Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book: Tom Holland - Millennium (2008)

One way of storytelling that has become more and more popular is narrative history. It is not the dry educational highschool book that sums up the important parts and it is not historic fiction. Instead it is history told as a story. Tom Holland is one of the best selling authors in this field after his brilliant book Rubicon hit the scene, where he relates the final 100 years of the Roman Republic as a nailbiting story. His next book, Persian Fire, told us about the wars between the Persians and Sparta. Now his third book, Millennium, is in store.

Millennium tells about a fateful part of the Middle Ages. Around the 10th century, Europe is chaos. Holland shows us how, from the rubble and the vacuum left of the Roman Empire, modern Europe gradually shapes itself. It is an age of Franks, Saxons and Vikings. Of monks, knights and castles. It is a story of bitter yearning for the past, for the glory of the Roman Empire, by the desintegrating Byzantium and the western upstarts as Charlemagne who all see themselves as the heirs of the Romans and the last bullwark of young Christianity. Tom Holland has a brilliant flair for the dramatic and his tale is a gritty one.

Holland also wanted to suffuse his book with a statement for which is questionable proof. It is the idea that important revolutions in the order of the world came to pass partly because the year 1,000 was approaching fast, and many people therefore believed the End of the World was near and the Antichrist would arise. Bloodlusty pagans and the glorious expansion of Islam were to be omens of this. I think Holland occasionally tries to force the information we have too hard into this framework, but it does tie together this diverse and fascinating part of history.

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