Review: Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman

Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman

Minoo Dinshaw


A seven hundred page biography of a now largely forgotten historian named Steven Runciman. Why I picked this up, I’m not sure. Why I enjoyed it as much as I did is also a bit of a mystery.

Runciman, who wrote a wildly popular series of books on the crusades, while also working around the world for the British government during WWII, and meeting just about everyone of significance in English politics and art from about 1930-to 1990.

It was an incredible life and Dinshaw doesn’t miss a detail. He covers every book, every trip, and, at times, it feels like every dinner. And not only that, but he runs to ground every interesting person Runciman meets along way. We learn the family history of a trouble young Oxfordian Runciman befriended, and the convoluted marital histories of various lesser-known members of European royal families. George Orwell makes an appearance. As does Aldous Huxley, the Cambridge spies, Keynes, and, it seems, everyone else you have (or haven’t) heard of in English history over the last 100 year. I think I first picked this up on the promise of Runciman’s interest in the occult. But this isn’t a main thrust of the book. Runciman as historian and bon vivant is much more central.

At times, it plods. But for some reason I still enjoyed it. Perhaps only at times for the sheer will it must have taken Dinshaw to write this thing. Still, I’ll be honest, this one isn’t for everybody. It you’re not interested in going deep in the weeds on English history and culture, this one might not be for you. But if you relish occasionally getting lost in the minutia of world’s gone by, this one is an interesting trip.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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