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review 2017-03-08 02:33
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 2 of 3)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2 - D.J. Boorstin,Gian Battista Piranesi,Edward Gibbon,John B. Bury

The second volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 27 through 48 of the author’s vast magnum opus.  Beginning with the reign of Gratian and ending with the reconquests of Heraclius in 628 A.D., Gibbons relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments that saw the ultimate split of the Roman Empire, the fall of the West, and the continuance of Roman tradition in the East centered in Constantinople before glancing at the lives of the next 60 emperors of Byzantium over the next 600 years.

 

The deterioration of the Rome picks up with the reign of Gratian and his eventual overthrow leading to the unification of the Empire under Theodosius the Great before its finale split with the inheritance of his sons and then their successors over the next 50+ years.  Throughout the era of House of Theodosius, the various barbarian tribes made inroads into the Western Empire which included two sacks of Rome itself by the Visigoths and Vandals, as the long ineffectual reign of Honorius and his successors allowed the Empire to slip out of their fingers.  In the vacuum arose the genesis of future European states such as England, France, and Spain while Italy declined in population and political cohesion as the Pope began to fill not only a religious but political role.

 

The Eastern Emperors in Constantinople, unlike their family and colleagues in the West, were able to keep their domain intact through military force or bribes to turn away.  The bureaucratic framework established by Constantine and reformed by Theodosius was used to keep the Eastern Empire thriving against barbarian incursion and Persian invasions while creating a link to the Roman past even as the eternal city fell from its greatness.  Yet as the Eastern Emperors kept alive the Roman imperial tradition while continually orienting it more towards Greek cultural heritage, the internal conflicts of Christianity became a hindrance to social and imperial stability leading to rebellions of either a local or statewide nature or allowing foreign powers to invade.

 

This middle volume of Gibbon’s monumental work is divided in two, the first focusing on the fall of the Western Empire and the second on how the Eastern Empire survived through various struggles and for a brief time seemed on the verge of reestablishing the whole imperium.  Yet throughout, Gibbon weaves not only the history of Rome but also the events of nomadic peoples as far away at China, the theological controversies within Christianity, and the numerous other treads to create a daunting, yet compete look of how Rome fell but yet continued.

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review 2017-02-12 00:00
Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Ecclesiastical History of the English People - Bede,Leo Sherley-Price,D.H. Farmer,Ronald E. Latham If two brothers had married two sisters and one of the brothers and sisters have died can the survivors marry? I liked the book when it dwelt with all important questions such as that. I liked it when Bede would say that we go to church on Sunday because that is the day the lord arose and it has nothing to do with the Sabbath commandment. Also, entwined within the story there is an interesting history of the early development of Great Britain, who would have known that Pope Gregory would have been so puny? I didn't.

The best thing I can really say about having had read the whole book is it's one of those books that I knew I had to check off my list. I wish that I didn't have that kind of personality for which when I start a book I feel obligated to finish it.

All the miracles reported in this book sort of got tedious. I found a strange parallel between this book and the Book of Acts (by far, imo, the most important book in the bible and is the must read book of the bible). There is a multi-volume work on how Acts must be true since there are over 50000 other confirmation of all the events, places and people are confirmed by other sources. Bede has that same kind of phenomena going for it. There is as history inside the story but also fantastic events entwined. There was even a magical (i.e. divine intervention) of some body who gets out of chains while locked up in prison just as Peter did in Jerusalem with the aid of the Holy Spirit. There are also Tempests at sea which abate because God (or the Holy Spirit) answers the prayers and so on.

In Bede's defense, he never really says anything that's not strictly true. He'll say stuff like "I've been told by the most reliable monk 'A' that he saw 'B' who performed a miracle while 'C' was gone and related it to me". There's not a lie in the book and he's reporting them as fact. Or he'll say that 'miraculous events are still being reported there today'. I just kept thinking how Bede is not a Liar, or Lunatic, or reporting truly about the Lord, but is reporting on legends (or what we call urban legends) which are at best third hand hearsay. It's up to an author to write about what they think is credible because all acts of creation means something will be left out and what is put in the author is giving some credence to (a very obscure example would be to re-read the NYT to the run up to the Iraq War of 2003 and pay particular attention to the articles of Judith Miller. Everything she says within the articles are true, but the 'sin of omission' still lingers and what she wasn't telling meant she was wrong. Yes, I'm mad about that war and the lies that led to it and one day I'll get over it, but even a book written over 1000 years ago can illustrate the same kind of problems that journalist who want to mislead!).

Another thing about this book. Bede had a weird fixation on when Easter should be. I bet you he mentioned that over 20 times within the book. You ever wonder why October is the 10th month and December is the 12th month even though 'oct' means eight and 'dec' means 10. March used to be the first month since Christ was annuciated on March 25 (exactly 9 months before Christmas). The first month of the year was said to be March. Having forgot that fact at first I wasn't always following his Easter arguments.

There is some history in this book, it also tells you how people thought uncritically during this time, and if fables dressed up as real is your thing this book could be fun. For me, I wish I hadn't started it or I wish I could have stopped it. I clearly would not recommend it to anyone to read because there is a tedium to it that is hard to ignore.
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review 2016-10-04 03:45
Podcast #23 is up!
The Culture of Food in England, 1200-1500 - C.M. Woolgar

My twenty-third podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Chris Woolgar about his study of meals and food culture in medieval England (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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review 2016-09-24 19:28
What the medieval English ate and how they ate it
The Culture of Food in England, 1200-1500 - C.M. Woolgar

Obsession with food is evidently part of the human condition. Today in our civilization of abundance we have cooking networks, stores devoted to the tools of food preparation, and, of course, businesses that prepare and serve food of nearly every imaginable variety. During the Middle Ages, however, that obsession had a different focus, with the relative scarcity of food and the more limited resources for preparation leading to more of a focus on questions of availability and distinctions based more clearly upon class.

 

Chris Woolgar's book is a study of of that different culture. Drawing upon a range of resources, he describes the variety of foods available for the medieval English palette and how they prepared them. As he notes at the start, food was central to the lives of people in ways that often were obscured by their ubiquity, even to the point where it was central to the common religious ritual of the mass. Their cuisine was more limited than is the case today, with grains more central to the diet and meat uncommon to all but the elite table. Yet it is a misconception to regard the diet as dull, as herbs, spices, and sweeteners often enlivened the taste of the foods available to them, often in the form of sauces and other supplements to their food preparation.

 

Encompassing everything from hunger to tastes Woolgar's book is an impressively broad study of its subject. By approaching the medieval English through their food he makes them accessible in a way few studies have before his, thanks to an approach that is never less than interesting in its insights and conclusions. Thanks to it we have a window into the lives of the English that shows both how different their lives were and yet how relatable they are to us today.

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review 2016-09-12 00:39
My twentieth podcast is up!
Consumption and the Country House - Mark Rothery,Jon Stobart

My twentieth podcast is up! It's my first multi-author interview, as I talk with Jon Stobart and Mark Rothery about their book Consumption and the Country House, which examines the spending patters of the elite on their country houses during the 18th century. Enjoy!

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