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In the nutshell: Normans were Vikings invited to settle in Northern France by a French king, who thought giving them land was preferable to battling them or bribing them. Once settled in Normandy they perfected new military techniques, particularly use of heavy cavalry. Innovation, military success, discipline, love of combat, and thirst for wealth drove them to invade Britain in 1066. Nearly everyone knows about that. The book pays but passing attention to William the Conqueror. Its focus is the de Hauteville family, composed of brothers from a minor Norman clan who had great ambition and shrewdness. The de Hautevilles boys had "it" the way some families do for a time. Since William the Bastard owned England the brothers looked for other opportunities. They sailed to Sicily and Southern Italy. Authority there was in turmoil and possession of wealth was unstable. The area set at a juncture of grand political spheres: Byzantium, Muslim Arabia, the Vatican (which raised soldiers), and Germany (whose armies repeatedly invaded it by coming over the Alps). Sicily in particular was a gem. It had fertile soil and buzzed with trade going to and from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The Crusades made Sicily a fortune. The de Hautevilles conquered the island along with the heel of southern Italy; for two hundred years they stayed its dominant regents. They ducked going on Crusade but sold supplies to Crusaders, worked trade lines between Europe and the Mediterranean, and rented their ships to men sallying forth to Jerusalem. They captured the Pope a couple of times, defeated invaders, put down multiple rebellions, married into European aristocracy, and gave Sicily the most prosperous decades it had had for centuries—albeit ruling with an iron hand. The text details southern Normans fending off foreign hosts while waging internecine fights; interestingly, family winners were most often talented individuals. Two centuries later, however, whatever was bold and compelling in the personality of de Hautevilles leaked out and evaporated, so their regime fell. The Normans is worth listening to. It fills a knowledge gap for most of us history buffs with stories about remarkable personalities.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Surprise! This book is a history of the Normans who headed south - FAR south, into the Mediterranean region. I found it difficult to decide after listening whether they were bad news or good news in the long run for the countries and peoples they conquered and ruled. They appear to have implemented semi benevolent policies for their victims/subjects. However, they shared a fatal disposition to fight amongst themselves which caused great misery for everyone in their orbits. I purchased the book thinking it was about William the Conqueror's forefathers and foremothers. While I was startled to find little about that subject, I was entertained and enlightened by learning about something I had not intended to, and about which I knew nothing. I gave the "story" only three stars because I found patches of the narrative confusing and disjointed.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful