Customer Reviews of A Tale of Two Cities
An epic history that shows the fragility of society in 1000.
With the new millennium quickly approaching, it has become obvious that the populace of today's world has no fear, or any thought that there may be an apocalyptic event in the year 2000. I am not Nostrodamus, so I am not saying that there will be. I am just observing the fact that people today are looking at the year 2000 as a big party. Cruises are being booked; Hotels are sold out for the New Years Celebration; People are basically optimistic about the year 2000. The only catastrophic event we have to look forward to is the Y2K computer glitch and another presidential election. However, our ancestors of a 1,000 years ago faced the four riders of the apocalypse, death, famine, war and pestilence on a daily basis. In The Last Apocalypse, James Reston reminds us of a not so simple time when Viking hoards from Norway and Denmark, Muslim Moors and Hungarian Magyars had most of Europe under siege. Violence and cruelty were rampant and the invaders were spreading fear and destruction among the people of Europe. Leading many to believe that the proverbial end was at hand. And where was this new God of Christianity? 950 years have past since the death of Jesus and the pagans were running rampant in Europe. Where was the Church in this time of need?
Reston answers these questions and more in the 287 pages of the book in which he enchants the reader with an absorbing saga of the end of Europe at the last millennium. As the year 1000 approaches Christianity is seen in a battle for its existence against pagan and Muslim enemies, which were on the brink of conquering the Christian Kingdoms. The Vikings had a stranglehold on England, Ireland and France, the Magyars were laying waste to Germany and Italy and the Moors were chipping away at the last remnants of Charlemagne's empire in Spain. In the meantime, corruption and internal conflict are undermining the Church, rendering it useless against the rising tide of pagans and Muslims.
Yet by 1000 AD, the Church has pulled its act together and got its! house in order. It managed to convert the ruthless Vikings and the Hungarian Magyar Chiefs from their pagan ways to Christianity. It also checked the Muslim advance in Spain with the First Crusade, keeping them from reaching into the heart of Europe.
Reston convincingly argues that it was the conversion of pagan rulers to Christianity that truly made possible the transformation of the embattled kingdoms of 10th century Europe into the familiar history that we know today. He brings to life legendary leaders and warriors from King Ethelred the Unready of England, to the Moor Al-Mansor the Illustrious Victor to the abiding genius of the age, Pope Sylvester II, all bringing this strife-torn period to vibrant life with each page.
Reston begins the book visiting the site of the Battle of Muldon, wandering about Northy Island in Britain, referencing a tattered copy of The Battle of Muldon, an Old English epic poem of the last great battle between the Vikings and the people of Britain. Restons vast knowledge of 10th century history combined with his vivid interpretations of the periods events, makes for fascinating reading.
Reston shows that the period was in fact, a type of apocalypse. As a result of all that happens up to 1000 AD, the ancient world passed and new one replaced it. A dawn of a new age, where the Christian Church would battle for dominance in the world arena, Europe would become vastly more Christian and people would prosper as new trade develops with the rest if the world.
The Last Apocalypse is a book rich in historical detail, flavored with the stark detail of life in an apocalyptic age.
Fact-Filled Fiction: The Perfect (Educational) Story
James Reston produces, in this book, one of the most fascinating reads of the Christian co-optation of Medieval Europe yet penned. The Catholic Church, political personalities (Pagan, Islamic, and Christian), and rumors of Apocalypse rush forward to meet at an uncertain intersection point behind Europe's "Veil of Tears." As a writer (here, at least,) of historical fiction, Reston is relieved of that most onerous of the Historian's burdens, presentation of absolute truth. Despite this, his references are superb, and point to an eye for quality of sources, while also revealing a knack for using legend as a springboard for research.
This jump into historically dicey water reveals the book's only problem, which is where, exactly, the border between fact and fiction lie within a "Holy See" of narrative. However, as is explained in the forward, the point of "The Last Apocalypse" is not to present a comprehensive history, but rather a unique intersection of fact and legend. The resulting "story" is quite the opposite of dry, and tends to produce (even in the dank and shackled minds of College Undergraduates, of which I am one,) a urning to learn more about the period. Reston's unique approach allows him to paint a vivid picture not possible with simple factual renderings. For this, I thank him. HST 205 would have been a true trial without such a book to light the way to the birth of a new era; the summer of '00.
An Eighth Grader reviews A Tale of Two Cities
This book is incredible. I read it last year (in eighth grade), and I love it. I love Charles Dickens' language and style. Whoever is reading this may have little or no respect for my opinions, thinking that I am to young to comprehend the greatness of the plot and language, and I admit that I probably do not completely appreciate this classic piece of literature. I do read above a 12th grade level, although that doesn't count for a whole lot. It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, I dreaded reading it for a long time. But nearer to the end, I was drawn in by the poignant figure of a jackal, Sydney Carton. In his story I became enthralled with this book, especially his pitiful life. After I read and cried at Carton's transformation from an ignoble jackal to the noblest of persons, I was able to look back over the parts of the book that I had not appreciated, and realize how truly awesome they are. I learned to appreciate all of the characters, from Lucy Manette to Madame Defarge. I also was affected by all of the symbolism involved with both the French Revolution, and the nature of sinful man, no matter what the time or place. My pitiful review could never do justice to this great book, please don't be discouraged by my inability.
Before I get too deep on this classic novel, I wanted to say that it is obvious I have no education in Literature, no experience in the field and no qualifiers to allow me to talk about this on any professional level. I write about these books because I love a good story.
A Tale of Two Cities is exactly that, a dang good story.
As an American student, I did not get more than a page on the French revolution, and seeing it in novel form, and a story that intertwines with historical events and matches the mood and culture of the characters was a blast. I enjoyed getting some perspective on one of the bloodiest times in France's history. The guillotine becomes a living, breathing thing in this novel, and I never fully appreciated the weight of the method of execution till I read through this book.
Is this an easy read? I don't think so. I was constantly referencing my notes in the back of my Barnes and Noble edition, trying to get some background on the historical references (which are plenty) and the sayings used back then which have zero meaning today.
Sydney Carlton is the anti-hero mold of all time. The loser who gives all to save those he loves, especially our dear heroine, Lucie.
And that brings me to one of the best bad guys I have read about in a while, Madame Defarge. I don't want to go into any further detail, but know this: you do not want her to sew anything for you.
And this story, on such an epic scale, has such subtle and then such over the top humor that it works well. I laughed out loud while reading it, and I came through on the other side seeing Dickens as a man who was not criticizing one historical group or the other, but trying to show the humanity on both sides, rich and poor, vengeful and hopeful, the revolutionists and the leaders of the status quo--each side are seen in a human distinction, with the victims being shown for what they were, not some type of political ploy, but humans who have suffered much.
I am looking forward to getting some more Dickens under my belt, and I recommend this read, especially if you don't mind trudging through the older English language.
I just finished reading this book in my 9th grade Honors english class, and I have to say that I loved it! It was terribly boring at first--very hard reading! And Dickens IS VERY wordy; or, as my English teacher says, he likes to make his point and than slap you in the face with it several times until you get the point! Aside from that however, I really enjoyed the story. I laughed with my friends over the mini battle between Madame Defarge and Miss Pross, and cried with them at Sydney Carton's courage(he made Charles Darnay look meaningless). Although this classic story is by far one of the best I've ever read (Black Beauty is THE best), I don't think I could have enjoyed it nearly as much without my wonderful English teacher explaining every "difficult" section-- and pointing out the humor that Dickens uses, and which many overlook. To fully enjoy this book, you have to read "between the lines", but if you have the patience to do this, I gaurentee you will love this book as much as I do!