One of the books that I am currently reading is the “Alexiad” written in the middle of the 12th century by the Byzantine princess Anna Komnene. It is a historical book that covers the events leading up to and during the first crusade. The book mostly covers the story of Anna’s father Emperor Alexios I, who saved the Byzantine Empire from certain destruction by the hand of Europeans and Turks. The book is an interesting read not only because it is written about one of the most important events in medieval history but also due to the fact that Anna chose to include her own perspective and feelings on the events that unfold, which is very unusual for a history book.
The passages in which she voices her own opinions on historical events are enlightening, especially the passages on the life of people (or at least the aristocrats in the palace) in the medieval period. She for example, is unabashed in her descriptions of the ‘barbarians’ which could either be Christian Europeans or Muslim Turks. Moreover, she describes the life in Constantinople’s great palace and her relationship with her parents, Emperor Alexios and Empress Irene. A favorite passage of mine was Anna’s recount of a conversation she had with her mother on why she chose to read dogmatic Christian books over books on philosophy. Reading actual conversations such as those, in which the people speaking have been dead for almost a thousand years is an interesting read. I recommend the Alexiad to any student or fan of history (especially the crusader period). The book certainly has a more ‘human’ view, so to say, of history than any other medieval history book I have read.