I know, I know.
I obviously can't be objective because it's Dan Jones, is what you're all thinking.
Well, I CAN!
This book is just THAT GOOD.
Literally all of my favorite people, places, and things from history, in one ginormous volume, covering roughly 1,000 years of everything that happened from the Fall of Rome to those Tudors coming in and shaking things up.
We're talking this one might be rivalling The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England as my most fave Dan Jones book. That's HUGE. I first learned about Eleanor of Aquitaine from The Plantagenets so Dan Jones basically named my baby. (Side note: I always remind Eleanor that she is so lucky that I learned about Eleanor of Aquitaine BEFORE Boudicca, or she might have a very different name.)
BUT THIS ONE IS SO GOOD.
You also might be thinking, "Do we need ANOTHER book about the Middle Ages?"
Again, the answer is yes.
What Jones has managed to do once again is combine his massive amount of knowledge, tying it all together across place and time, and present it in a highly informative yet highly readable way.
I was lucky to have teachers who really made history come alive for me, even going back to middle school. History has been my love for as long as I can remember. I get that non-fiction is not for everyone. A lot of people don't even give it a chance because history was taught to them in a boring recitation of facts and dates and names.
This book though, is something different; an extraordinary feat that Jones should 100% be proud of. (And I assure you he is, because who wouldn't be?)
He brings these historical figures to life and makes them real once more. It's hard sometimes to think about people this way, to imagine them living and working and dying in a world so different from our own. But Jones has the skill to share this knowledge and research in such an engaging way that you feel as though you could actually reach back in time and walk along Hadrian's Wall (which you actually can do if you're in the UK, which I am not and that is sad), to sit in a Great Hall and take in all the sights and sounds and smells of life at a royal court, to race along the Asian Steppes with Genghis Khan, watch as Rome is sacked time and again (six altogether in this span that Jones covers), and more.
SO MUCH MORE.
Really, truly. I was actually nervous about how I was even going to write up this review because there is so much material to address. Otherwise I would have had it up days ago.
Just for fun, let's take a look at all of my Goodreads shelves I added this book to, so you can get an idea of everything you'll find. I am selective in how I add non-fiction texts to my various shelves. If something is mentioned in passing and gets barely more than a paragraph, then no it does not qualify. If it is discussed in-depth or is used in a way that makes more clear the topic at hand, on the shelf it goes. They are as follows:
Ancient Rome Medieval Europe Middle Ages Roman Britain Asia
Eastern Europe Goths/Visigoths/Ostrogoths Byzantium Plague Middle East
Military History Islam France and the French Carolingian Dynasty
Merovingian Dynasty Vikings Christian History Plantagenets King Arthur
Wales The Crusades Eleanor of Aquitaine Spain and the Spanish
Mongols and Mongolia Russia Business and Leadership Anglo-Saxon England
Castles and Palaces Christian Holy Places and Relics Climate Change
Medicis Joan of Arc Architecture Art Explorers Mexico Popes
Germans and Germany Tudors Gauls and Franks
Quite a bit of information, no?
And if that's not enough, there are plenty more topics that would probably have justified the creation of a new shelf to accommodate it, but I chose not to. I couldn't even list all the labels on this post because there is a character limit.
I really love how Jones divided up each section. First there is Imperium, Latin for what amounts to absolute power, which Rome once had, which covers 410-750. Here we find chapters on the Romans, Barbarians, Byzantines, and Arabs.
Next comes Dominion, spanning 750-1215, with sections entitled Franks, Monks, Knights, and Crusades.
Third is Rebirth, 1215-1347, detailing the time as it related to the Mongols, Merchants, Scholars, and Builders.
Last comes Revolution, 1348-1527. We learn of Survivors, Renewers, Navigators, and Protestants.
As you might expect, there is an extensive section of notes and from Jones you should expect no less. The text ended at 77% in my advanced digital copy, with notes taking up the next 13% of the content. Primary sources cover another 4%, with journal articles and theses ending at 96%. The remainder right up to 100% is footnotes.
I can promise that if you pick this one up and settle in for a good bit of reading time, you will not be disappointed. Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages is the new standard against which to measure all other books covering the same topics.
Without a doubt, this is the best book of 2021 for me and I don't believe that anything the rest of the year can top it.
Highly, highly, highly recommended.