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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Millennium. Tom Holland. Abacus (2009)

In one of the greatest practical jokes in history modern Europe was born because the end of the world failed to arrive when it was expected. The Christian world expected that the world would end and the Day of Judgement arrive in the at the first Millennium, one thousand years after the birth or death of Jesus Christ. The enormous social, political and religious forces this expectation released collided, combined and confronted each other to create the foundations of Western Europe as we have it today. Tom Holland has written a hugely entertaining book that shows how and why the process took place. It is a fantastic story and it is told with outstanding skill, with an enormous cast of vivid characters and a geographical range from London to Kiev, Tom Holland's talent for clarity and comprehensiveness never falters.

The prospect of the end of the world crystallised a number of forces that combined and confronted each other. On one hand there was the growth in empire building and the emergence of new ruling elites. This activity was savagely brutal and bloody. The new ruling elites wanted to be granted legitimate status and the source of this was the Christian Church. The Church was concerned with the violence of the emerging rulers while at the same time realising that they were the vanguard of the spread of Christianity, a very necessary project in the light of the upcoming divine day of judgement. The Church, as much as the secular rulers, had new elites emerge in the drive to develop an Christian empire and the confrontations between these forces is at the heart of the book.

The huge energy dedicated to getting the world in order for an event that never arrived created significant forces that had the time and energy to continue shaping the world in whatever way they saw fit. The momentum of the millennium carried them on to creating the extraordinary developments that saw Europe emerge as the political, religious and technological global leader in defiance of any prospects prior to the millennium. This exhilarating book is sweeping narrative history that shows how the present is never far from our past. Unmissable.

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