There is much more to the Norman story than the Battle of Hastings. These descendants of the Vikings who settled in France, England, and Italy - but were not strictly French, English, or Italian - played a large role in creating the modern world. They were the success story of the Middle Ages: a footloose band of individual adventurers who transformed the face of medieval Europe. During the course of two centuries, they launched a series of extraordinary conquests, carving out kingdoms from the North Sea to the North African coast.
In The Normans, Lars Brownworth follows their story, from the first shock of a Viking raid on an Irish monastery to the exile of the last Norman Prince of Antioch. In the process, he brings to vivid life the Norman tapestry's rich cast of characters: figures like Rollo the Walker, William Iron-Arm, Tancred the Monkey King, and Robert Guiscard. The Normans presents a fascinating glimpse of a time when a group of restless adventurers had the world at their fingertips.
©2014 Lars Brownworth (P)2014 Tantor
"Lars Brownworth's The Normans is like a gallop through the Middle Ages on a fast warhorse. It is rare to find an author who takes on a subject so broad and so complex, while delivering a book that is both fast-paced and readable." (Bill Yenne, author of Julius Caesar)
"Far From Hastings (aka the OTHER Normans)"
Surprise! This book is a history of the Normans who headed south - FAR south, into the Mediterranean region. I found it difficult to decide after listening whether they were bad news or good news in the long run for the countries and peoples they conquered and ruled. They appear to have implemented semi benevolent policies for their victims/subjects. However, they shared a fatal disposition to fight amongst themselves which caused great misery for everyone in their orbits. I purchased the book thinking it was about William the Conqueror's forefathers and foremothers. While I was startled to find little about that subject, I was entertained and enlightened by learning about something I had not intended to, and about which I knew nothing. I gave the "story" only three stars because I found patches of the narrative confusing and disjointed.
"Norsemen in Palermo"
In the nutshell: Normans were Vikings invited to settle in Northern France by a French king, who thought giving them land was preferable to battling them or bribing them. Once settled in Normandy they perfected new military techniques, particularly use of heavy cavalry. Innovation, military success, discipline, love of combat, and thirst for wealth drove them to invade Britain in 1066. Nearly everyone knows about that. The book pays but passing attention to William the Conqueror. Its focus is the de Hauteville family, composed of brothers from a minor Norman clan who had great ambition and shrewdness. The de Hautevilles boys had "it" the way some families do for a time. Since William the Bastard owned England the brothers looked for other opportunities. They sailed to Sicily and Southern Italy. Authority there was in turmoil and possession of wealth was unstable. The area set at a juncture of grand political spheres: Byzantium, Muslim Arabia, the Vatican (which raised soldiers), and Germany (whose armies repeatedly invaded it by coming over the Alps). Sicily in particular was a gem. It had fertile soil and buzzed with trade going to and from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The Crusades made Sicily a fortune. The de Hautevilles conquered the island along with the heel of southern Italy; for two hundred years they stayed its dominant regents. They ducked going on Crusade but sold supplies to Crusaders, worked trade lines between Europe and the Mediterranean, and rented their ships to men sallying forth to Jerusalem. They captured the Pope a couple of times, defeated invaders, put down multiple rebellions, married into European aristocracy, and gave Sicily the most prosperous decades it had had for centuries—albeit ruling with an iron hand. The text details southern Normans fending off foreign hosts while waging internecine fights; interestingly, family winners were most often talented individuals. Two centuries later, however, whatever was bold and compelling in the personality of de Hautevilles leaked out and evaporated, so their regime fell. The Normans is worth listening to. It fills a knowledge gap for most of us history buffs with stories about remarkable personalities.
"Just a great listen."
I'll be curious to get some other perspectives on the topic but this was a hoot. I enjoyed it tremendously.
"An entertaining story"
Hard to weave complexity into a story with serial characters who seem to endlessly conduct war campaigns. A few stories about civil and social triumphs were interesting.
"great material, poor execution"
I would not recommend this, though a big fan of Euro history. The writing sounded at times like written for a k-12 text book. The read was poor, which made it even less desirable. I tried to get through it because I'm fascinated by the period, but couldn't get over the shortcomings.
"interesting but broad"
good summary of a period of history but I think it could have used more historical context
entertaining, the reservation is that by the time of the discussion of william the worse through the epilogue, there was a disparity in the nRration, story compared the the beginning, leaving one struggling to follow and stay with the story .
Before reading this book, my knowledge of the Normans was primarily centered on William the Conqueror's conquest of England and the pivotal change that brought about to the history of Europe and eventually how that impact was manifested in the development of the new world. This books does go into detail on that but the vast preponderance of the book focuses on the other side of the Norman World - southern Italy and Sicily.
I did not realize how entangled Norman history was in the development of the Mediterranean world - and for the most part how a somewhat obscure Norman Knight's many sons played such a role in Italy, Germany, the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and the Levant. This side of the Norman empire lasted far shorter but the effects may have been even more far reaching. The perpetual wars, from Crusades, wars with the Pope, the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantines probably did as much to weaken Byzantium as did the Ottomans.
The book was interesting, I found the narration to be average.
"Normans fucking rock!"
Inspiring. I worship Oden and Thor now. I am officially becoming a pirate now. God bless my peeps.
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