The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe (Hardcover)

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"Traveling easily through a thousand years of history, The Bright Ages reminds us society never collapsed when the Roman Empire fell, nor did the modern world did wake civilization from a thousand year hibernation. Thoroughly enjoyable, thoughtful and accessible; a fresh look on an age full of light, color, and illumination." —Mike Duncan, author of Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution

A lively and magisterial popular history that refutes common misperceptions of the European Middle Ages, showing the beauty and communion that flourished alongside the dark brutality—a brilliant reflection of humanity itself.

The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkness obscures the truth; this was a remarkable period in human history. The Bright Ages recasts the European Middle Ages for what it was, capturing this 1,000-year era in all its complexity and fundamental humanity, bringing to light both its beauty and its horrors. 

The Bright Ages takes us through ten centuries and crisscrosses Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa, revisiting familiar people and events with new light cast upon them. We look with fresh eyes on the Fall of Rome, Charlemagne, the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Black Death, but also to the multi-religious experience of Iberia, the rise of Byzantium, and the genius of Hildegard and the power of queens. We begin under a blanket of golden stars constructed by an empress with Germanic, Roman, Spanish, Byzantine, and Christian bloodlines and end nearly 1,000 years later with the poet Dante—inspired by that same twinkling celestial canopy—writing an epic saga of heaven and hell that endures as a masterpiece of literature today.  

The Bright Ages reminds us just how permeable our manmade borders have always been and of what possible worlds the past has always made available to us. The Middle Ages may have been a world “lit only by fire” but it was one whose torches illuminated the magnificent rose windows of cathedrals, even as they stoked the pyres of accused heretics.  

The Bright Ages contains an 8-page color insert.

About the Author

Matthew Gabriele is a professor of medieval studies and chair of the department of religion and culture at Virginia Tech. He is the author of the book An Empire of Memory: The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade, many articles on medieval Europe and the memory of the Middle Ages, and has edited several academic volumes. His public writing has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and interviews with him have aired locally, nationally, and internationally.

David Perry is a journalist, medieval historian, and senior academic advisor in the history department at the University of Minnesota. He was formerly a professor of history at Dominican University. Perry is the author of Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, and his writing on history, disability, politics, parenting, and other topics has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, the Atlantic, and, among others.

Praise For…

“The Bright Ages shines a light on an age too often obscured by myth, legend, and fairy tales. Traveling easily through a thousand years of history, The Bright Ages reminds us society never collapsed when the Roman Empire fell, nor did the modern world wake civilization from a thousand-year hibernation. Gabriele and Perry show the medieval world was neither a romantic wonderland nor a deplorable dungeon, but instead a real world full of real people with hopes, dreams, and fears making the most of their time on earth.” 
— Mike Duncan, author of Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution and The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

"A lively, searing, and transformative reimagining of the medieval world, The Bright Ages is brilliant in every way, both lucid in its arguments and sparkling in its prose. A gripping and compulsive read."
— Bruce Holsinger, author of A Burnable Book and The Gifted School

"In this engaging new history of the Medieval period Gabriele and Perry achieve a feat: they have written something eminently readable, suffused with academic rigor, and ethically responsible."
— Candida Moss, author of The Myth of Persecution

"Historians Gabriele and Perry argue in this accessible revisionist history that the so-called Dark Ages was actually a period of innovation that helped pave the way for the Renaissance and Enlightenment....they add nuance and complexity to popular conceptions of the Dark Ages and make clear that beauty and achievement existed among the horrors. This is a worthy introduction to an oft-misunderstood period in world history."
Publishers Weekly

"Although traditional politics-and–great-men history makes an appearance, the authors keep current by including a surprising number of great women and emphasizing their disapproval of racism, sexism, and slavery. The result is an appealing account of a millennium packed with culture, beauty, science, learning, and the rise and fall of empires."
Kirkus Reviews

"Noted medieval historians Gabriele and Perry provide an engaging overview of a complex, yet often oversimplified era....sure to become a new standard for those seeking a comprehensive and inclusive review of medieval times."

"Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry liberate the Middle Ages from stereotypes and half-truths in The Bright Ages, revealing that world as 'not simple or clean, but messy and human'....[a] lively account of a misunderstood era."
— Shelf Awareness

"This accessible trip through the medieval world is well worth taking for anyone wishing to better understand its complexity."
Library Journal
Product Details
ISBN: 9780062980892
ISBN-10: 0062980890
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Pages: 336
Language: English