... [a] magnificent doorstop ... A thousand years race by in a terrifically colourful and compelling narrative history, with all the confidence, bravura and swift judgments essential to an overview of such a vast time span. Jones also possesses a keen eye for how the ideas and passions of the medieval era are with us still ... Equally praiseworthy is its freedom from any queasy, muddy undercurrents of obsequious apology and guilt that dog so much contemporary western historiography. It’s always reasonable and fair ... There is plenty of fresh research here too, especially to do with historical changes in climate ... explains the movements of the period with crystal clarity, but it’s as a sequence of potted biographies that it really excels ... Jones’s history is a hugely impressive achievement, bustling and sizzling with life on every page — he even makes the invention of double-entry book-keeping (Italy, 14th century) interesting. This is now simply the best popular history of the Middle Ages there is.
Jones presents a procession of kings, clerics, conquerors and artists, producing a lively history that often reads like a novel. But he enriches his narrative by carefully balancing the flow of personalities with historical anecdotes and era-defining events ... He reduces his seemingly unending collection of stories, anecdotes, potential digressions and alluring tangents to their essentials, highlighting the common threads that run through history ... As each piece of the puzzle is placed into position, the modern world gradually comes into view ... Even his footnotes are designed to connect the story line to the contemporary world... These are notes meant to engage the reader and carry the major themes of the book forward ... the narrative sometimes skips around...But it permits Jones to explore the issues that defined the Middle Ages and demonstrate how each development was a step in the evolution of Europe. It’s an approach that allows the reader to connect all the dots ... To be sure, Powers and Thrones is not without its limitations. The book retraces a lot of familiar ground covered by other scholars, and the reader should not expect a deep dive into the period’s military, linguistic, literary or legal history. But, in the end, Powers and Thrones does what a general history of the Middle Ages should do. It provides the reader with a framework for understanding a complicated subject, and it tells the story of an essential era of world history with skill and style.
... captivating ... A sprawling book to cover a sprawling history, Powers and Thrones is essential reading for everyone interested in the ways a 1,100-year period changed the course of our cultural history in profound ways.