This great history starts with a survey of Christianity, then continues with an exploration of the "dark ages" following the fall of Rome, before proceeding with an explanation of how Europe coped with, and absorbed, the barbarians who overran the Empire. It goes on to trace the development of feudalism and Islam, and describes the harrowing survival of Byzantium throughout the brutal chaos that swirled about the Eastern Roman Empire during the 9th and 10th centuries. Discover how national monarchies and the modern nation state came into being, how the West responded to the Islamic invasions, and how Christianity penetrated into the farthest reaches of Northern Europe. Understand the dramatic repercussions of the Great Schism in Christianity and how economic change in the West almost destroyed the church. Finally, discover the events which gave rise to the magnificent flowering of the Gothic Age and the explosion of knowledge which subsequently paved the way for the Renaissance. The Middle Ages were the precursor to everything which we in the west consider "modern." This beautifully written history tells you why.
What members say
This rather long history is absorbing from beginning to end. It is actually an outline, and as such succeeds brilliantly. The long period it covers (over a thousand years) is broken out in more or less chronlogical order, though there are a few chapters that jump backward or forward depending on the geography being covered. The reviewer named "zuff" is way off base in regard to content. The authors of this mid-twentieth century text were ALL very highly respected Ivy League professors of note. You can find their historical works and papers scattered across numerous famous institutions, including Columbia University. If you are looking for politically correct history, you will not find it here. Also, this is serious history, so if you're looking for "popular history," this is just not going to light your fire. This is academic history for people with patience who can listen carefully and want to get a good grasp of what the middle ages were about. But it is not difficult to understand. From my standpoint, this audiobook is simply magnificent.
The narrator has a very clear and persuasive voice that is easy to understand. It is somewhat British sounding and very pleasant over long periods of time. Merely listen to the sample.
For anyone wishing to know something about the middle ages, whether highly educated or not, you can do no better than this great work.
48 of 50 people found this review helpful
A Stunning Achievement
The middle ages is one of those cloudy subjects that most people, including me, usually steer clear of. It doesn't seem to have the dash and intellectual allure of the classical periods that preceeded it. Bu that was merely my perception. This long and detailed history of the 1,000 years of history spanning the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance was honestly one of the most entertaining pieces I have ever listened to. Call me ignorant, but I just did not know how interesting this period actually was. I note with amusement that some listeners objected to the chapter on Christianity, though for the life of me I don't understand their objections. I was brought up a Christian but have not practised any religion in several decades. However, I found the explanation of how Christianity developed to be incredibly fascinating. It's hard to really understand the passions and disputes that occurred in the middle ages without some compass of what made those people tick. I also found the chapters on Islam and Byzantium extremely informative, as well as the chapters that covered the establishment of nationlist monarchies and the achievements of the late Gothic period. All in all, I was hugely impressed by this great work and would recommend it to all but the few zany anti-religious types who probably would never get past the first chapter anyway. There is also wonderful medieval music here and the narrator, Charlton Griffin, is truly superb.
69 of 73 people found this review helpful
- Lt. William Calley
About half the book is good audio
A History of the Middle Ages (2004) - Brinton, Christopher, and Wolff ****
This work seems to be only available as an unabridged audiobook (rather than a book also). The information is useful and enlightening, and well worth the time. About half the book is perfect for the audio format. However, much doesn't lend itself well to the audio format, and charts and diagrams showing interrelationships of the discussed civilizations would help. There is insufficient explanation about what the structure of the book is, and how each section relates to the others. In some parts a bewildering barrage of specific information is provided, assuming a familiarity which many readers don't share. The parts that lend themselves well, however, to this format are valuable and interesting, and changed my understanding of the world for the better.
20 of 21 people found this review helpful
Excellent for bed
I too didn't realise just how interconnected everything was in Europe - and how the seeds for recent wars (from WW1 to Kosovo) were sown over 2,000 years ago when the Roman Empire collapsed. Even the Cold War and Russia's/Moscow's view of its position in the world dates back to the end of Rome. An excellent book for bedtime - I keep it running and dip in and out as I wake up during the night
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
An astonishing epic
Wow! This one really pushes the gray matter! I had no idea of the complexity of the middle ages. This really shot my preconceptions right out of the water. It's a little scholarly in places, but for the most part, I thought it was incredibly interesting. I've already gone back to hear some of the more interesting parts again. The opening chapter about Christianity was very well done. Highly recommended! Nice narration, too.
