Barbarian Europe by Gerald Simons

4/5 Stars

Hello hello. I’m back with a new review! This lovely Wednesday I’ll be reviewing a non-fiction book I came across at the Library. I was just browsing the History section in search of something that jumped out at me. I came across this book because it had a really pretty cover on it. It wasn’t the cover that’s set as the display image for this book; it’s a makeshift cover that the Library put on, since the original cover was so tattered. But, it was really pretty.

It was gold. And sparkly. And had nice designs on it.

I just knew I had to have it.

And I’m glad I did.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I thought it was filled to the brim with interesting information that I didn’t already know about the Medieval time period. But first, before I go any further with this review, I suppose I should tell you a little about what it’s about.

In this book, Simons covers topics spanning from the beginning of the Middle Ages all the way to the end of them. He casts a new and unique light on a time period that is often viewed as digression from civilized behavior and, ultimately, a huge step backward for human kind. Simons does not take the usual approach, but argues that many of the progress made during the Medieval time period helped to move society forward and played a heavy role on many of the celebrations, traditions, and government systems we still use today.

Now, where to start with the review. I think I’ll start with the layout of this book. Simons creates a very functional, easy-to-read layout. He gives us about 10 pages of block information text and then breaks each chapter up with about 10 pages of text with images. This is a great method that makes his text readable and easy to maneuver. I liked this format, since it didn’t feel like I was really reading a basic cookie cutter text book. This layout makes Simons writing easier to absorb and also easier to read.

Going along with the format, I really enjoy Simons writing style. I like the flow of his words and the way he lays out the information for the reader. Let’s face it, without good writing, even a good layout wouldn’t have saved this book. I’m so glad that Simons has a good writing style. I found myself flipping (not flipping pages in a sense of flying through a high-intensity YA Dystopian novel, but in a I couldn’t wait to find out more information sense) page after page. I found the writing to be tantalizing enough to make me want to finish the text in its entirety.

The pictures also flow extremely well with the text and layout. I love the less dense picture/text break in between the denser sections. It gives you a nice break where you can still learn about the years Simons is discussing, but in a more relaxed way, allowing your brain to fuel up for the next dense text section. Simons included pictures that tie into the year spans he had been talking about in the previous chapter to further demonstrate what life was like. They’re sort of a chapter wrap up. These are also nice for anyone who is doing more a skim read. Overall, the pictures were extremely pretty and an applauded addition.

Finally, the information. I found the information to be completely satisfactory. I learned a ton while reading this (bonus) short (not super short but just short enough) text. Simons doesn’t try to drag anything out too far. He puts in enough information for you to get your feet wet in the culture and to be able to get a sense of what life was like for the people actually living this culture. Simons does a superb job of including the vital information, but also throwing in some fun trivia. (Like, did you know people used to put rancid butter in their hair to use as hairgel?)

Now, this was published back in the 1960s, so I’m sure there have been some facts that were proven wrong or further expanded on. But, I still really enjoyed reading this book and found it to be filled with tons of information I didn’t know with most feeling like it would still ring true with modern reads. The only reason, honestly, that I rated this book 4 stars instead of 5 stars is because, given that it was the ’60s, many of the famous women from this time in history were erased completely. Simons talks only of women when talking about them as property, but we know now that many women were in the Hun and Viking armies. There were also others that played some pretty big roles during this time period, but those were the two biggest for this context. Simons brushed over all those facts, but since the ’60s did a lot of brushing over a lot of facts, I’m kind of (not really) letting this slide.

Overall, I still immensely enjoyed reading this book. I actually had to renew it from the Library, because I couldn’t quite finish it before I went to Europe a few weeks ago, and I just had to finish it before handing it back in. I would recommend this nonfiction text to anyone who is interested in nonfiction text book format books, anyone interested to explore in depth what exactly happened during the Medieval years, or anyone who felt this review sparked something in them. I read that this is part of a series, and, who knows, I might check out more by this author some day. It’s definitely a possibility.

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