Select one of the keywords
The Birth of the West    by Paul Collins order for
Birth of the West
by Paul Collins
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Historian Paul Collins maintains that our culture was born out of the chaos of the tenth century. 'The driving force of that birth was Western Christianity, more specifically Catholicism,' he explains in his new book, The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century.

With Charlemagne's empire in ruins, the bulk of Spain claimed by Moorish invaders, and the Catholic Church embroiled in petty, provincial conflicts, the tenth century did not begin on a very positive note. Unfortunately, it was only going to get worse before there was a glimmer of light that suggested improvement was on the way and something positive was going to emerge from all the chaos.

The transformation that slowly occurred is the subject of this narrative that traces how, out of the Dark Ages, a shift occurred because a group of German-Saxon rulers were able to bring about a better way of governing society.

Collins argues that Henry the Fowler, the three Ottos, and the Greek-born Empress Theophano (the second Otto's wife) were able to create the semblance of order in their holdings as they united the kingdoms of Germany. In so doing they moved towards restoring the larger empire by making familial or friendship ties with Francia, Italy, and the peoples residing along Germany's eastern frontier.

This new political approach resulted in closer ties between the most powerful states of Europe. By the 950s an ordered government had reemerged among the Saxons of north-eastern Germany. More importantly, the 'seed had been sown by the Germans, and what was to become the West was born'.

When the century began, all effective government had collapsed; Vikings and Saracen Muslim pirates were terrorizing coastal areas; the Magyars were doing the same inland; and local nobles, particularly in France, were no better than these marauders from outside the region. 'Life expectancy was short, especially for peasants and the lower orders. Pregnancy and childbirth were risky, and infant mortality rates high. It was a tough time to live,' writes Collins.

As he develops the story of how these dire conditions set the stage for something better, the author not only explains just how bad things were but also shares some of the more bizarre tales of the age and introduces some of the eccentric personalities who lived in the Dark Ages.

The reader will meet Pope John XII, a man of huge political influence and massive unholy appetites, the Viking pirate Ragnar Lodbrok, and Caliph al-Hakim II, who maintained a large male harem in Muslim Spain.

This fascinating and very accessible story of the importance of the Dark Ages will interest any reader who is interested in history and the development of Western society and culture. In some respects what played out so long ago with the rising influence of the Germanic leaders is again occurring in this part of the world.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews