What We Are Reading Today: Ravenna; Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin

What We Are Reading Today: Ravenna; Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin
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Updated 29 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Ravenna; Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin

What We Are Reading Today: Ravenna; Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin

At the end of the fourth century, as the power of Rome faded and Constantinople became the seat of empire, a new capital city was rising in the West. Here, in Ravenna on the coast of Italy, Arian Goths and Catholic Romans competed to produce an unrivaled concentration of buildings and astonishing mosaics. For three centuries, the city attracted scholars, lawyers, craftsmen, and religious luminaries, becoming a true cultural and political capital. Bringing this extraordinary history marvelously to life, Judith Herrin rewrites the history of East and West in the Mediterranean world before the rise of Islam and shows how, thanks to Byzantine influence, Ravenna played a crucial role in the development of medieval Christendom.

Drawing on deep, original research, Herrin tells the personal stories of Ravenna while setting them in a sweeping synthesis of Mediterranean and Christian history. She narrates the lives of the Empress Galla Placidia and the Gothic king Theoderic and describes the achievements of an amazing cosmographer and a doctor who revived Greek medical knowledge in Italy, demolishing the idea that the West just descended into the medieval “Dark Ages.”

Beautifully illustrated and drawing on the latest archaeological findings, this monumental book provides a bold new interpretation of Ravenna’s lasting influence on the culture of Europe and the West.


What We Are Reading Today: The Autocratic Middle Class by Bryn Rosenfeld

Updated 04 December 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Autocratic Middle Class by Bryn Rosenfeld

What We Are Reading Today: The Autocratic Middle Class by Bryn Rosenfeld

Conventional wisdom holds that the rising middle classes are a force for democracy. Yet in post-Soviet countries like Russia, where the middle class has grown rapidly, authoritarianism is deepening. Challenging a basic tenet of democratization theory, Bryn Rosenfeld shows how the middle classes can actually be a source of support for autocracy and authoritarian resilience, and reveals why development and economic growth do not necessarily lead to greater democracy.
In pursuit of development, authoritarian states often employ large swaths of the middle class in state administration, the government budget sector, and state enterprises. Drawing on attitudinal surveys, unique data on protest behavior, and extensive fieldwork in the post-Soviet region, Rosenfeld documents how the failure of the middle class to gain economic autonomy from the state stymies support for political change, and how state economic engagement reduces middle-class demands for democracy and weakens prodemocratic coalitions.