Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth
Covering over 1000 years of history in 350 pages, Lost to the West is a fascinating and enjoyable overview of the Byzantine Empire. Focusing on the greatest emperors and the most significant events, Brownworth's love of the subject is contagious. As he states in his title, his two main points are that western civilization would not have survived without the presence of the empire seated in Constantinople, and that we in the west have forgotten them. The latter was plainly true for me, which is why I picked up this book.
Brownworth shows us an amazing and vital Roman Empire, seated in Constantinople, stretching from Italy to north Africa, which kept both classical culture and Christianity intact - codifying Roman laws; preserving Greek literature, philosophy, education, and art; protecting the doctrine of the church as well as its members throughout the empire - all while staving off assaults from invading barbarians, mongols, and muslims.
It's history. You know how it ends. Still, reading about the sacking of Constantinople, the desecration of the Hagia Sophia, I was sad. Sad about what happened, sad thinking that the west could have helped, but didn't, and sad that the same sort of thing happens over and over again.