55 of 61 people found this review helpful
- Robert Amis
After buying this I did not read it for some time being put off by the length and the pompous narrative style I had found in a 5 minute preview. Once I tried it I stuck with it (this does not always happen) and learned a lot in this very wide subject.
The book is well structured with good introductions and it is therefore easy to keep up with the overall narrative (not always true with audiobooks if you are driving)
14 of 15 people found this review helpful
- James W. Fox
This is beautifully done, using music and other sound effects to transition from one section to another of this extremely well-written volume. But the expert in history will value it more than the amateur, for the detail will likely cause the mind of the ordinary reader to wander.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful
Some of it good, some of it bad.
There are two basic ways to write history books. You can do your own research, or you can read a lot of other historians' books and compile what they wrote into a textbook, ideally by integrating all the other works into one consistent theory. This book is the latter, but without the integration.
It seems to have been compiled from sources written at different times, because some of it is current on medieval research, while parts are outdated. For instance, it seems more to describe modern than ancient or medieval Christianity while seeming to defend the religion more than to analyze it. Later, the authors have no problem rejecting Islamic religious tradition to write that history. This inconsistency is present in other areas than religion, but it's harder to illustrate. For instance, the authors take at face value the stories of the wicked Merovingian kings while more objectively analysing Emperor Justinian's biographer.
Overall I'd say this is a bad history book. Parts are outdated, parts are poorly researched, and parts seem to be written with only a slight knowledge of the subject, as if the writer were paraphrasing other textbooks.
I gave it three stars instead of two because of its range. It tells the history of Rome, Europe, Byzantium, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the bare basics of Islamic history, and while it tells them wrong sometimes, many books don't even attempt that.
The narrator is another story. He is so dramatic it's almost farcical at times, and he even makes otherwise mundane passages seem controversial with the emphasis he puts into them, as when he describes Jesus as having "iron." He's almost as funny as the narrator of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Just don't take him too seriously and try to see past his tone to the text beyond.
26 of 31 people found this review helpful
- Neil Chisholm
Foundations to our modern times
What made the experience of listening to A History of the Middle Ages the most enjoyable?
While this is not a general history but quite a learned text its depth is not overwhelming. It is broken up into chapters and parts that concentrate on different geographical areas eg England, France, Byzantine Empire and compares and contrasts them. It is exciting to discover that the Middle Ages were a time of dynamic change and the foundation of our modern times.
What other book might you compare A History of the Middle Ages to and why?
Having just listened to The Popes by John Julius Norwich it was fascinating to hear the secular side of the most turbulent age of the papacy.
What three words best describe Charlton Griffin’s performance?
Pompous irritating annoying
Any additional comments?
Charlton Griffin had a very annoying accent and habit of mispronouncing words which spoiled my enjoyment of the book although the content remained of great interest to me. Sometimes the mispronunciation would cause me to lose the thread of the discussion and I would have to go back and relisten to a section - if I hadn't been so interested in the subject matter I think I might have given up purely due to my annoyance at Charlton's performance. HIs accent is a very curious mix of BBC English, Yorkshire and something I haven't identified but it leaves you with with the wish he would have a sherry, relax and not be so pompous!
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
Insightful and Informative
Yes, this book starts out with what sounds like Christian propaganda. And yes, Charlton Griffin's voice can be distracting in its theatricality (he often sounds like J. Peterman from Seinfeld). And yes, this book moves very quickly. Get past these minor irritations and you're left with a comprehensive and at times mind-boggling survey of economic, political, and intellectual movements spanning the 1600 years from the Roman Empire to the rise of Early Modern Europe. If you've ever wondered where the bourgeoisie came from, why leaders call themselves "Czar" and "Kaiser", or even if you'd like to impress your friends by knowing the difference between a Realist and a Nominalist, this book is worth your time. Skip it if you're looking for a story about knights in shining armor.
