Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind
(Little, Brown, 624 PP, £25)
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 • Tel 020 7799 4064
From St Paul to George W. Bush, the crooked timbers of Christianity have been frequently warped or recut but have never entirely splintered. This at least is the contention of Tom Holland’s latest panoramic blockbuster. Rather like those old-fashioned pageants in which towns or nations enacted their pasts in a series of tableaux-vivants, Holland’s story is told not as continuous narrative but through 100 distinct vignettes. From the Persian assault on the Hellespont in 479 BC, through to the comings and goings of Harvey Weinstein in the Peninsula Hotel Beverly Hills c.2017, this is a book held together by two underlying themes.
The first, relatively straightforward, is the survival into the modern world of so much of classical civilisation, thanks to Christian rebranding. Far from Christianity provoking the downfall of Rome as Edward Gibbon notoriously claimed, the Church itself acquired a language and a series of administrative offices, costumes and motifs directly adapted from those of classical imperialism.