Ok, first the good points about the first volume of Christendom: It was readable (which surprised me), the first portion of the book was interesting to me, and I learned several things.
Now, the less than good points: Although I learned several things, the main thing that's going to stick in my mind is that the word "czar" is a corruption of the word "ceasar." I doubt that this is the main thing the author wanted his readers to come away with. I think there are two main reasons why very little from this book is going to stick for me. First of all, the author assumes, I think, that his readers will have a solid understanding of the history of Europe during the time period that this book covers. I am not one of those people. I felt fairly comfortable when the author was discussing the early days of Christianity, but as soon as Rome fell, he lost me. There is just not enough skeleton to my knowledge of this time frame to make what the author was trying to do (show me how Christianity influenced Western Europe) to make his effort successful in my case. It's not enough, for instance, to know that Charlemagne, or Innocent III, or Justinian existed. The author expected his reader to know who these people were and why they were significant, because he was not going to fill in those details for you.
Secondly, because the author assumes a certain level of pre-existing knowledge on the part of his reader, his examples are sometimes, well, thin. I was very struck by this when he was discussing Heloise and Abelard in his section about how Christianity and the idea of romantic love interacted with each other. The author holds up Heloise and Abelard as an example of the point he was trying to illustrate, and then says, in essence, "well, we all know what happened to them, so there's no need to discuss it here." Trust me, we don't
all know what happened to them, so this example, which may have been perfect, now falls completely flat and illustrates nothing.
All in all, I'd probably give this first volume of Christendom 2.5 stars. I got some things out of it, and it was readable, but it's just not going to stick for me. Something I read *may* come back to me the next time I watch a related show on TV, but I'm most likely to forget most of this book within a month, and I'm not too likely to check out volume II.