This is part of a multi-volume series covering the history of Europe from Classical times to the present day.The work provides a basic coverage of the era from about 1050 to 1250 CE. The main contours of Western European history are dealt with - and the focus is political history. There is a discussion of the events and processes underlying the consolidation of the power of the French and English monarchies and the failed attempts by the German Emperor to achieve the same thing. Unlike some earlier histories, there is also a fair coverage of the formation of Poland, Hungary and the Bohemian state. The role of the Church and Papacy in particular in the formation of Western Christendom also receives a good overview. In addition to the chapters addressing these subjects, there are separate chapters dedicated to intellectual life, art and architecture. There is a particularly good discussion of the impact of famine and plague that brings the period to a close. This indeed is an area of specialist expertise for the author.
The author however leaves out some important parts of the story. That the High Middle Ages represents an important period of growth and arguably is the era when Western Europe first developed a distinctive culture that stood as an equal to that of its neighbours cannot be doubted. The author sets out well enough a broad outline of the narrative of these developments but if you are interested in a deeper understanding of why this transformation occurred, the discussion does not go much further than the basic narrative. An end to raids by Vikings, Hungarians and Arabs, population growth, an expansion of agriculture, technological change such as the spread of the heavy plough, the development of trade and cities, the establishment of deep and durable connections with Islam and Byzantium all made their contributions to the transformation of Europe but any real discussion of how these factors worked to bring about that transformation and what were the most important is missing.
The absence of any real overview of economic history thus is a specific weakness. For example, the workings of the feudal system and indeed any discussion of what it was or whether it really existed outside certain parts of France could add to the narrative. The importance of the revival of trade especially long distance trade that connected the Champagne fairs to far off parts of the world is a major omission from the work, particularly given the importance of this trade to urban life - and to the broader context - see below. The revival of a vibrant urban life was an important feature of the period.
The treatment of links with the Islamic world is disappointing. Although the Crusades are well covered as are aspects of the Reconquista, relations with Islam are portrayed essentially as a political conflict with Western Christendom resulting in defeat for Christians in the Holy Land and victory in Spain. Apart from some reference to the influence of Avicenna and Averroes on Christian thought, there is little or no discussion of the important positive role that interaction with Muslims played on the transformation of Europe. This included diffusion of technology such as the astrolabe, ship building, irrigation and new crops such an oranges and rice. The long standing relationship/alliance between Venice and Egypt a key partnership with Muslims was one of the cornerstones of inter-State relations during the period. This relationship was to a great extent a foundation plank of Venice's power and wealth and therefore a key part of the story of the times. This gets no airplay. There is also no discussion of the tolerance that could and did exist alongside political and religious conflict especially in Spain and Sicily under both Muslim and Christian rulers. It was that tolerance that allowed Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together and develop much of the intellectual groundwork for what later became the Western tradition. There is complete absence of any discussion of life in Muslim ruled states in Spain and Sicily. This too is part of Europe and its past. No discussion of the High Middle Ages could be complete without some coverage of the subject but this is missing.
There are specific instances where the lack of coverage of Muslim Europe and its multi-faceted relationship and engagement with Christian Europe can lead the author to make incomplete or even wrong statements. For example, he refers to the introduction of the astrolabe as a "new" instrument. In fact it was not new at all but used previously in the Islamic world before being transmitted to Christians. He also makes the statement that there were no universities in Spain. This may be correct in the sense that universities following the Western model were not founded in Spain during the era but the statement misses the leading role that equivalent Islamic centres of learning in Andalusia played in the development of new knowledge. Roger Garaudy makes the case that the real "renaissance" of learning during the High Middle Ages began there and later spread to Christian Europe. This may or may not be on point but suggests a general development of knowledge that encompassed both the Christian and Muslim world (in which the Muslims (and Jews) took an early lead) as part of a common process that underpinned the era.
The coverage of Eastern Europe is also wanting. There is a good coverage of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia and to this extent, Jordan's book goes further than older histories to provide a more complete narrative. However, there is little or nothing on Orthodox Europe ie Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. Byzantium itself is discussed but only insofar as it's interactions with Crusaders makes its way into the narrative. As a part of the narrative in its own right, Byzantium gets little mention. This too is a significant omission given the importance of the Greeks in the rise of Venice and the expansion of Christianity into the Slavic lands. The Russian connection is also important for example the contest between the Teutonic knights and Alexander Nevsky that in the end established the boundary between Orthodoxy and Catholicism within Europe. This gets little coverage.
The failure to engage adequately with Islam and the Orthodox lands results also in missing the importance of long distance trade that linked Europe not just with Islam, Byzantium and Russia but also India and ultimately China. Europe during the High Middle Ages was sharply distinguished from earlier centuries by the beginning of its enduring links with a newly globalised world that had become possible because of the Pax Mongolica and Islamic trade routes across the Indian Ocean. It was of course that long distance trade that become so important towards the end of the period in question that eventually propelled the developments of the fifteenth century taking Western Europeans across the Atlantic and directly into the Asia. That globalised world that began during the High Middle Ages, described by Janet Abu Lughod in her groundbreaking work "Before European Hegemony" is the ancestor of the world today. The High Middle Ages for Europe was not just a key formative period in more than one way but the global context is missing from the narrative.
Despite these significant omissions, Jordans work is a good basic introduction to part of the story. To complete that basic introduction, the reader will need to look elsewhere. The classic work of Henri Pirenne, Marc Bloch and Georges Duby might be a good start to looking at the economic history of the era although a serious reader will need to look further to contemporary works. The writings of the two Gies might provide a good overview of medieval technology and the story of its diffusion from as far away as East Asia. The globalised context is described admirably by Abu Lughod. A definitive general history of High Medieval Europe needs to integrate the story told by Jordan with the broader context set by the Islamic and Orthodox World and the economic and technological dimension that takes the narrative into a global setting. That definitive history is yet to be written.