The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Tom Holland's account of Early Medieval Europe has two main themes: the impact of the millennium on a society conditioned to expect the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelation; and the power struggle between the papacy and the Holy Roman emperor that culminated in the Investiture Climax and saw an emperor excommunicated and a pope imprisoned in the Vatican.
Holland's argument that the battle between emperor and pope, a conflict given greater urgency by the imminent arrival of Antichrist, laid the foundations for the birth of modern Europe is perhaps a little strained but it's worth it for the sheer panache with which he romps through Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
The sweep of the narrative is impressive, taking in events from Trondheim, to Jerusalem via Saxony, Cordoba and all stations to Constantinople, and the style is distinctly upbeat. At times almost taking on the voice of the characters, he is determined to convey what it felt like to be caught up in the events he describes.
You either like this approach or you don't - I read a distinctly sniffy review in The Telegraph by the historian, Noel Malcolm. But I couldn't put this book down. I found Holland's delight in the period completely infectious and I read the whole thing in about three days, neglecting all sorts of important jobs in the process. This is popular narrative history at its very best