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by John Man
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Product Details

  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • Publishing date: 17/02/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780312539399
  • ISBN: 0312539398


A stunning biography of history’s most infamous warlord, Attila the Hun

For a crucial twenty years in the early fifth century, Attila held the fate of the Roman Empire and the future of all Europe in his hands. He created the greatest of barbarian forces, and his empire briefly rivaled Rome’s. In numerous raids and three major campaigns against the Roman Empire, he earned himself an instant and undying reputation for savagery. But there was more to him than mere barbarism. Attila was capricious, arrogant, brutal, and brilliant enough to win the loyalty of millions. In the end, his ambitions ran away with him. He did not live long enough to found a lasting empire—but long enough to jolt Rome toward its final fall.
In this riveting biography, masterful storyteller John Man draws on his extensive travels through Attila’s heartland and his experience with the nomadic traditions of Central Asia to reveal the man behind the myth.

John Man is a historian and travel writer with a special interest in Mongolia. His Gobi: Tracking the Desert was the first book on the subject in English since the 1920s. He is also the author of Atlas of the Year 1000, Alpha Beta, on the roots of the Roman alphabet, and The Gutenberg Revolution, on the origins and impact of printing. Genghis Khan: Life, Death, and Resurrection was published in 2005.
For a crucial twenty years in the early fifth century, Attila held the fate of the Roman Empire and the future of all Europe in his hands. The decaying imperium, dominating the West from its twin capitals of Rome and Constantinople, was threatened by barbarian tribes from the East. It was Attila who created the greatest of barbarian forces. His empire briefly rivaled Rome's, reaching from the Rhine to the Black Sea, the Baltic to the Balkans. In numerous raids and three major campaigns against the Roman Empire, he earned himself an instant and undying reputation for savagery.
But there was more to him than mere barbarism. Attila's power derived from his astonishing character. He was capricious, arrogant, and brutal—but also brilliant enough to win the loyalty of millions. Huns thought him semidivine, Goths and other barbarians adored him, educated Westerners were proud to serve him. Attila was also a canny politician. From his base in the Hungarian grasslands, he sent Latin and Greek secretaries to blackmail the Roman Empire. Like other despots, before and since, he relied on foreign financial backing and knew how to play upon the weaknesses of his friends and enemies. With this unique blend of qualities, Attila very nearly dictated Europe's future.
In the end, his ambitions ran away with him. An insane demand for the hand of a Roman princess and assaults too deep into France and Italy led to sudden death in the arms of a new wife. He did not live long enough to found a lasting empire— but enough to jolt Rome toward its final fall.
In this biography, John Man draws on his extensive travels through Attila's heartland and his experience with the nomadic traditions of Central Asia to reveal the man behind the myth.
"Racy and imaginative . . . puts flesh and bones on one of history's most turbulent characters . . . The rise and fall of Attila, as meteoric and momentous as Napoleon's or Hitler's, makes for fascinating reading in any form."—The Guardian (UK)
"This bright, engaging, and breezy book . . . suits the tenor of our times."—The Times (London)
"John Man's account . . . sympathetically and readably puts flesh and bones on one of history's most turbulent characters."—Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"One could not wish for a better storyteller or analyst than John Man . . . His Attila is superb, as compellingly readable as it is impressive in its scholarship: with his light touch, the Huns and their king live as never before . . . There is something fascinating and new on every page."—Simon Sebag Montegiore, author of Stalin

"A surprisingly intimate view of the man labeled 'God’s scourge' by a Roman Empire in its death throes. British historian Man is also a travel writer, and his physical knowledge of the venues about which he writes lend authority to his reconstitution of ancient history. In recalling a certain Carpathian pass, for instance, through which the Hunnish horde would have passed on its way to wreak havoc and chaos on the fifth-century remnants of Imperial Roman civil order, he writes, 'Good skiing in winter; pleasant Alpine hikes in summer.' He's equally adept at mining scholarly and contemporary sources: In a nearly chapter-long paraphrase of Priscus, the one Roman administrative apparatchik to have met Attila and left an extensive written record, Man serves up an episode of courtly intrigue worthy of Shakespeare. The author tends to favor the speculative view that the Huns were descendants of a central Asian tribe with possible Turkish origins known by the Chinese, whom they first harassed, as the Xiongnu (pronounced with a guttural 'h' sound). Their military might, derived from a pastoral nomadic ancestry, was based on the terrifying expertise of mounted archers; their power would not be surpassed, Man suggests, until the modern era of automatic weapons. Couple this with the known cruelty (at least in the view of contemporaries including other so-called barbarians) of a short, unattractive, but definitely charismatic man with beady, shifty eyes who regularly impaled his captive victims on wooden stakes, and the basis for the myth of Attila becomes clear. Yet, the author notes, in Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, it persists as the legend of a hero. Entertaining and lucid account of a phenomenal militarist unable to resist a crumbling empire's vast, unprotected wealth.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Man, a historian with an interest in Mongolia and archaeology, has written a popular history as much about the Huns as about their notorious leader. He begins by identifying the Huns as possible descendants of Turkish nomads who created the first large steppe empire beyond China's western borders on the strength of their horse-mounted archers. The steppe empire would, in time, be crushed by the Chinese, its remnants fleeing west to become the Huns. This old theory of Hunnic origins has gained new authority owing to recent archaeological finds in the Altai Mountains and advancements in the study of Mongolian folklore. Man's chapter on the causes for the Huns' military superiority is fascinating, relying on the work of the Hungarian archer expert Lajos Kassai. After years of study and practice, Kassai re-created the bow and the riding and shooting skills of the Hunnish horse archers. His demonstrations of horse archery have given onlookers a chilling glimpse into the destructive power of Attila's mounted archers. Man's book is a highly readable account of a bellicose steppe people and their leader who, long after they departed from the West, continue to haunt the European imagination. Highly recommended."—Library Journal
"Attila the Hun was 'the Genghis Khan of Europe,' says British historian Man in this fast-paced though often prosaic account of the rise and fall of the Huns and their infamous leader. Man traces the origin of the Huns, following these restless nomads from the steppes of Mongolia to present-day Hungary. Attila led his people in terrifying raids into new lands in the fifth century. Relying on scant written sources, M

