Wickham, one of the leading historians of the European Middle Ages, offers his own unique perspective on the period in this lively survey, which squeezes an extraordinary amount of information into a modest 257 pages of text. The book treats the Middle Ages as traditionally defined—namely, the years from approximately 500 to 1500 a.d.—in a well-balanced fashion, conferring roughly equal coverage to the early, central, and late medieval periods. Geographically, the work is also even-handed. Wickham’s expertise in the Italian peninsula is evident throughout the book, but this region in no way dominates the narrative. The traditional foci of medieval history surveys—England and France—are also well represented, alongside the German kingdom, Byzantium, Russia, Scandinavia, and numerous other parts of Europe.

Wickham’s aim is not to provide a thorough description of events. As he explains, his study is intended to be an interpretation of the Middle Ages, not a textbook....

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