May 3rd, 2007

Mistakes Were Made

I've been on a bit of a book buying binge lately. Partly, this is because I'm reading more. Partly, this is spring mania. Partly, this is an artifact of reading media columns in magazines. Which is, IIRC, how _Framing the Early Middle Ages_ wound up sitting in my shopping cart some months ago. Which I recently decided to clean up a bit, removing several books and ordering a few of them. Including the multi-pound _Framing the Early Middle Ages_.

Now, you might ask, WTF? I mean, sure, I read on a lot of topics. History being a big fave. But, WTF? How, exactly, do I justify _this_ one? It's not trashy fiction. It's nothing to do with parenting or my family's history. It's nothing to do with town politics/library trusteeship/upgrading the library's ILS/whatever. It isn't about sleep. It isn't about breastfeeding. It isn't about homeschooling. What's it doing here?

I'm justifying the similarly 900+ Library of America edition of Thomas Paine on the basis of I hadn't read _Rights of Man_ (weak) and _Age of Reason_ is Paine on religion and supposed to be really good. Just so you know.

But why Wickham? As near as I can tell, he has taken an approach that might be considered a big improvement over Tainter. He's very interested in how society functions -- at all levels, using whatever evidence is available -- and he has taken the time after the "fall" of the western Empire as a test bed. The state really did completely collapse and have to be reformed regionally, sometimes looking a lot like a scaled down version of what came before. Sometimes looking quite different. But day-to-day life for the vast majority of people didn't change a huge amount. They lost access to high-quality, cheap goods that traveled through the huge network which had collapsed with the Empire. They also had lower taxes, because the regional governments cost less to maintain. Anyone whose personal livelihood/wealth/power was based on that massive network was completely and unrecoverably screwed -- had to come up with something else to do. Etc. But most importantly, Wickham is a guy who is answering a question that I've always been interested in, but have previously formulated in very wacky, marginal ways: what's it like _after_ Doom Has Happened?

In fact, he cites Tainter on page 13 of the introduction.