While the kings profiled in her previous bestseller, The History of the Ancient World, ruled by sheer might, the rulers of the Middle Ages—across all geographical regions, cultures and civilizations—turned to faith and the conceit of “divine right” to justify their dominion. From the Orthodox Christianity of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Mahayana Buddhism of northern China, the influence of religion on this period of world history has seldom before been surveyed on such an all-encompassing scale. Parallels and connections emerge between such seemingly disparate events as the schism between Rome and Constantinople, Muhammad’s establishment of Islam, the rise of China’s Tang dynasty (and its fall at the hands of the Turks), the romance of Emperor Justinian and the actress Theodora, Pope Leo’s successful mission to turn Attila the Hun away from the gates of Rome, the once-innocuous clubs of chariot-racing fans that devolved into mobs of guerrilla warriors driven to brutal battle by doctrinal differences, the unification of the German kingdom under Henry the Fowler, the repeated invasions of Britain by Norsemen and Normans, and the hideously bloody Crusades to impose Christian rule upon the Holy Land. Just about every reader will discover intriguing new characters and fascinating new stories. At more than 600 pages, the book is concise yet comprehensive; 46 maps dynamically illustrate the thrusts of armies and the flux of national borders, while dozens of fascinating timelines depict the parallel courses of events across cultures whose histories are rarely juxtaposed. The author has an uncommon ability to convey the sweep of history in intimately personal terms, taking care to depict the impact of momentous events on the general population. She has crafted a volume that will be read cover to cover with great enjoyment and consulted often as a reference work. With two further installments in preparation, Susan Wise Bauer is well on her way to completing a landmark narrative history of the entire world.

Guess they liked it. (Why is it, though, that no one seems to be able to count how many maps there are? No one’s gotten it right yet. They’re all listed right in the front of the book, for crying out loud.)

Showing 8 comments
  • Matt Colflesh

    Just picked up a copy at B&N. Looking forward reading your landmark narrative!

  • Katie

    I got my copy in the mail 2 days ago–even in the midst of 12 inches of snow, my postal carrier pulled through for me!

    Congrats on your newest addition (er…edition?). Sorry, bad with puns…

  • Karen

    Guess they liked it, indeed . Even though counting skills are impaired, this doesn’t seem to have affected appreciation of narrative flair and historical connections.

  • Lee Price

    I am so looking forward to getting this 2nd volume. I have two men in my church reading the first one. They are thorougly enjoying it.

  • Janice in NJ

    Congrats on the ++ reviews. My copy is here. As soon as my life quiets a bit in its own brand of colorfulness, I’m looking forward to touring your audacious work myself.


    P.S. Thanks for the maps; they help a LOT!

  • Colleen in NS

    Guess they liked it??? Wowza, I guess so! Congratulations on such a great review! 🙂

    Here is the part that puts this book into perspective for me and makes me want to buy it NOW rather than wait til I’m done reading HOAW: “The organizing concept in this volume of Wise Bauer’s History is religion, and its mutually transformative relationship with state power…Parallels and connections emerge between such seemingly disparate events as the…”

    I’m halfway through my second round of medieval history in our homeschooling, and reading this blurb was like a light going on in my mind.

    You’re brilliant.

  • Strawberry Queen

    Can’t wait to read it. I just finished the first book tonight. I finished the chapter on Constantine, flipped the page expecting more and found the end notes:( I really enjoyed it and at least I don’t have to wait too long to read the next one.(bonus of taking 18 months to read a book)

  • Connie Scholten

    Loving History of the Medieval World, but struggling with how to pronounce some of the names in the book! Anyone else having the same problem? Any suggestions? Googling the name doesn’t always help.

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