32 of 40 people found this review helpful
A very good book ruined
I was housebound at the time and I was looking forward to learning something of my favourite historical period. I still have some text books from my youth, but this seemed likely to be more thorough and informative.
Unfortunately, and I have to say this, the reading was so appalling that it was difficult to absorb anything and having to continually 'rewind' an MP3 player was a frustrating exercise.
Part of the problem is that a book of this type does not lend itself to spoken cross references to narrative which has already been read or which appears later in the book. On the printed page this would be easy enough to follow but not so in an audiobook. This is one of those occasions where some care should have been taken to edit the book to make things easier for the listener.
I also regret that the narrators voice and quite unnecessary attempts to introduce 'drama' (I can only think that this is what he was trying to do) into the work was both irritating and unsuccessful.
I have given up on the audiobook and may now go to the library and borrow the printed work.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Reasonable book, ruined
Any audiobook is a game of two halves. The first part is the text written by the author and the second the narration.
The first part of this book is fine, well researched if a little pro-Western, pro-Church stand point. It is a little dated in places but otherwise excellent.
The downfall comes with the narration which at best sounds like Hugh Denis doing his best pompous voice but most of the time is dreadfully dull and precisely the tone that puts so many off history. At point one I really did wonder what was going on as he mispronounces even the simplest things dan-e-geld is actually dane-geld (gold paid to the Danes to go away). The patronising, condescending and frankly turgid tones were eventually enough even for me and I couldn't face the final part. My view is that it was a good book ruined. There are many good books on audible, this just isn't one of them. My advice, get Caesar's Legion instead and cracking book and an excellent narrator.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
The roots of modern European history
We forget the past, but that does not mean that it is not important for understanding the present, or even the future. The Medieval period is also known as the Dark Ages, not because nothing happened, but because so little documentation still exists. It was a period of looting, raping and pillage as well as burning of towns and monasteries, where much of the documentation for the period would have be housed.
This history from the mid 5th Century to the 17th Century, ending at the start of the early Modern period, is an interesting glimpse of how modern European bounderies were drawn and more importantly, why. However, perhaps because it is in audio form, at times it seems confusing. You have to struggle without maps for some mental picture of the part of Europe being described is being divided or fought over by various parties.
Overall it is interesting and absorbing enough to stay to the end. The chapters are divided by music, mainly extracts of beautiful plainchants, evoking the monks at their devotions; Christianity playing such an important part in the development of Europe and the Near East during this period, not only for the Crusades but for the Christianization of Eastern Europe and the schism between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches.
The narrator, however, affected some of the oddest pronunciation I have ever heard. Where was he from with his plummy accent yet was unable to pronounce 'Salisbury', and irritatingly 'orften' and others. I know this was written by American, for American too presumeably from the annoying asides about the US and its history, but did the narrator have to have such affectations? Due to him, my enjoyment was diminished and it was hard work to listen through to what. by the third part, seemed like the bitter end.
So if you accept the narrator, and his voice does not stick in your craw, I would say this book because of its subject is worth discovering
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
The worst audiobook EVER
Would you try another book written by the authors or narrated by Charlton Griffin?
The authors yes, the narrator No, I would rather stick needles in my eyes.
What did you like best about this story?
The period and the writing are fine
How did the narrator detract from the book?
He was quite simply dreadful. Pompous, slow and technically incorrect. He speaks like he is an alien that he never heard the English language spoken by a real human being. Is it any wonder that so many people hate history if people like this are responsible for delivering it.
You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?
The content is fine but it should tell you something that i binned it. It was in the days before you could exchange books on Audible so that alone speaks volumes I refused to waste another moment of my life listen to this butchery of the English language and associated history. If you can cope with the narration you will be fine.
Any additional comments?
DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK! It is dreadful thanks to he narrator. Try 'The time traveller's guide to Medieval England' if you are interest in the period. Alternatively Steve Dando-Collins 'Caesar's Legion' which is excellent.