Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages
When the once-mighty city of Rome was sacked by barbarians in 410 and lay in ruins, it signaled the end of an era–and the beginning of a thousand years of profound transformation. In a gripping narrative bursting with big names—from St Augustine and Attila the Hun to the Prophet Muhammad and Eleanor of Aquitaine—Dan Jones charges through the history of the Middle Ages. Powers and Thrones takes readers on a journey through an emerging Europe, the great capitals of late Antiquity, as well as the influential cities of the Islamic West, and culminates in the first European voyages to the Americas.
The medieval world was forged by the big forces that still occupy us today: climate change, pandemic disease, mass migration, and technological revolutions. This was the time when the great European nationalities were formed; when the basic Western systems of law and governance were codified; when the Christian Churches matured as both powerful institutions and the regulators of Western public morality; and when art, architecture, philosophical inquiry and scientific invention went through periods of massive, revolutionary change.
The West was rebuilt on the ruins of an empire and emerged from a state of crisis and collapse to dominate the world. Every sphere of human life and activity was transformed in the thousand years covered by Powers and Thrones. As we face a critical turning point in our own millennium, Dan Jones shows that how we got here matters more than ever.
Dan Jones’s book “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages” is a compelling and engaging look at the individuals who shaped the medieval world. Through a series of interwoven biographical sketches, Jones tells the story of the Middle Ages as a period of intense competition and conflict between powerful individuals who fought for control and influence. The result is a sweeping narrative that is both informative and entertaining, and which sheds new light on a period of history that is often misunderstood.
At the heart of “Powers and Thrones” is the idea that the Middle Ages were not a period of stagnation or decline, but rather a time of intense political and cultural ferment. Jones makes a convincing case that the period from the 5th to the 15th century was a time of great innovation and change, with individuals like Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, and Joan of Arc reshaping the political and social landscape of Europe.
One of the strengths of the book is the way that Jones weaves together the individual stories of these powerful figures into a larger narrative. Each chapter focuses on a different person, but the book is organized in such a way that the individual stories build on each other, creating a cumulative effect that gives the reader a sense of the larger forces at work in medieval society. Jones is a skilled storyteller, and his ability to bring the past to life is on full display here.
Another strength of the book is its accessibility. Jones is a historian, but he writes for a popular audience, and his prose is clear and engaging. He is able to explain complex ideas and historical events in a way that is easy to understand, without ever talking down to his readers. This makes the book an excellent introduction to medieval history for anyone who is interested in the subject but doesn’t have a lot of background knowledge.
At the same time, “Powers and Thrones” is not a superficial or simplistic treatment of its subject matter. Jones has clearly done his research, and he is able to draw on a wealth of primary sources to bring his subjects to life. He is also able to situate his subjects within their historical context, explaining the larger political and social forces that shaped their lives and actions. This gives the book a depth and richness that is often lacking in popular histories.
One of the most interesting things about the book is the way that Jones challenges some of the common misconceptions about the Middle Ages. For example, he shows that the medieval period was not a time of unrelenting brutality and violence, but rather a time when people were able to create complex systems of law and governance that helped to maintain order and stability. He also challenges the idea that the Middle Ages were a time of cultural and intellectual stagnation, pointing to the many advances in science, literature, and art that were made during the period.
At the same time, Jones is not afraid to acknowledge the darker aspects of medieval society. He is clear-eyed about the violence, superstition, and inequality that were also features of the period, and he does not shy away from describing the brutalities of war, famine, and disease that afflicted medieval people.
Overall, “Powers and Thrones” is a highly readable and engaging book that will appeal to anyone with an interest in medieval history. Dan Jones is a gifted storyteller, and his ability to bring the past to life is on full display here. By focusing on the individual stories of powerful figures from the Middle Ages, he is able to create a larger narrative that is both informative and entertaining. At the same time, the book is also a serious work of history, grounded in a deep understanding of the period and drawing on a wealth of primary sources. Highly recommended.
Author: Dan Jones
Dan Jones was born in 1981 in England and studied history at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, where he earned a PhD. He began his career as a journalist and worked for several prominent British newspapers, including The Sunday Times and The Guardian, before turning to full-time writing.
He has written extensively on medieval history, with a particular focus on the Plantagenet dynasty, the Crusades, and the Wars of the Roses.
Jones is known for his engaging and accessible style, which has helped to popularize medieval history for a wider audience. He has also presented several documentaries for the BBC, including “Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty” and “Secrets of Great British Castles”.
Jones has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2013 Longman-History Today Trustees’ Award for his book “The Plantagenets”. He currently lives in London with his wife and two children.
Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, March 29). Dan Jones (writer). Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Jones_(writer)
Sturges, F. (2021, October 15). Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones audiobook review – delighting in peculiar details. The Guardian; The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/oct/15/powers-and-thrones-by-dan-jones-audiobook-review-delighting-in-peculiar-details
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