What I read in 2022

1/8 Matthew Gabriele & David M. Perry, The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

The title, of course, is a deliberate play on the familiar cliche of the dark ages. And as that title suggests, a big part of the book is correcting popular misconceptions about the European middle ages: they weren't a dark age, Rome didn't fall in the 5th century, Europe was never isolated from the rest of the world.

It's a short book and a huge subject, both in time and in geographic scope, so it doesn't try to be comprehensive. It's not a chronological narrative, although it is arranged chronologically, but a sequences of vignettes, each one centered on a particular story, usually using that story to make a broader point. The book begins and ends in Ravenna: beginning with the life of the empress Galla Placidia, and with the chapel that she built some time between 425 and 450, and ending with Dante's 14th century exile in Ravenna. There's no specific evidence that Dante ever visited the so-called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia during the years when he lived in Ravenna, but the authors like to imagine that he might have. The description and photos look beautiful, in any case! Now I'd like to go back to Italy and see it for myself.

Any history of medieval Europe has to include places outside of Europe; this book includes the Middle East, Africa (including parts of sub-Saharan Africa), central Asia, China, and even North America. I was surprised to see no mention of India.

1/2 Ngaio Marsh, False Scent

The title turns out to be a clue.

Matt Austern