Book Review: Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages by Dan Jones

Genre: History
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Pub date: 02 September 2021
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Dan Jones’s epic new history tells nothing less than the story of how the world we know today came to be built. It is a thousand-year adventure that moves from the ruins of the once-mighty city of Rome, sacked by barbarians in AD 410, to the first contacts between the old and new worlds in the sixteenth century. It shows how, from a state of crisis and collapse, the West was rebuilt and came to dominate the entire globe. The book identifies three key themes that underpinned the success of the West: commerce, conquest and Christianity.

Across 16 chapters, blending Dan Jones’s trademark gripping narrative style with authoritative analysis, Powers and Thrones shows how, at each stage in this story, successive western powers thrived by attracting – or stealing – the most valuable resources, ideas and people from the rest of the world. It casts new light on iconic locations – Rome, Paris, Venice, Constantinople – and it features some of history’s most famous and notorious men and women.

This is a book written about – and for – an age of profound change, and it asks the biggest questions about the West both then and now. Where did we come from? What made us? Where do we go from here?

Jones takes the reader on a journey of pilgrimage, crusades and conquests, growth of markets, education and changes in religion from 410 AD to 1527AD.

This is the epic history of Viking invasions, the rise and fall of the Roman empire, with stories of lost treasure, adventures at sea and revolts, it’s sometimes easy to forget you’re reading nonfiction. Almost every aspect of history is mentioned, from conquests to education including the creation of Bologna University and it being the best place in the west to study law, the creation of Oxford and how the Plantagenets helped it begin to thrive.

The story of famed scholar Aquinas is not only interesting but Jones also adds humour especially in one line about perfume which I won’t spoil. I particularly enjoyed reading about Leonardo da Vinci and his life in Europe as well as Martin Luther, a man I am definitely wishing to learn even more about after reading this. It has certainly given me an interest in reading more about his life. The notes and bibliography have certainly given me much more future reading for my own interests. I love reading how things that happened so long ago are similar to recent events or how things had a lasting impact, even to this day.

This is certainly a big book but it’s incredible especially as Jones has a way of writing that is so entertaining. Although this book covers an extensive time frame there was not a single chapter that wasn’t interesting. Jones separates the book into four sections Imperium (c.410 AD – 750 AD); Dominion (c.750 AD – 1215 AD); Rebirth (c.1215 AD – 1347 AD) and Revolution (c.1348 AD – 1527 AD) making it very easy to focus on a specific era if that is your preference, unlike myself who devoured the whole thing and still wanted more. This is honestly the perfect book for anyone who wants to learn a bit of everything or focus on a specific era and whilst it may have taken me a while to read I was genuinely sad when I came to the end.

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