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Publisher's Summary

The millennium between the breakup of the western Roman Empire and the Reformation was a long and hugely transformative period - one not easily chronicled within a single volume. Yet distinguished historian Chris Wickham has taken up the challenge in this landmark book, and he succeeds in producing the most riveting account of medieval Europe in a generation.

Tracking the entire sweep of the Middle Ages across Europe, Wickham focuses on important changes century by century, including such pivotal crises and moments as the fall of the western Roman Empire, Charlemagne's reforms, the feudal revolution, the challenge of heresy, the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the rebuilding of late medieval states, and the appalling devastation of the Black Death. He provides illuminating vignettes that underscore how shifting social, economic, and political circumstances affected individual lives and international events. Wickham offers both a new conception of Europe's medieval period and a provocative revision of exactly how and why the Middle Ages matter.

©2016 Chris Wickham (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about Medieval Europe

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great introduction to major themes

It seemed that my very general North American education simply skipped over the medieval period in Europe, as it did for so much of world history. This book was a wonderful introduction to some major themes in medieval European history. I will go on to explore more specific areas touched on in greater detail. I listened to this before going to sleep, and the narrator’s voice was pleasant and relaxing. So I generally had to listen to many segments over again the next night. However, it made for a pleasant and relaxing introduction to a historical period I only knew of as the “Dark Ages”.

1 person found this helpful

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Informative.. but Dry. Painfully Dry.

This book is ambitious: it tries to tackle the political/economic/cultural development of the Western World over 1000 years (500AD - 1500AD). In that, it's remarkably successful. Unfortunately, Oxford Professor Emeritus Chris Wickham also states at the outset of the book that he intends to write for a casual audience, but largely fails in that goal. What we get instead is a survey (extensive and full of cross-references but still a survey) that's a little bit too academic to satisfy the public and a little too cursory to satisfy scholars.
To his credit, Wickham writes with commendable prose & vocabulary, presents an authoritative case with defensible posits, and generates a logical, syllabus-quality organization.. but much of the topic discussed is frankly mind-numbingly boring.

Derek Perkins reads very professionally with enough emotiveness to blunt some of the yawn-worthy aspects of the text. His diction, cadence, timbre, and tone are spot-on. Blackstone Audio did well to cast Perkins for the project and provide creditable technical support.

Some readers may be looking for an audio textbook - and will likely be disappointed with Wickham's approach in this book. I, however, was looking for a more commercial presentation - and 'Medieval Europe' isn't that either.

I rate the book 4 stars out of 10. It's a fair listen for some interesting facts, but doesn't bring a fascinating segment of history to life by any means. If you can get it for free - as I did - it's not crazy to give it a try, but this book is not worth money if they ask you for it.

ATTN PRODUCERS: This product would be improved considerably with a PDF Appendix/Maps/Timeline.


1 person found this helpful

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Great historical survey

Chris Wickham is one of the greatest medievalist alive. His commitment to the historical materialist methodology provides the grounds for one of the most insightful studies of the MiddleAges. While his definition of labour classes is problematic as critiqued by Jairus Banaji this book will be a great listen to those interested in the strengths of a historical materialist read of the Middle Ages.

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Pretty Good Historical Overview w/ a Few Problems

First let me say that I really enjoyed the book. It provides a very good broad overview of the Middle Ages from the decline of Rome onward. That said I think any prospective listener should be aware of a few issues I found with the book and the author's focus.

1) An almost incessant and grating reference to future chapters throughout. At points it seemed every paragraph was capped with a 'see chapter X for more on this'. The book follows a pretty logical structure, and I found these at first simply useless and redundant, but eventually irritating and wasted effort on the narrator's part. I enjoy listening to these books while working on the lawn or house or doing manual labour. I, nor many others I doubt, will be pausing midway through a chapter to jump ahead three or four and then jump back. It's just nonsensical and these references contributed very little and quickly became an annoyance.

2)The author's focus is very heavily slanted towards political power structures and economic development. To the point that he often ignores or simply glosses things like linguistics, ethnicity and genetic evidence, and physical culture. This has implications in his view of medieval Europe, such as when he argues against the existence of anything we could conceptually call a cultural Europe due to a lack of political and trade links. This completely ignores social structures, ethnicity and language, shared physical culture and design we find in gravegoods, etc. Or when discussing the pre-Christian religions and pre-Feudal social structures of Northern Europe, he seems to contradict, gloss or ignore the fact that many of these cultures were very closely related through their common Indo-European ancestry and languages. Instead he claims that the religions were a hodge podge and unrelated, or that the political/economic hierarchies of these decentralized regions were stemmed mostly from circumstance and environment, rather then a connected worldview/social structure. There is no acknowledgement that though these people may not have had the political/economic ties with southern Europe that Arabs, Turks, North Africans, etc did, that they still shared common traits that made them 'cousins'.

