One of the books I am reading this semester for my Christianity in Late Antiquity class is Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance, by H. A. Drake. As my fellow classmates are quickly learning I place a high value on appropriately nuanced arguments and explanations. Occam’s razor may work in many circumstances, but it rarely satisfies when doing history. Drake’s book, coming in at just under 500 pages with another 50 pages of notes, meets this criterion. What Drake does beyond this, though, and what makes his books indispensable, is the level of readability his work possesses.
Drake’s book is an example of history done well (i.e. it is well-researched, appropriately nuanced, does not accept easy traditional answers, and steers clear of anachronisms, both blatant and conceptual). Even with the scholarly acumen Drake exhibits I found myself immersed in the text as one does well-written novels. I even told a colleague that someone should make the book into a movie. It really is that engaging to read.
So, while I know you are not all as interested in 4th century Christianity and the social, economic, and political realities that made Constantine’s famous actions possible, I must still highly recommend this book. The Virginia Quarterly Review offered this nugget for the back cover:
If you read one book on late antiquity this year, read this one. If you read one book on politics this year, read this one again.
I couldn’t say it any better myself.