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

57347786When we study human history, in general, we tend to pick a country and a period to focus on and research. Books on the subject material tend to focus on one land with interactions between other nations. It is infrequent for authors to take on multiple countries unless concentrated on one event that affected numerous locations. Those books often read like textbooks and can be a bit dry. Finding the perfect balance between these elements and engaging with the reader is a monumental task for any author, but Dan Jones has taken on the challenge. His latest behemoth tome, “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages,” takes on the gigantic task of telling the story of the Middle Ages from diverse perspectives.

To take on such a massive undertaking is no easy feat, but Jones seems to do it seamlessly. He breaks this book into four segments to not overwhelm his readers, each dealing with a different element that made the Middle Ages unique. Every story has a foundation, and the story of the Middle Ages begins with the fall of the Roman Empire. With the empire’s fall, we see the rise of Barbarian groups, the Byzantines, and the Arab states that would define this era with the Crusades. Jones takes his readers on a journey through climate change and pandemics that forced humanity to move from place to place to survive.

We encounter revolutions of all kinds; religious, political, artistic, architectural, and technological. Humankind was not as stagnant as many people believed during the Middle Ages. This was an age full of life and colorful figures that shaped the world around them, from philosophers and artists to kings and conquerors. Men and women like St. Aquitaine, Attila the Hun, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther, and Christopher Columbus defined this era. Although Jones does focus on more European figures, he takes the time to show people groups like the Mongols, the Franks, the Arabs, and the Byzantines to show how diversity ruled this period in history. Those who study the Middle Ages know the stories of the Black Death, the Crusades, and the Sack of Rome, but there are so many more stories that give life to this period in human history.

I felt nostalgic for my high school and college classes when I read this book. These were the classes that made me fall in love with studying history. Other stories in this book were brand new to me, which thrilled me to read. If there were an element that I wished he would have included, I think I would have liked to have seen more stories of medieval Asia and Africa. I think it would have added a new element to the story of the Middle Ages.

Out of all of the books that I have read by Dan Jones, I think this one is my favorite. I could tell how much passion and the amount of research Jones poured into this book, and it shows. Combining over a thousand years of history into one book is an impressive feat that Jones has mastered. “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages” by Dan Jones is a triumphant tome that any fan of medieval history will appreciate.

Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.