Book Review: Empires of the Normans - Everything you ever wanted to know about the Normans and more!
Written by: Levi Roach
Published by: John Murray
Historical Era: Normans
Recommended reading age: 14+
OK, fine, I admit it, I know very little about the Normans. In fact, I could list my accumulated knowledge on the back of a napkin: William the Conqueror, The Battle of Hastings and Castles. Lots of Castles. Considering the Normans played such a massive role in human history and were hugely influential on not just Europe but the Mediterranean and the Middle East too, this is a pretty pathetic list.
This is why I was delighted to have the opportunity to read 'Empires of the Normans' by Levi Roach, a comprehensive new history of all things Normans. And when I say comprehensive, I really do mean comprehensive in italics. This historical account covers hundreds of years of history and travels from Normandy to England, Italy, North Africa, and Scotland. It is an eye-opening book, revealing just how instrumental the Normans were in the construction of the world as we know it.
Fortunately, despite the epic remit, ‘Empires of the Normans’ remains eminently readable thanks to some smart structuring. Divided into relatively short and clearly defined chapters, this is an accessible read. Ensuring that anybody, regardless of their historical knowledge, can dive in and get reading. Levi’s writing style is dense with detail but easily digestible. This is a man who knows his Norman stuff, yet I never felt like I couldn’t keep up. Levi leaves a trail of historical breadcrumbs that even I, a Norman novice, could follow. The reader is nimbly reminded of who people are, their motives and aims, without the pace being overly disrupted. This is mighty handy, especially as an awful lot of the historical players are named either William or Hugh! Suffice to say, I could mostly tell all the Williams and Hughs apart.
For those who can’t handle massive chunky history books (I raise my hand, if it gets above 500 pages it has to be a darn fine book to keep me going!) then you’ll find a lot to like with Empires of the Normans. At 236 pages – plus pictures, I love me some pictures! – this is a relatively breezy read. Having said that, it is dense with information, so there’s plenty of history to squish into your brain too.
Highlights for me included the painful formation of Normandy itself, an essential take on the exploits of William the soon-to-be Conqueror, as well as a fascinating retelling of the First Crusade. If you want to learn more about the Normans, then I can’t recommend ‘Empires of the Normans’ highly enough. This is a read that will leave your brain laden with historical knowledge, ready to impress all those around you with your deep and detailed opinions on how Harold actually died at the Battle of Hastings, how the Normans reached Africa, and whether King Charles got his feet kissed.
Thank you to John Murray for providing us with a review copy of 'Empires of the Normans'.
If you'd like to buy the book you can do so by clicking here to visit the John Murray Press website.