Book review: The Normans
July 2, 2014
Traces the history of the Normans, who carved out kingdoms from the North Sea to the North African coast. Brings to life figures like Rollo the Walker, William Iron-Arm, Tancred the Monkey King, and Robert Guiscard, who with their kinsmen transformed the face of medieval Europe.
I received this book in return for an honest review via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
I’ve always enjoyed a good bit of historical non-fiction, but the early medieval period has mostly passed me by before. I never previously really thought about the Normans outside of William the Conqueror. This book did a very good job of filling that gap. By keeping it’s narratives tightly focused on a small handful of Norman dynasties, it deftly manages to demonstrate the impact of the Normans on the wider world.
My only quibble, at any point in the book, was the way the Vikings were reduced to simple barbarians, consistently described in animalistic language. What makes this more jarring is that the author has written a similar book about the Vikings (which I’m tempted to pick up). This oversimplification doesn’t appear to extend to the other cultures referenced in the book, though, and it really is only a minor quibble.
In terms of practical considerations, I’d suggest picking up a paper copy of this book. The maps were too small to read on an ereader (though may be easier to see on a computer or tablet screen) and it was frustrating having all the family trees at the beginning, rather than by the relevant chapters.
If you’re looking to get a better sense of early medieval Europe, or to put certain historical figures into a wider context, then I thoroughly recommend The Normans. I don’t know if it would be of much use to someone already immersed in the period, but coming to it from the outside it was very informative.