Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 06-01-2006, 12:06 AM
don Jaime is offline
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: OKC, OK, USA
Posts: 866

Recommend history books about the Dark Ages

I'm looking for good but not overly dense things to read about the early medieval period, from the fall of the Western Roman bits through to the First Crusade. Late Antique pagans, early Christians, Goths, Germans, Vikings, Byzantines, you name it. Anything about the foundations of Islam would be nice, too. Thoughts?
Old 06-01-2006, 07:55 AM
Frank is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Kettering, Ohio
Posts: 20,471

Moderator Notes:

Moved from IMHO to CS.
Old 06-01-2006, 08:34 AM
Freddy the Pig is offline
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Illinois
Posts: 7,966
This might fall into the category of "overly dense", but I found The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity to be very illuminating about how and why Christianity continued to spread after Rome fell.
Old 06-01-2006, 09:22 AM
Elendil's Heir is offline
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: my Herkimer Battle Jitney
Posts: 85,220
Barbara W. Tuchman's A Distant Mirror is a wonderful overview of the 14th century, incl. lots of good stuff on the Black Death, chivalry and the Hundred Year's War. Check it out.
Old 06-01-2006, 09:48 AM
beowulf573 is offline
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 193
I liked "The Civilization of the Middle Ages" by Norman Cantor. And a second recommendation for Barbara Tuchman's book.
Old 06-01-2006, 09:55 AM
Bridget Burke is offline
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Houston
Posts: 9,349
I'm away from my library right now, but "Dark Ages" has fallen out of favor with most scholars. Many prefer "Early Middle Ages"--which you used, as well.

"Late Antiquity" covers the late Roman Empire. The western part, that is. The Eastern Empire was "Byzantium" & was never dark during those years.

"The Migrations Period" is the more current way of referring to the Barbarian invasions. It's more accurate & less insulting to the descendants of those barbarians--most Europeans, that is.

"How the Irish Saved Civilization" is a look at one part of Europe that wasn't Dark. Not heavyweight scholarship, but a good introduction.

Of course, Islam arose during this period. Moorish Spain was another area that mostly avoided "darkness."

All these "periods" overlapped considerably. Stuff you probably did NOT learn in history class, but quite fascinating. I'll be back with a few recommendations.
Old 06-01-2006, 09:59 AM
silenus's Avatar
silenus is offline
Isaiah 1:15/Screw the NRA
Charter Member
Join Date: May 2003
Location: SoCal
Posts: 51,544
From my classroom library:

A History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World - Duby, editor

A World Lit Only By Fire - Manchester

Medieval Europe: A Short History - Holister

Medieval Society - Cantor & Werthman
Old 06-01-2006, 10:05 AM
saoirse is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Up in Rottenchester
Posts: 6,264
How about The Medieval Worldview
William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman? It's a good survey.
Old 06-01-2006, 10:58 AM
Manatee is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Under the Sea
Posts: 1,017
Sorry to contradict silenus, but avoid Manchester. It's the most anti-medieval book about the middle ages that I've read. Given your paramaters, it sounds like Tuchman wouldn't work either, although I usually do recommend her book (I'm more of a late medieval guy myself).

Southern's The Making of the Middle Ages is a bit dated but still worth a look. Ditto for Pirenne (esp. Medieval Cities--which obviously is a little more limited in scope). Bark's The Origins of the Medieval World sounds like it might be good match for the criteria in the OP.
Old 06-01-2006, 11:00 AM
Manatee is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Under the Sea
Posts: 1,017
"paramaters," obviously, referring to a set of tomatoes.
Old 06-01-2006, 11:46 AM
js_africanus is offline
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: Small City, Michigan
Posts: 5,162
I enjoyed Terry Jone's Midieval Lives quite a bit.
This is not a Sponsored Link

Dolphin Gymnast
Not for sale. .....................................................................................Non-ad by me.
Old 06-01-2006, 11:59 AM
Doctor Who is offline
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: In the hot tub.
Posts: 2,579
You might like "The Year 1000" by Lacey/Danziger. It's an easy read - as well as being super cheap used (try

The Doctor
Old 06-01-2006, 12:17 PM
AuntiePam is offline
Join Date: Aug 1999
Posts: 18,119
The Waning of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga
Old 06-01-2006, 01:07 PM
Renob is offline
Join Date: May 2003
Location: MD
Posts: 2,337
The Age of Faith by Will Durant, part of his Story of Civilization series.
Old 06-01-2006, 02:10 PM
JR Brown is offline
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,042
Not so much history as history of technology, but still very good (short, informative, very readable): Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages by Joseph and Frances Gies. "Straight" history books tend to neglect the material culture, and there were a lot of important technological changes that affected medieval society in myriad ways.
Old 06-01-2006, 03:36 PM
Miss Purl McKnittington is offline
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Wheeeeee!sconsin
Posts: 2,592
As a reference guide, try The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, general editor Norman F. Cantor. Be aware that there are some typos/errors that might be misleading, but no more than in any other encyclopedia. (I swear, those things are edited by rabid monkeys sometimes.) It's a nice resource when you get confused by all the names and dates that are tossed around.
Old 06-01-2006, 08:26 PM
5 time champ is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Podium # 3
Posts: 2,555
Originally Posted by Renob
The Age of Faith by Will Durant, part of his Story of Civilization series.
Second, Durant also spends a lot of time with medieval Islam and Judaism.
Old 06-02-2006, 01:46 AM
dnooman is offline
Registered User
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Posts: 4,829
I loved "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. When I finished the book I was almost angry that the story was over. Good stuff.


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:36 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to:

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

Copyright © 2017