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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Just finished Steven Runciman's Sicilian Vespers, a sweeping history of the Mediterranean world in the 13th century, with its centerpiece event the Sicilian uprising against French rule in 1282. As expected, the prose is so good it almost reads itself; and Runciman's command of history's complexities is quite astonishing. His narrative spans the entire Mediterranean world from Spain to Byzantium and teems with characters big and small -- countless popes, conniving Byzantine diplomats, dashing admirals, the larger-than-life figures of Emperor Frederick II and his bastard son Manfred (the subject of a poem by Lord Byron, if I'm not mistaken). And yet at no point in the book do the multiple plot threads seem in danger of unravelling. Each character's fate is resolved, whether within a couple of pages of the character being introduced, or several chapters later. Each subplot runs its course -- though not necessarily as expected.