Reviews for ‘A Distant Mirror’, ‘The World of Byzantium’ and ‘Great World Religions: Buddhism’

A Distant Mirror

This is a nonfiction book about the High Middle Ages- specifically France between 1300 and 1400. It splits the difference between talking about the Middle Ages broadly- such as discussing the black death, the Babylonian Captivity, the Pope and Antipope crisis, and various peasants revolts- as well as in specific, by writing a biography on Angurand de la Cousie (I have no clue how that’s spelled). The reason why it’s about Angurand is because he went pretty much everywhere during the middle ages. From England to Spain to Germany to Italy… by focusing on Angurand, the narrative of the nonfiction had an excuse to both focus on events in France while also discussing events happening elsewhere.

It got into the weeds of events a bit too much for my taste. It would bring up minor actors in past events, discuss them in detail, and never mention them again. I like listening to the Great Courses because they feel like they discuss important events, giving context to them, and interlinking those details together to stage a greater narrative. That didn’t happen here because this focused on events chronologically, as opposed to on narrative importance. This is by no means a bad history book, but it’s also not exactly a very readable one for a novice like me.

THAT SAID, this did a great job of covering the war between England and France, the civil wars , and the disruption of the social order and rise of brigandage which followed due to the failures of the war. This really drilled down into how much of a problem brigands and mercenaries were for Europe at that time. Due to the societal collapse caused by the war between England and France, mercenary bands and brigand bands were able to take root to the point they couldn’t be weeded out. The governments had to make deals with them as equals, hiring them and try to send them overseas to die in foreign wars. It was a fascinating topic which was really interesting to learn about.

The World of Byzantium

This is a lecture series about the legacy of Byzantine Rome. From the establishment if Constantinople, to it’s fall, to the legacy of Orthodox Christianity which lasts even to this day. It covers the socio-cultural message of the Church- from the anti-christian pogroms under pagan Rome to the schism into the Orthodox and Catholic. It has the political theater of byzantine intrigue and deception in the name of taking the throne, like for example Basil the First taking the throne after assassinating the previous emperor by getting into a threesome with him and killing him in the night. And finally it covers the history of the various wars the byzantines got into with the Persians, Normans, Bulgars, and Turks, as well as the history of the first four crusades.

I enjoyed this a LOT. It both goes deep and broad, covering the cultural, religious, military and political history of this forgotten empire.


This is a 5 hour precis on the topic of buddhism, by the same lecturer who did the 12hour lecture series I reviewed here. If I were to compare the two, I’d say that they are of the same quality, however the increased quantity of the other lecture I reviewed made it a better resource.

If you only have 5 hours to listen to a lecture series, listen to this one. If you have 12 hours, listen to the other lecture series by the same lecturer.

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