Lost to the West, by Lars Brownworth

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I’m a pretty committed Roman History Nerd. I really like reading about all periods of the civilization, and have been learning more and more since I first took Latin in high school. It’s esoteric to a lot of people, but it’s something that’s always been fascinating to me. And I like both the “great man” aspect of histories which follow the named leaders, but also the accounts of what it was like to live in Rome itself, or in the provinces elsewhere.

But to be honest, I always start to lose the thread around the 3rd/4th century AD, after Constantine, with the continuous sacking of Rome and Italy going on by virtually everyone. And so most of the histories that I read, I gut it out until 476, when Odoacer beats Romulus Augustulus to declare himself King of Italy, and the Roman Empire dead.

So I was really interested to read this book, which is a history that goes from the establishment of the Roman capital in the East (Byzantium, to be later renamed Constantinople), initially by Diocletian, and consolidated later by Constantine, through the fall of the Constantinople in 1453 (when Mehmet II defeated Constantine XI).

I really, really liked this book. It suffers a little bit from over-focusing on emperors and generals, but I learned a lot about how to think about the parts of the empire, and later the relationship between the Crusaders, Islam, and the Eastern Roman Empire, led from Constantinople. I hadn’t really thought too much about how the lineage from Rome affected how Constantinople viewed the world, or the nuanced way it sat between East & West. (And, to be honest, my geography of the region needed a bit of a refresher, as I always think that Turkey & Constantinople are further to the east than they actually are.)

Anyway, if you’re a roman history nerd like me, and don’t mind reading about 11 different Constantines over the course of a thousand years or so, this is a great book to pick up. (“great e-book to download”? how are we going to talk about books in our digital future??)

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