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  • Cool subject, good if not brilliant book
    From Amazon

    John Man seems to somewhat specialise in writing biographies of `old skool' dudes such as Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and the like. Having read his Genghis book and found the subject matter interesting though the style a tad off putting I thought I'd give him another spin with this book on Attila. And I am happy to report that Man seems to have been better able to coalesce the various aspects of his subject and his predilection for throwing in discussion of the travels he undertook as part of his research whereas with his Genghis book the juxtaposition between modern day travelogue and historical academia tended to grate. This has helped the flow of this work tremendously and while I don't think I'll ever be a huge fan of the mans prose this book was a far read. As to the subject itself.... it's Attila that Hun! What more do you want? If you have been reading staid and stuffy history lately, grab yourself this or something similar to blow out those cobwebs because at the end of the day I've always believed that history should not only be informative but also stirring. And the way the author has here presented a reasonably complex milieu of personalities and timeframes does mean you will pretty much devour this book in a single day, as I did. Not a five star book for me but this is a very worthy addition to any history bookshelf.

  • Pure Plagiarism
    From Amazon

    Part one is interesting to the extent that the author gives an account of the Xiongnu Mongolian tribe which occupied the Gobi Desert and surrounding areas in the 1st century b.c.e. What this tribe has to do with the Huns is unknown. The rest of this book is an almost word-for-word plagiarism of the 1901 Hungarian novel "L?thatatlan Ember" by Géza G?rdonyi, literally "Invisible Man", but translated into English as "Slave of the Huns". The plagiarism is from the English translation of 1969, Corvina Press, Budapest. The "author" of "Attila" admits no understanding of the Hungarian language and so has produced an almost perfect facsimile of "Slave of the Huns" with no attribution. "Attila" should be removed from publication and its purported author should be banned from publishing. This kind of theft is dealt with harshly in academia; therefore, it should be dealt with equally harshly in the world of commercial publishing. Plagiarism is theft; Mr. Man should be stripped of his ill-gotten royalties.

  • A great sleeping pill
    From Amazon

    1. It would be a feat of mankind of learned people could articulate information in an interesting manner; this doesn't happen in this massive bore of a book. 2. While the historical information may be detailed and rich, it is poorly written and completely boring.

  • Biography? Try Again!
    From Amazon

    Biography? Try Again! This is a book by a dilettante -- in the worst possible sense of the word. The author has produced not a biography, but a sophomoric mish-mash of travelogue, second-rate journalism, and biography, dealing with a subject he clearly does not master in depth -- if at all. Man has apparently studied tribes of Amazonia and he is an enthusiast of Mongolia and the Mongols. Unfortunately, that is hardly conducive to a thorough understanding of the issues of 4th to 6th century Europe and the Mediterranean world. Furthermore, Man does not seem to have mastered the (vast amount of) scholarly literature on the subject, substituting for it breathless accounts of the New-Age-ish musings of some Hungarian eccentric. Instead of a review of contemporary knowledge of Attila and the Huns (and the many controversies surrounding them), he provides a discussion of the respective article in the 1911 edition of the Britannica! At a half-decent university, even an undergraduate couldn't get away with something like that. So much for the book. But what truly baffles me are its reviews by Amazon users. "A solid biography"?! "Extensive research"?! I wonder if we have been reading the same book...

  • Great research, poor narrative
    From Amazon

    Pro: Extensive research Account of meetings with people and visits to places in contemporary time Con: Spends more time showing research than a cogent account about Attila In historical biographies I look for focused account about the historical figure. Exhaustive research, as done by John Man, is expected. Attila focuses more on John Man's studies than on the famous, or infamous, king, Attila. There is a subtle difference here that I can not over emphasize. If your expectation is to learn how a biographer collects research of a book, this is a good resource. The author provides much detail about places he visited and people he interviewed. Scattered in this are bits about the Roman world prior to Attila's ascent. If you are looking for a book where the author synthesizes his research into a focused account of Attila's life, including connected history prior to his ascent, this book does not do an adequate job. Examples of books on other topics that do include: --Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn -- Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir A budding or experienced researcher may find this book intriguing. It lacks a synthesis of substance for the general audience interested in understanding Attila.

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