LARS BROWNWORTH, a former high-school history teacher, is the creator of the podcast phenomenon "12 Byzantine Rulers" that iTunes named as one of the "podcasts that define the genre." Brownworth and his podcast have been profiled in the New York Times, Wired, and USA Today, and were featured on NPR.
"Lost" and "forgotten" are surely strange words for an empire that is well noted for its preservation of ancient cultures. This is that kind of thumping, old-fashioned popular history that could have been written a hundred years ago. Brownworth, a former high school history teacher, traces the Byzantine Empire from its founding by Constantine in 328 C.E. to its conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. He is fond of semilegendary stories of treacherous dynasts and valiant generals (from Belisarius to last emperor Constantine XI) and doesn't like more modern perspectives, such as exploring sources and economics and everyday culture-although there is some discussion of religious conflicts. Most significantly, he largely ignores the magnificent Byzantine artistic tradition. VERDICT Adrian Goldsworthy's recent How Rome Fell is a much more successful work in this genre that treats the early years of Byzantium. This book will provide an undemanding general reader new to the subject with a first glimpse of the Byzantine Empire.-Stewart Desmond, New York Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
The once common idea that the lights went out on classical and Western civilization when Rome fell in 476 C.E. has long since been debunked, but Brownsworth weighs in to illustrate that the Roman Empire's center of power simply shifted to Constantinople. In a narrative by turns spellbinding and prosaic, Brownsworth marches us through centuries of history, beginning long before the fall of Rome, and introduces the successive rulers of Byzantium, from Christian emperors to Muslim sultans, detailing a culture he describes as both familiar and exotic. He follows religious, political and cultural change up through the Islamic conquest of 1453. Christian refugees fled Byzantium into Europe, taking with them their longstanding love of ancient culture and introducing Western Europe to Plato, Demosthenes, Xenophon, Aeschylus and Homer, fanning the flames of the renaissance of Hellenistic culture that had already begun in various parts of Europe. Although Brownsworth admirably illustrates the ways that the Byzantine Empire lives on even today, Judith Herrin's Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire offers a more compelling and thorough history of this empire. Maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
"Captivating...In Lost to the West Lars Brownworth shows a
novelist's eye for character, bringing to life some of the most
fascinating -- and yet little known -- figures of the Byzantine
era. But it is as a researcher into the obscurities of palace
intrigue, treachery, and battlefield carnage that Lars really
shines. With dry humor and a palette of vivid images, he recounts
the dizzying game of musical chairs that placed one usurper after
another on the Byzantine throne, only to be pitched off in a
gaudily macabre way. In the end, one is left agog by the irony that
the upshot of this centuries-long scrum was the preservation of
nearly all that the Greeks have bequeathed to us."
--Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire
"Rome never fell -- it simply moved five hundred miles East --
to Byzantium. For over a thousand years the Byzantines commanded
one of the most visceral and vivid empires the world has ever
known. And yet their achievements are consistently underplayed;
written out of history. Lars Brownworth is a rare talent. His
contagious passion brings murderous empresses, conniving eunuchs,
lost Greek texts and Byzantine treasures of fairy-tale proportions
blinking back into the light. Confidently striding through time and
across the mountains and plains of the Eastern Mediterranean,
Brownworth puts this theocratic superstate slap-bang in the center
of mankind's global story; back where it should be. The Byzantines
made our world what it is today. Lars Brownworth matches their
verve and brio in his seductive and gripping account."
--Bettany Hughes, PBS host and author of Helen of Troy "This is history as it used to be, history as story-telling. In this fascinating account of the Byzantine empire, Lars Brownworth covers a thousand years of blood-letting, outrageous luxury, bitter religious disputes and vaulting ambition without giving the slightest impression of being rushed or crowded. The page turns unaided."
--Anthony Everitt, bestselling author of Augustus, Cicero and The First Emperor "A hugely entertaining and often moving portrait of a civilization to which the modern West owes an immense but neglected debt. Read it, and you will never use the word 'Byzantine' as a term of abuse again."
--Thomas Holland, author of Millennium, Persian Fire and Rubicon "Lost to the West is the sort of history I wish I'd been offered in school -- a fast-paced adventure story that covers over a thousand years of political intrigue, brilliant leaders, incompetent squabblers, mayhem, butchery and religious divides, and vividly pictures a bygone era that is still a vital part of our heritage."
--Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds "The Byzantines are back! Correcting centuries of neglect, Lars Brownworth guides us through a forgotten world and, with clarity and wit, brings it to vibrant life. Filled with a dazzling cast of ruthless Emperors, conniving generals and half-crazed scholars, Lost to the West is both entertaining and enlightening -- a great piece of popular history."
--Tony Perrottet, author of Pagan Holiday and The Naked Olympics