If you study the history of the Middle Ages, it doesn’t take long to realize the Normans were involved in a lot more than England and northern France. However, while I’d become aware of the Norman state in southern Italy, a lot of my reading didn’t get into the origins of this state beyond ‘Normans showed up and gradually took over’. Gordon Brown’s book matches exactly with its title, and was thus exactly what I’ve been wanting.

After an in medias res introduction around the Battle of Civitate (I’m a little tired of these), and then a short overview of the founding of Normandy before starting in 1107 with Norman pilgrims to southern Italy being invited to help in Lombard revolt against Byzantine power. The revolt didn’t go anywhere, but neither did some of the Normans who saw good opportunities for mercenary employment. Brown gives a pretty detailed look at the beginnings of Norman involvement, including the origins of the two families that rose to prominence (Hautville and Dregnot), which was one of my primary interests.

From there, the book pretty much covers through the death of Robert Guiscard in 1085, though a few more chapters deal with final consolidation of the Kingdom of Sicily, Apulia, and Calabria, and the Principate of Capua. In between, he covers the problems and successes of the Normans as they go from mercenaries to a power that neither the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor or the Byzantine Emperor can entirely contain in a very readable format. He doesn’t get bogged down in minutiae, but doesn’t gloss over anything either; overall the writing is not ‘exciting’, but very well done, and this is an excellent lighter history book.

The kindle edition is a bit oddly produced, as the text is forced into full width mode (I read on a Surface Pro 2, so the wide screen usually uses two columns), and the chapters flow into one another without any break other than the chapter headers themselves. Initial large capitals are retained by using scanned images instead of using markup to naturally produce them. All this strangeness seems to overload the format/app a bit, and it commonly had to stop and think when flipping back and forth a page. Other than these oddities though, it is well done, and the text is in very good shape, though there was an increased incidence of words broken up by hyphens late in the book.