This work of counter-factual history looks at one of the big questions of European History - why did the Western Roman Empire fall and might it have been saved, and looks at the possible consequences of a surviving empire over the next few hundred years of history.
We start with a section on the late Roman world and the reasons for the slow decline of west, focusing mainly on political events and the Imperial succession. The main theme here is to see if how credible the survival of the Western Roman Empire actually was and how it might have survived the crisis of the fifth century. After that we move on to look at the impact of the presence of the Western Empire on the events of the next few hundred years.
It must be said that some of the speculation does get rather wild - we end up with Roman colonists in North American fighting Viking kingdoms in Canada, Roman client states in Scandinavia and a possible war between the Romans and the Mongols.
Perhaps inevitably there are also cases where the conclusions don’t go far enough - one example would be the Arab conquests - Venning suggests that in a world with a stronger Roman Empire the long wars with Persian that came just before the Arab conquests wouldn't have been as devastating, but doesn't look at the implications for military failure on the long term development of the Muslim world - what might have happened if the early burst of religious enthusiasm had met with defeat at the hands of a stronger Persia and Rome instead of the conquest of large parts of the Middle East. The section on a possible 'Roman reformation' doesn't make much sense either as none of the background history would have been the same.
One the positive side the author does a good job of comparing his speculations with real history. He has the history of Byzantium to give some framework for his work, and uses examples from there to suggest how a surviving western Empire might have evolved. He also does a good job with the external threats to the Empire, making a distinction between those threats that would have been changed by a stronger Rome (the Germanic tribes in particular) and those that originated too far away from the Empire to be affected (the Avars, Huns or Mongols).
This is a fun read - the earlier sections cast a light on the real fall of the western Empire, while the later sections provide an entertaining view of how history might have played out if Rome had survived in the west - you won't agree with all of the conclusions, but some are though-provoking and the comparison with Byzantium provides a constant link with reality.
Part I: Turning Points
1 - Two Reasons for Rome's Problems - Did They Make Collapse More Likely? Were They Avoidable?
2 - The Roman World - The Western Empire in the Fifth Century
3 - Inherited Problems, the Nature of Roman Instability in Transmitting Power, and What Could Easily have Happened
Part II: Consequences
4 - Western Europe: the British Isles, the Vikings, and North-eastern Germany
5 - The Western World - Some Further Speculation
6 - The Eastern Empire - Effects of the Survival of the Western Empire
Author: Timothy Venning
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military