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 Peasants’ Revolting Lives” by Terry Deary

51351965When we study history, we tend to focus on the lives of the elite and the royalty because their lives are well documented. However, there was a large majority of the population who tends to be forgotten in the annals of the past. They are the lower classes who were the backbone of society for centuries, the people who we would call peasants. Now, if we know so much about the higher echelons of society, we must ask ourselves what was life like for those who had almost nothing in life. How did they work? When they did speak out about injustices through revolutions, how were they received? How did they worship? How were they educated? How did they relax after long days of back-breaking labor? Where did they live? These questions and more are answered in Terry Deary’s latest book, “The Peasants’ Revolting Lives”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I had read the first book in this series, “The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I heard that he had a sequel book coming out, I knew that I had to read it.

Like his previous book, Deary chooses to highlight the often unbelievable tales of the peasants, emphasizing that they are the true heroes of history. He explores numerous stories from several centuries; the malevolent medieval times, the tumultuous Tudors, and the greedy Georgians tend to be heavily focused upon, especially the evils of the Industrial Revolution. To explore so many different centuries shows Deary’s advanced knowledge of the past, which is quite extraordinary, especially when he combines his casual writing style with his wonderful wit to make this book so engaging.

Most of these tales are rather dark as they often tell the numerous ways peasants died while doing everyday activities. While dying is part of the story, I think it was valuable that Deary balanced it out with how they tried to make the best of a bad situation. His chapter on different revolts that peasants led and their causes was quite fascinating as it shows the peasants in a quasi- leadership role. Deary also lightened the mood a bit when he did a history of football (or what we Americans call soccer) and cricket. I didn’t know much about this version of football so sadly some of his jokes about the subject fell a bit flat for me.

Since I do know a bit about the medieval and Tudor times, the stories about peasants during those times was a tad repetitive for me. However, I did learn a copious amount about the Georgians and those who survived the Industrial Revolution. We tend to think about the Industrial Revolution as a glorious improvement in society, but for those who worked, it was full of hazards to one’s health around every corner.

Overall, I thought this book was good but not as good as the first one. There were some spelling errors, repetitions of facts that I already knew, and some of the humor felt a bit flat for me. However, this is just my opinion. I think that Deary’s writing style is for a younger audience, so if you are searching for a hard-hitting history book, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a casual read where the peasants and their many escapades from the past are highlighted, I would suggest you read, “The Peasants’ Revolting Lives” by Terry Deary.