cover image The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe

Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry. Harper, $29.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-298089-2

Historians Gabriele (An Empire of Memory) and Perry (Sacred Plunder) argue in this accessible revisionist history that the so-called Dark Ages was actually a period of innovation that helped pave the way for the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Highlighting architectural, artistic, literary, and theological breakthroughs, the authors analyze Dante’s Divine Comedy and shed light on the creation of Empress Galla Placida’s mausoleum in Italy, the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul), and the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, among other achievements. Occasional references to 21st-century pop culture, including the musical Hamilton, keep the tone light as Gabriele and Perry chronicle the devastating toll plagues took on the Middle Ages; analyze Emperor Charlemagne’s uniting of Roman, Christian, and Israelite traditions; and counter the misconceptions about the Crusades that have been propagated by modern-day white supremacists and Islamic fundamentalists. Though the authors somewhat understate the brutality and religious persecution of the era, they add nuance and complexity to popular conceptions of the Dark Ages and make clear that beauty and achievement existed among the horrors. This is a worthy introduction to an oft-misunderstood period in world history. (Dec.)