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Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization [Paperback]

Lars Brownworth
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2010
In AD 476 the Roman Empire fell–or rather, its western half did. Its eastern half, which would come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, would endure and often flourish for another eleven centuries. Though its capital would move to Constantinople, its citizens referred to themselves as Roman for the entire duration of the empire’s existence. Indeed, so did its neighbors, allies, and enemies: When the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, he took the title Caesar of Rome, placing himself in a direct line that led back to Augustus.

For far too many otherwise historically savvy people today, the story of the Byzantine civilization is something of a void. Yet for more than a millennium, Byzantium reigned as the glittering seat of Christian civilization. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages, Byzantium held fast against Muslim expansion, keeping Christianity alive. When literacy all but vanished in the West, Byzantium made primary education available to both sexes. Students debated the merits of Plato and Aristotle and commonly committed the entirety of Homer’s Iliad to memory. Streams of wealth flowed into Constantinople, making possible unprecedented wonders of art and architecture, from fabulous jeweled mosaics and other iconography to the great church known as the Hagia Sophia that was a vision of heaven on earth. The dome of the Great Palace stood nearly two hundred feet high and stretched over four acres, and the city’s population was more than twenty times that of London’s.

From Constantine, who founded his eponymous city in the year 330, to Constantine XI, who valiantly fought the empire’s final battle more than a thousand years later, the emperors who ruled Byzantium enacted a saga of political intrigue and conquest as astonishing as anything in recorded history. Lost to the West is replete with stories of assassination, mass mutilation and execution, sexual scheming, ruthless grasping for power, and clashing armies that soaked battlefields with the blood of slain warriors numbering in the tens of thousands.

Still, it was Byzantium that preserved for us today the great gifts of the classical world. Of the 55,000 ancient Greek texts in existence today, some 40,000 were transmitted to us by Byzantine scribes. And it was the Byzantine Empire that shielded Western Europe from invasion until it was ready to take its own place at the center of the world stage. Filled with unforgettable stories of emperors, generals, and religious patriarchs, as well as fascinating glimpses into the life of the ordinary citizen, Lost to the West reveals how much we owe to this empire that was the equal of any in its achievements, appetites, and enduring legacy.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Review

“Captivating…In Lost to the West Lars Brownworth shows a novelist’s eye for character, bringing to life some of the most fascinating — and yet little known -- figures of the Byzantine era. But it is as a researcher into the obscurities of palace intrigue, treachery, and battlefield carnage that Lars really shines. With dry humor and a palette of vivid images, he recounts the dizzying game of musical chairs that placed one usurper after another on the Byzantine throne, only to be pitched off in a gaudily macabre way. In the end, one is left agog by the irony that the upshot of this centuries-long scrum was the preservation of nearly all that the Greeks have bequeathed to us.”
—Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire

“Rome never fell -- it simply moved five hundred miles East -- to Byzantium. For over a thousand years the Byzantines commanded one of the most visceral and vivid empires the world has ever known. And yet their achievements are consistently underplayed; written out of history. Lars Brownworth is a rare talent. His contagious passion brings murderous empresses, conniving eunuchs, lost Greek texts and Byzantine treasures of fairy-tale proportions blinking back into the light. Confidently striding through time and across the mountains and plains of the Eastern Mediterranean, Brownworth puts this theocratic superstate slap-bang in the center of mankind's global story; back where it should be. The Byzantines made our world what it is today. Lars Brownworth matches their verve and brio in his seductive and gripping account.”
—Bettany Hughes, PBS host and author of Helen of Troy

“This is history as it used to be, history as story-telling. In this fascinating account of the Byzantine empire, Lars Brownworth covers a thousand years of blood-letting, outrageous luxury, bitter religious disputes and vaulting ambition without giving the slightest impression of being rushed or crowded. The page turns unaided.”
—Anthony Everitt, bestselling author of Augustus, Cicero and The First Emperor

"A hugely entertaining and often moving portrait of a civilization to which the modern West owes an immense but neglected debt. Read it, and you will never use the word 'Byzantine' as a term of abuse again."
—Thomas Holland, author of Millennium, Persian Fire and Rubicon

“Lost to the West is the sort of history I wish I’d been offered in school — a fast-paced adventure story that covers over a thousand years of political intrigue, brilliant leaders, incompetent squabblers, mayhem, butchery and religious divides, and vividly pictures a bygone era that is still a vital part of our heritage.”
—Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds

"The Byzantines are back! Correcting centuries of neglect, Lars Brownworth guides us through a forgotten world and, with clarity and wit, brings it to vibrant life. Filled with a dazzling cast of ruthless Emperors, conniving generals and half-crazed scholars, Lost to the West is both entertaining and enlightening -- a great piece of popular history."
—Tony Perrottet, author of Pagan Holiday and The Naked Olympics






From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

LARS BROWNWORTH, a former high-school history teacher, is the creator of the podcast phenomenon “12 Byzantine Rulers” that iTunes named as one of the “podcasts that define the genre.” Brownworth and his podcast have been profiled in the New York Times, Wired, and USA Today, and were featured on NPR.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant introduction Sept. 27 2009
By Prairie Pal TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As someone who teaches Byzantine history I was delighted to see that Lars Brownworth, creator of the very helpful podcast series 12 Byzantine Rulers, had written a book on the importance of Byzantium. The subtitle of Lost to the West promises much -- The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization -- but does it deliver?

Yes and no. Certainly Lost to the West is a nice little introduction to the history of the Roman empire in the east that survived for a thousand years after Rome itself had fallen to the German barbarians. The book is easy to understand, full of interesting anecdotes and possesses the jaunty journalistic style that marked the podcasts. But that's all there is: nothing is handled in depth, no new information or interpretation is offered and certainly one might put the book down convinced that Byzantium had not bequeathed Western Civilization much more than some old manuscripts and refugee teachers of Greek.

Having said that, if you have not yet read a history of the Byzantine Empire this is a very good place to start. The works of John Julius Norwich are dry as dust, Averil Cameron's The Byzantines concentrates on social history and other works such as Constantinople 1453 are too narrowly focused to serve as an introductory book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping from Cover to Cover March 11 2010
By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In just over 300 pages that turn by themselves, the author has recounted over eleven centuries of spellbinding history - that of the Byzantine Empire. Naturally, in condensing such a lengthy time period, the author had to pick the most significant events. This he did admirably in a book that reads like a suspense novel that just doesn't let go. This is history writing at its very best. The writing style is very lively, clear, authoritative, friendly and widely accessible. As one reviewer (on the dust jacket) has pointed out, the text is also peppered with "dry humour" which certainly adds to the book's entertainment value. A few useful maps are included, but otherwise there are no pictures or photos; yet these are not missed since the author's vivid, most engaging prose lets the reader's mind take control. This well-researched book can be enjoyed by any reader who loves intrigue, suspense, conspiracy, treachery, violence, etc., etc.; but in this case, it's all factual, well-documented history. Ancient history buffs who may be lacking in their knowledge of Byzantine history (like I was), will be in for quite a treat.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great books on Byzantine Empire March 13 2014
By Collin C. Carbno TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Understanding the twists and turns of the Byzantine Empire and all the history is no easy task. This book makes the history come alive and gives wonderful insight into the Empire. The book gives a good perspective on what happened in this great Christian empire .... personalities, the up and downs, and eventually failure.

I think this great book for all Christians wanting an understanding of the historic development and history of the Byzantine Empire.

Highly readable, exciting, hard to put down..... it great book for Christians or anyone interested in the history of this time and empire.
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