Byzantine history is a little dry, but then again, history never made any promises to be exciting. This "apex" of the Byzantine empire is surprisingly dull when compared to the apex of other empires, especially, and perhaps ironically, the great Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, its worthwhile if not just because it covers the reign of the unfortunately named Basil the Bulgar-Slayer (Basil II), and the Macedonian dynasty.
The book opens with the revivacation of the Western empire under the Franks, the dwindling power of iconoclasm in its second outbreak, and the looming schism between the papacy and Constantinople. Then, of course, the rise to power of Basil I, the first of many great usurpers, who rose to power by killing the great Regent Bardas and the Emperor Michael III. A cultural high-point is reached under Basil's dynasty, and competent leadership manages to at least overweight bad leadership for a time. The Emperor John I, one of my favorite bloody usurpers, is also dealt with. The book closes with the chaotic period that followed Basil II's death, in which the Emperors and Empresses seemed to replace each other annually, each outdoing the last in mismanagement, and the beginning of the end, with the arrival of a new enemy, the Seljuk Turks, and the defeat at Manzikert.
The book suffers a bit by lack of reliable contemporary sources, and one can feel the author's frustration. Still, there are bright moments, not the least of which is the luckless Liudprand and the eloquent but dangerously conceited Michael Psellus, both of which are quoted liberally for good reason. Lord Norwich isn't a professional scholar, but he's certainly well read on the topic, and writes with great humor and color. Worth reading.