The Dark Ages 476 - 918
by Charles Oman
Published in 1898
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but don’t recommend to anyone who isn’t already very well versed with the names, places, and events of the Dark Ages. This book helped me connect many pieces of information I already had, but had I read it last year, would have been dense and in comprehensible.
The book, being written before the advent of forensic archeology, is dated. While it constructs a narrative of the events of history, everything written must be taken with a grain of salt. The narrative itself is clear and well written, but cannot be understood without an existing deep historical knowledge.
I especially liked the chapters dealing with the slow withdrawal of the Byzantines from Spain. Looking at historical maps doesn’t tell the full story; they give the impression that the Byzantines had managed to preserve territory in Spain. In reality, it seems like the Byzantines had a few nominally Byzantine but practically independent vassals lingering in the areas near Cordoba.
This book helps me understand what people believe happened during the Dark Ages, especially from a traditional early 20th century academic perspective. It does, however, very little to separate the daily realities of life for the common people from the narrative of conquerers.
When judging the quality of writing, my main metric is the clarity of the language. Books that are poetic or abstract, unnecessarily verbose, or repetitive lose all points in my rubric. The language of the Dark Ages is absolutely fantastic. The writing is similar to other 19th century authors that I have read such as Charles Darwin - it makes use of long sentences without sacrificing any clarity.
This book, while well written, sits at an uncomfortable spot. It is far too complicated for novices, and will be incomprehensible to modern readers unfamiliar with the geography, major people, and governments of the early Middle Ages. It is too dated and unrigorous for modern academics, and, for example, doesn’t cite any sources. While I enjoyed the book a lot, I don’t recommend it.
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