3) Although I laud him for his care to not frame the motivations of medieval Christians or Muslims through a modern lense, and attempts to take their peity and motivations as genuine and not simple opportunism, he does exactly this when discussing pre-Christian polities and actors. In his discussion of the Christianization of Northern Europe, the decisions to either embrace conversion or resist are framed as opportunist political moves by those who simply want to tap into or shield themselves from the imperial power and hegemony of Francia and broader Christendom. This is a topic that is rarely discussed in detail, and while his timeline and provided anecdotes were interesting, there was little discussion of alternate motives that may have played on these peoples minds.

Again, overall I found it a really interesting book and the wide coverage including Byzantium and Eastern Europe was refreshing and informative, as this often isn't covered in Western European focused books. Worth a listen, just be aware of the authors biases/focus.

3 people found this helpful

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Names and numbers

The author hints at interesting developments in the period covered but does not derail these developments in any relatable way.
He drops names and dates and makes blanket statements that are continually hedged with “although” and “however”. The effect is very thin. He writes in compound clauses that confuse the waffling even more.

Too bad, I really wanted to find it interesting but could not tolerate all the vagueness.

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  • Dane Maralason
  • 2019-01-15

Wow! Outstanding Work on the Period

Three charactoristics make this book a GREAT listen. 1) The reading is EXCELLENT! I felt as though I were inside the writer's mind. 2) The organization of the material never lost me. A leap forward or flashback never left me hanging because it was always tied so neatly to moment being described. 3) The balance between presenting the overview and the detail never overwhelmed me nor left me wanting for greater insight. Of course if I want to understand more about the crusades, I need to listen to 10 hours on the crusades, but now I know about the crusades in a way I never before did. --Dane

38 people found this helpful

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  • therobot
  • 2020-10-06

Good overview that inspires more reading

great narration and book. very dense and great information. I found it hard to follow at times with a lot of dates being thrown out at once, I think this is more a product of the audio book medium than the fault of the author or book.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Peter Dingwall-Fordyce
  • 2017-05-11

outstanding, absolutely outstanding.

learned a great deal about something I thought I already understood. narration.was excellent and in.proper english

24 people found this helpful

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  • EmilyK
  • 2020-08-29

Good intro to medieval Europe

I very much appreciated this book as something of a history buff. I’m not sure this would be the best first introduction to the topic. I would instead suggest one of the Great Courses, especially the ones by professor Daileader. That said, amazing narrator and very enjoyable.

5 people found this helpful

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  • laniferous
  • 2021-05-15

Is this..... a Textbook?

While I certainly learned from this audiobook, I was constantly taken out of flow by the author telling me about what was coming up in this coming chapter or the next. He even referenced things coming up in the very chapter I was listening to! WHY?! It's wholely unnecessary..... unless this was a textbook for a university or high school class.

Otherwise, this was competently read by the narrator, who also has a pleasant speaking voice, and a good sense of pace.

4 people found this helpful

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  • TAL
  • 2020-11-06

Too Confusing as an Audio Book

It was interesting listening to the beginning of this book where Mr. Wickham ranted and discounted how people preceding him chose to write books about this subject. It was very off putting. I understand wanting to try a different format other than the linear format of history. But, there was no need to be so bitter about how others have chosen to write about the subject. Especially when his book is confusing, disjointed and made me feel like I was in a boring college history lecture.
I am not sure if reading this book as opposed to listening to it would make a difference. He jumps around so much and spouts off names and dates so often I could not keep up. History is about so much more than names and dates yet sadly you can't get past this with him constantly peppering you with them at ever turn. It also became tiresome mention something but then promptly tell you he would talk about it in more detail in another chapter.
Honestly, I could not get past the first couple of chapters. I did not feel like I was gaining any insight into the time period and eventually stopped paying attention. The one bright spot in this book is Derek Perkins. He is a fabulous narrator whose talents were wasted on this book.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Jeffrey E. Platt
  • 2018-09-14

must be read not listened to.

this is an example of when hearing a book read does not work. i am listening to this book to LEARN something about medieval europe. however when this book is read to you you cannot absorb the material. it goes by so quickly that there is no comprehension being put forward of the concepts. when you read this book you read at your own pace and stop to consider each idea that are contained therein. that is how learning works otherwise one sentence "runs "into another and the listener gets nothing out of it.

14 people found this helpful

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  • brooke stanton
  • 2020-11-15

Dry & uninspired writing

Should be titled “the importance of taxation in medieval Europe”. Overarching & grandiose language. Barely touches on any artistic achievements (only literature & briefly architecture). Zero mentions of the massive technological advancements made, other than the 1 obvious: the printing press.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah
  • 2018-04-12

Good history lesson

Any additional comments?

Learned this history in school, now learning it again. Much more interesting than in the school.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Nicholas A Burton
  • 2017-02-23

interesting but dry

I found my mind wondering often and then being totally lost. tough book to absorb through audiobook format. Interesting content though. I'd recommend reading it instead though.

15 people found this helpful