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 Bauerâ€™s quietly audacious tour de force. This comprehensive and colorful work spans the entire globeâ€”from Europe and the Mediterranean to the Indian peninsula, Southeast Asia and Mesoamericaâ€”during the period of civilizational upheaval that began with the fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantineâ€™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 Bauerâ€™s History is religion, and its mutually transformative relationship with state power: â€œthe redirection of violence into the paths of righteousness.â€ While the kings profiled in her previous bestseller, The History of the Ancient World, ruled by sheer might, the rulers of the Middle Agesâ€”across all geographical regions, cultures and civilizationsâ€”turned to faith and the conceit of â€œdivine rightâ€ 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, Muhammadâ€™s establishment of Islam, the rise of Chinaâ€™s Tang dynasty (and its fall at the hands of the Turks), the romance of Emperor Justinian and the actress Theodora, Pope Leoâ€™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.)