cover image A Short History of Byzantium

A Short History of Byzantium

John Julius Norwich. Alfred A. Knopf, $40 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45088-7

In 1995, the third and concluding volume of Lord Norwich's magnificent chronicle of Byzantium was published to wide acclaim; now the author has condensed his sprawling narrative into a single volume of locomotive power and magisterial concision. Norwich presents deft and wide-ranging scholarship (backed by a lengthy bibliography but no footnotes) through dry but invigorating prose as he guides the reader at breakneck speed through Byzantium's defining moments, from its foundation in A.D. 330 by Constantine the Great through the agonies of its final conquest in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. The result is a dizzying litany of plots and intrigues, palace revolutions, theological controversies and encounters with myriad hostile neighbors over the course of 11 centuries. Norwich buoys his colorful narrative with trenchant assessments of individual potentates, linking the character of each to the destiny of the empire as a whole. A rich--and ultimately poignant--epic of Christendom's great empire in the East, this history brims with humanity, historical understanding and unrelenting drama. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Mar)