This argument is incandescent and ultimately intoxicating, for as the chapters progress, it dawns — oops, another “light” metaphor — on the reader that those who lived in this period were more conventional than the cardboard figures of schoolday narratives, that they were composed of unbounded good along with unimaginable evil or were, if we dare trip the light fantastic verbally, possessed of brilliance and darkness. They were, in essence, human. “Premodern people,” the scholars argue, “were just as complex and sophisticated as any who followed.”
The beauty and levity that Perry and Gabriele have captured in this book are what I think will help it to become a standard text for general audiences for years to come. Medieval historians aren’t interested in the period because it is dull. However, few of us have succeeded in conveying to audiences the fact that the complexity and subtlety of the Middle Ages allows for fun as well as drama. The Bright Ages is a rare thing—a nuanced historical work that almost anyone can enjoy reading.
“[Gabriele and Perry] offer a spirited rebuttal to what they call the “myth of the Dark Ages,” a “centuries-old understanding of the medieval world that sees it cast in shadow, only hazily understood, fixed and unchanging, but ultimately the opposite of what we want our modern world to be.” Instead, in this fast-moving popular history that roughly spans the time from the middle of the fifth century to the Black Death that began in the 1340s, they succeed in painting what they propose as a “much more complicated, more interesting picture of the period,” one that rescues this epoch from both those who misunderstand it and, perhaps more dangerously, others who misrepresent it.”
VERDICT This accessible trip through the medieval world is well worth taking for anyone wishing to better understand its complexity.
The Bright Ages offers a refreshingly critical look at an era burdened with misconceptions and it’s sure to become a new standard for those seeking a comprehensive and inclusive review of
An appealing account of a millennium packed with culture, beauty, science, learning, and the rise and fall of empires. A fine single-volume overview of an age that was definitely not dark.
The authors … add nuance and complexity to popular conceptions of the Dark Ages and make clear that beauty and achievement existed among the horrors. This is a worthy introduction to an oft-misunderstood period in world history.
As Gabriele and Perry summarize the medieval world, “There were also, just as now, people who limited debate, prosecuted thought crimes, repressed freedom, and killed people who were different from them. The Bright Ages stand out as a pivotal place and time in history because they contain all the multitudes of possibility inherent in humanity.” In that spirit, they also point out the risk of mobilizing the past for nefarious ends, such as white supremacists who look back at an oversimplified, torqued version of the past to frame their own crusade. Gabriele and Perry’s new look at an old time is welcome. Especially now.