Just another GR refugee. Other than that, I had a stroke in 2004, and read almost anything I can get my hands on, though I have a particular weakness for history, mystery, and historical fiction.
I was expecting, on starting this history of the Normans, that at least half of it would be about the Normans in England. 1066 and all that.
I could not have been more mistaken. The first third or so is about how a viking band under Rollo (apparently, how the French heard "Wrolf") settled in Normandy, "Norse men" became elided into "Norman," and how Duke William of Normandy conquered England.
A good 60% of the book, however, was about "the other Norman kingdom": Sicily. Here the de Hauteville family comes to the fore. Back in Normandy, a poor knight has the misfortune of having eleven sons, but no land to leave ten of them! They are brave and enterprising young men, however, and carve out a kingdom for themselves in southern Italy, take Sicily and part of northern Africa, and create a remarkably tolerant court and society. The kingdom is defended, from Pope, Germans, and Byzantines, by the unusual but apparently highly effective combination of "Saracen infantry, Greek generals, and Norman cavalry." A Catholic cathedral is built featuring Orthodox-style mosaics and inscriptions to the virgin Mary in Arabic script. It must have been a truly remarkable place.
And it only lasted a few generations. (The male line failed.)
Although there was a "Norman twilight" in the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who was raised at that court of Palermo, and kept his own court there, as well. But that line died, too.
The Norman crusader state of Antioch also gets some mention, but mostly in passing.
The writing is light, the author, Lars Brownworth, not afraid to tell you his opinion of people (He thinks the ruler traditionally known as "William the Bad" wasn't so horrible, but that his son was "William the Worse," for example.). I found this an entertaining and informative read. Recommended.
My copy acquired via Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. Much thanks.