Meandering Em's

Passion is books, photography, running and traveling. Also passionate about environmental issues.

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire - Judith Herrin I was eager to learn about this period of history that has been ignored by historians in the West. The author's goal was to write about this period in readable prose. She focused each chapter on a particular theme, event or historical figure, hoping to reveal this great civilization to a general reader. Herrin was not quite successful. Although some chapters were fascinating, many were not. So many names of rulers or famous people were mentioned, it was hard to remember any facts. The same person might be mentioned in different chapters, but no connection made by the author or the reader. Herrin made assumptions about the reader's knowledge beginning in Chapter 1 when she mentions the name of Marina Warner without any explanation. She continues to expound on a theory developed by Ms. Warner, but never fully explains the theory or why it is relevant.Aside from the above problems, I learned quite a bit. I finally learned what an iconoclast was and is. (I am one!) She gives the history of this movement in Byzantium: why the movement occurred, how it ended and the affects it had on the Puritans. There was an interesting chapter on Greek fire, a substance used in Byzantine warfare. Unfortunately, I still don't know what it is, since the secret died when the empire died. How did they manage to keep it secret?Another fascinating chapter was about eunuchs. Some families made their sons eunuchs so they could advance in the political world and obtain key positions in government. Many eunuchs has great access to the emperors and some obtained great power. The last area of interest centered around the sacking of Constantinople during the Crusades when the Roman Catholic countries attacked the city instead of fighting the Muslims. The crusaders took the city's treasures home to Western Europe. There were grave consequences of this rash action. It led to Byzantium to prefer dealing with the Muslims rather than fellow "Christians." It also weakened the civilization, leading to the eventual fall to the Ottoman Empire. Up to that time, Byzantium had protected Western Europe from the encroachment of the Muslims, allowing them to develop their culture without warring against the Muslims.Overall, this book is recommended to those who want to learn more about a forgotten civilization that survived and thrived for 1,000 years. Today, the Byzantine world "has no modern successor state but has influenced so many."

Currently reading

The Waiting Years
Fumiko Enchi
Progress: 94/208 pages
Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock
Derrick Z. Jackson, Stephen W. Kress
Progress: 33/376 pages