This is the sixth volume in Isaac Asimov’s billiant histories for young people. Having recreated in his widely praised books the great civilizations of the Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, he now moves to Northern Europe to discuss the Franks and the Goths, who came from the north to spell the end of Mediterranean domination.
As countless reviewers have pointed out, Dr. Asimov brings to the telling of history a variety of disciplines, clear sparkling prose, and an infectious enthusiasm that catches the reader up in his panorama of events. THE DARK AGES is no exception.
Here we see the Germanic Tribes and Gothic Kingdoms, the coming of the darkness. We see the powerful role of Christianity in the unfolding of military events. We watch kings fall and empires crumble. We meet fascinating personalities—Alaric, Charlemagne and his Carolingian successors. And finally, we pass through the darkness to catch a glimmer of the light that promises to come.
The Dark Ages is a period of history not well known to many. Dr. Asimov has shown it to be an eminently interesting time, well worth exploring with a knowledgeable and witty guide.
This is an excellent history about a period of time that I frankly do not know as well as some others, which makes the book doubly appreciated. Here Asimov covers the history of the Germanic peoples from the beginning through the beginning of the tenth century. His particular focus is on Western Europe and, in particular, the Frankish kingdom which became under Charlemagne the Frankish Empire and its subsequent history under his descendants.
The book is rather confusing at times, to be sure—this is not an orderly period of history Asimov is dealing with. Tribe after tribe comes sweeping across the Rhine or Danube into the Roman Empire, Emperor after Emperor is made an unmade, king after king rises and falls. There are some much needed helps in the book in the form of genealogical tables, but if one were to fault Asimov’s narrative, the fault would be that there is so much narrative and so little else—more and better maps, in particular, would be very helpful.
Still, that’s a minor point on the whole. The story is (all things considered) clear and well-told, and (frankly) because Asimov talks mostly about the chronicles of events, the reader gets more information about the short-lived kings and their short-lived kingdoms than most modern books dealing with the Dark Ages would provide. Definitely this volume would provide an excellent introduction to the early history of France for the interested reader.
And the book has an utterly charming dedication—“To my daughter Robyn, who could brighten any age, however dark.”