Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages by Dan Jones

‘This book covers more than a thousand years, and its geographical scope encompasses every continent save Australasia and Antarctica.’

The book has sixteen chapters divided across four parts: Imperium (c 410 AD – 750 AD); Dominion (c 750 AD – 1215 AD); Rebirth (c 1215 AD – 1347 AD) and Revolution (c 1348 AD – 1527 AD). This history takes us on a journey between the sacks of Rome in 410 AD and 1527 AD. Within this structure, Mr Jones identifies three key themes that have underpinned the success of the west: conquest, commerce, and Christianity.

It is an epic history, covering the period between the retreat of the Roman Empire in the west and the 16th century Reformation. What makes this book particularly interesting is that it ventures beyond the political timeline. In addition to the power struggles between emperors, kings and tribal leaders, Mr Jones also writes of the impacts of pandemics, of demographic changes, and of climate change. Exploration, religious conquest, commercial growth, decline, and rejuvenation are all part of the history. I am reminded of the power of the Byzantine Empire, diminished after the 7th century but still standing until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, of the impact of the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, of the rise of commerce. There’s a lot to consider. I could get lost in reading about William Marshal, Sir Richard (Dick) Whittington, El, Cid and Leonardo da Vinci, or the impact of printing on the power of the Catholic Church.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking to expand their knowledge (and appreciation) of the period we in the west refer to as the Middle Ages.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus/Apollo for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith