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Ancient

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Tad Davis

Tad Davis Philadelphia, PA USA Member Since 2005
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  • "Brilliant"

    Overall

    I'd read a little bit about Alexandria (mostly in Stacy Schiff's book on Cleopatra), but I never dreamed its history was so intimately connected with such vast stretches of the intellectual, political, and religious history of the ancient world. Pollard and Reid spin a fascinating yarn that unites Alexander the Great, the Septuagint, maps of the world, clocks and odometers, Cleopatra, the steam engine, animatronics, and the brutal killing of Hypatia in a single overarching narrative. And when I mention those items of particular interest (to me), I'm only scratching the surface. A brilliant history with an unusual approach, and (as usual) impeccable narration from Simon Vance.

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    The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By Justin Pollard, Howard Reid
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
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    (544)
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    (276)
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    (280)

    Founded by Alexander the Great and built by self-styled Greek pharaohs, the city of Alexandria at its height dwarfed both Athens and Rome. It was the marvel of its age, legendary for its vast palaces, safe harbors, and magnificent lighthouse. But it was most famous for the astonishing intellectual efflorescence it fostered and the library it produced. If the European Renaissance was the "rebirth" of Western culture, then Alexandria, Egypt, was its birthplace.

    Jeffrey says: "A good listen"
  • "Vivid and well-researched"

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    Reza Aslan has tackled a big project in this book: not just a biography of Jesus, but also a recreation of life in first-century Palestine, combining anecdotal evidence from the New Testament and other writings with the latest evidence from archaeological and sociological investigations. For the most part he succeeds brilliantly. It's one of the most vivid books on this subject I've read in nearly 40 years of study.

    I might not feel so positively toward it if his take on Jesus was too far removed from my own. But it isn't. Aslan leans toward the Bart Ehrmann school of thought rather than the NT Wright or Jesus Seminar approach. His Jesus is an apocalyptic prophet who goes to Jerusalem with every expectation that God will intervene in history in a spectacular and visible way; but the Kingdom of God that he's spent a couple of years preaching and predicting (and possibly much of his life preparing for) fails to materialize.

    This is not to say his take on Jesus is one of complete skepticism. More rationalist / humanist readers may be surprised at the weight he gives to the miracles of Jesus. Here he seems to most closely reflect the views of John P Meier, who points out that the standard historical criteria for New Testament research - the criteria of multiple sources, dissimilarity, and the like - when applied to the question of Jesus' miracles, lead to the conclusion that he was, in fact, a "doer of mighty deeds" - or at least that the people who knew him, friends and enemies alike, never questioned that he was a healer, exorcist, and wonder-worker.

    The same is true of Aslan's discussion of the resurrection. There are no eyewitness accounts and no physical or archaeological evidence for the resurrection, and so it can't be evaluated by historical methods; but it's clear that "something happened." Of all the people who proclaimed themselves Messiah during this period - and Aslan gives a great deal of attention to the other messianic figures - Jesus is the only one whose followers remained devoted to him, who continued to proclaim his messiahship (and later his divinity) long after the crucifixion.

    Aslan describes three types of messiahs that appear in Jewish literature leading up the the time of Jesus. The most obvious one is the kingly messiah, the descendant of David who would restore the twelve tribes of Israel; but there were also messiahs-as-liberators like Moses, and messiahs-as-prophets like Elijah. He evaluates the evidence for and against and suggests that, even though he was reluctant to proclaim it openly, Jesus thought of himself as the kingly Messiah. His choice of twelve disciples to "rule the twelve tribes of Israel" is only one piece of evidence to that end. There is also his many references to himself as "the Son of Man," which Aslan connects to the kingly figure depicted in the book of Daniel.

    Aslan also gives remarkably full coverage of the early church, up to the time of the writing of the Gospels. Peter is here, as is James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul: and in the controversy that plagued the relationship of James and Paul, it probably comes as no surprise that Aslan believes James was closer to what Jesus actually proclaimed. One of the big problems of the early church, as Aslan describes it, is explaining how, if Jesus was crucified, he could have been the kingly Messiah he thought of himself as being. Aslan's conclusion, like that of many mainstream scholars, is that the disciples resolved the problem by redefining the Messiah as a suffering servant who would one day return in glory to judge the living and the dead. It can be defended with reference to different parts of scripture, but it doesn't reflect any concept of the Messiah that preceded the crucifixion of Jesus.

    Aslan narrates the book himself. I'm not a great fan of self-narrated audio books, and there are times when I think he emphasizes the wrong word in his own sentence; but he is an enthusiastic reader who carries the narrative momentum forward with clarity.

    I recommend the book highly. I've already listened to it twice (the second time, granted, at double-speed for the sake of review), and I plan to listen to it many timesa in the future.

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    Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Reza Aslan
    • Narrated By Reza Aslan
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
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    (1132)
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    (1124)

    From the internationally bestselling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor.

    Charles says: "Palastinian Politics 4 B.C.E. - 70 C.E."
  • "Authoritative"

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    If you've read Reza Aslan's book on Jesus, or Bill O'Reilly's, and want to see a recognized expert on the historical Jesus at work, check this out. It's not current; comments on the audio make it clear that it was recorded pre-2000; but it's aged well, and to date remains the most comprehensive summary of the subject available on audio.

    Bart Ehrman has strong opinions on the subject, and he's not shy about voicing them here. But he returns again and again to the historical evidence and to the methodologies historians have developed for dealing with that evidence. These are the footnotes Aslan left out (and the ones Bill O'Reilly, in his rush to market, never bothered to look up). Ehrman's lectures are solidly grounded and delivered with the enthusiasm of someone who loves what he's doing.

    About those strong opinions. Jesus was, says Ehrman, a millennial prophet (that was, in fact, the title of one of his first books on Jesus). Jesus expected God to intervene in history in his own lifetime and bring about the Kingdom, a Kingdom in which Jesus himself expected to play a prominent role. He expected his 12 disciples to play significant but subordinate roles: in Ehrman's view, statements made by Jesus about his disciples judging people from the four corners of the earth are to be taken literally as a description of his agenda. Unfortunately - says Ehrman - Jesus was wrong, and his mission was a failure.

    This isn't the Jesus most believers want to hear about, but it's the Jesus who appears from a dispassionate examination of the evidence. It's the Jesus most consistent with the work of John the Baptist who preceded him and the apostle Paul who followed him. It's the Jesus of mainstream New Testament scholarship and has been so for a hundred years.

    Traditionalists aren't the only ones whose ox is gored by Ehrman. The Jesus Seminar - a group that argued Jesus was an inoffensive philosopher of the Greek Cynic persuasion - comes in for a strong dose of forensic dissection. John Dominic Crossan's reliance on the gospels of Thomas and Peter is discussed and criticized at length. Scholars who argue for a multilayered "Q" document, earlier layers of which are non-millennial, are resoundingly refuted. Over and over again, Ehrman demonstrates how the view of Jesus as a millennial prophet makes better sense of more evidence than any of the rival views.

    Every statement Ehrman makes in this "great course" is backed up by citations of evidence, a clear explanation of pros and cons, and careful reasoning. I'm not sure this is the first place to look if you want an easy introduction to the subject, but if your appetite is already whetted, Ehrman will give you a well researched and coherent vision of Jesus.

    (Last time I'll say this, though: Great Courses - please - enough with the canned applause already.)

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    The Historical Jesus

    • ORIGINAL (12 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Bart D. Ehrman
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    (42)
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    (42)
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    (42)

    From the late Roman Empire all the way to our own time, no continuously existing institution or belief system has wielded as much influence as Christianity, no figure as much as Jesus. Worshipped around the globe by more than a billion people, he is undoubtedly the single most important figure in the story of Western civilization and one of the most significant in world history altogether.

    Tad Davis says: "Authoritative"
  1. The Rise and Fall of Alex...
  2. Zealot: The Life and Time...
  3. The Historical Jesus
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A Peek at Jefferson's Bookshelf

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219 REVIEWS / 246 ratings Member Since 2010 974 Followers / Following 15
 
Jefferson's greatest hits:
  • The Histories

    "Fascinating and Well-Read History"

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    I really enjoyed Herodotus' The Histories, about the background and main events of the epic wars between the ancient Persians and Greeks (translated by George Rawlinson). I was hooked by "the Father of History's" enthusiastic accounts of interesting historical and cultural information and impressed by his appealing balance of objectivity and subjectivity. And I savored his many digressions amplifying the historical context, as well as his detailed accounts of the different ancient exotic cultures (like the Egyptians shaving their eyebrows when their housecats died or the Scythians making capes from the scalps of their fallen enemies), which were in a sense all similar in their violence, heroism, treachery, brutality, ethnocentrism, and superstitious following of prodigies and omens and oracles. We haven't changed so much in 2000 plus years???

    Despite some listeners complaining about the reader, Bernard Mayes, I quickly came to enjoy his handling of The Histories, easily imagining myself listening to an elderly, experienced, and decent Herodotus. I appreciated Mayes' subtle changes in tone to express a variety of moods, from Xerxes' waxing wroth at some unpleasant advice and the Athenians getting peeved by the Spartans worrying that they would ally with the Persians, to the suspenseful accounts of battles like those at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis that helped decide the course of world history. I found Mayes always to be right on task, always speaking with effective clarity and rhythm, always perfectly expressing Herodotus' humor, disbelief, admiration, and criticism of his historical subjects.

    The only flaw in the audiobook is the too frequent, sudden flash of a kind of static, which distracts from the overall experience to the point that I'm giving what should be a five star audiobook four stars. I highly recommend it.

  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1

    "Historical Fascination and Literary Pleasure"

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    Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) is one of those classics you always hear about but never read because the prospect of broaching a six-volume history of the Roman Empire written in the 18th century is so daunting. But finally listening to the first volume of the audiobook (which includes the first two volumes of Gibbon's opus) filled me with a historical and literary rapture.

    Gibbon brings to life the Roman Empire from about 180 AD to about 395, the extent of its boundaries, the governing of its provinces, the organization of its military, and the success that led to its decline and fall by, among other things, making the citizens too soft, the military too mercenary, and the senate too weak. This history was made by spoiled citizens, fickle soldiers, corrupt prefects, obsequious senators, pernicious eunuchs, rapacious barbarians, and, of course, numerous emperors: amoral and tyrannical, pusillanimous and paranoid, or, rarely, moderate and able. Gibbon wittily and enthusiastically relates fateful battles, appalling scenes of treachery, rapine, and slaughter (often internecine or inter-familial), interesting details of exotic cultures (like the Sarmatian barbarians who wore "mail" vests of overlapping horse hoof slices and wielded poisoned fish bone weapons), and telling insights like, "History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."

    I was morbidly fascinated by Gibbon's account of the feuding sects of the "primitive" Christian church, Catholics, Arians, Homoousians, and so on arguing, persecuting, and excommunicating each other over the true substance of Jesus while indulging in pomp, pelf, pride, and power, yet ever spreading their religion due to their zeal, world everlasting after death, and "real" relics, miracles, and visions. Gibbon advocates Age of Enlightenment reason against superstition and might have enjoyed the Jefferson Bible.

    My favorite figure was the philosopher-poet-general Apostate Emperor Julian, who packed so much into his short life (32 years) and reign (1 year and 8 months). As new Caesar, Julian was tossed into Gaul with 360 soldiers and told to rescue it from tens of thousands of German barbarians, disarmingly declaiming, "Plato, Plato! What a task for a philosopher!" As new Emperor, he booted bishops, barbers, and eunuchs out of the palace, replaced them with poets, philosophers, and sages, and tried to return the newly Christian Roman Empire to a Hellenistic Paganism. He even got back at the insulting people of Antioch by writing a satire on his beard. Ah, how might the current world have developed had Julian not played Alexander the Great and invaded Persia!

    Although Gibbon objectively navigates between earlier historical panegyrics and calumnies of his imperial subjects, he also falls prey to his own biases. The worst is his favoritism for western culture at the expense of eastern (opining that a single Greek statue is worth more than whole Persian palaces), and for "civilization" at the expense of "barbarism" (figuring that oral cultures produce no worthy art or culture). Nevertheless, Gibbon always champions humane behavior and criticizes wanton slaughter and destruction, regardless of whether the actors were barbarian or Roman.

    The audiobook is really abridged, because it excludes "Gibbon's table talk," his spicy notes. This is understandable, because they would have broken the flow of the narrative and made the audiobook run too long, but still a pity.

    Some listeners complain that reader Bernard Mayes sounds too British or boring, but I find him perfectly suited to reading long works of history (like Herodotus' Histories). He reads with a professorial British accent and impeccable rhythm, enunciation, and emphasis, a wise and weathered uncle recounting a fascinating history.

    Mostly I had no problem following Gibbon's well-regulated trains of thought, and found his writing elegant, clear, and pleasurable. The only difficulty I had while listening to the audiobook occurred during his long sentences that include "the former" and "the latter," because I'd often have forgotten which was which by the time they appeared, leaving me longing for a printed version of the text. But anyone familiar with 18th and 19th century novels should otherwise have no trouble with Gibbon's prose. I relished it to the point of grins and chuckles. I'll close this review with some examples:

    "The monstrous vices of the son have cast a shade on the purity of the father's virtues."

    "But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous."

    "He promised only to betray, he flattered only to ruin; and however he might occasionally bind himself by oaths and treaties, his conscience, obsequious to his interest, always released him from the inconvenient obligation."

    "It was easier to vanquish the Goths than to eradicate the public vices, yet even in the first of these enterprises Decius lost his army and his life."

    "The ecclesiastical governors of the Christians were taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove; but as the former was refined, so the latter was insensibly corrupted, by the habits of government."

    "If this Punic war was carried on without any effusion of blood, it was owing much less to the moderation than to the weakness of the contending prelates. Invectives and excommunications were their only weapons; and these, during the progress of the whole controversy, they hurled against each other with equal fury and devotion."

    "The weak and guilty Lupicinus, who had dared to provoke, who had neglected to destroy, and who still presumed to despise his formidable enemy, marched against the Goths at the head of such a military force as could be collected in this emergency."

    "Their flesh was greedily devoured by the birds of prey, who in that age enjoyed very frequent and delicious feasts, and several years afterwards, the white and naked bones which covered the wide extent of the fields presented to the eyes of Ammianus a dreadful monument of the battle of Salices."

  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 3

    "Literary, Historical, and Humane Fulfillment"

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    The Prophet Mohammed, his followers and successors, and the rise and spread of Islam. The empires of Ghengis Kahn, Timour the Lame, Charlemagne, and Mahomet II. Orthodox iconoclasts and Catholic image worshippers. Popes and anti-Popes. Hyperactive Norman Robber-Adventurers. The zeal, ignorance, and "baleful fountain of holy war" of the Crusades. Rapacious acts and pusillanimity aplenty. Some heroism for hope. Everywhere ambition, pride, scheming, and betrayals. Greek fire, gunpowder, sea battles, and wars involving the deaths or slavery of tens of thousands. The state of Rome in the waning middle ages. The long decline of the Eastern Empire culminating in the inevitable fall of Constantinople.

    When I finished the third and final audiobook volume of Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, including the fifth and sixth volumes (1788-89) of his classic six-volume history, I felt fulfilled. The roughly 120 hours of the three audiobook volumes take the reader from about the 2nd century AD till about the middle of the 15th, from when the empire was a young single entity through its division into two, Eastern and Western, and recounting their respective declines and falls and relationships with each other and with the major barbarian and other civilizations that came and went. The history is everywhere uplifted by Gibbon's Age of Enlightenment reason, moderation, humanity, and elegant and witty prose.

    Bernard Mayes, ever the avuncular, dryly enthusiastic British guide, is a perfect reader for the long history, occasionally nearly succumbing to his own fatigue at so much declining and falling, but ever enhancing Gibbon's love for the material, never missing a beat, mangling a rhythm, or mispronouncing a word. Gibbon's lively notes are missing from the audiobook, so I recommend getting one of the several e-books of his history so as to be able to peruse them.

    The third volume, like the first two, teems with lines full of wit and wisdom, pathos and comedy:

    "Ambition is a weed of quick and early vegetation in the vineyard of Christ."

    "The dominion of priests is most odious to a liberal spirit."

    "Solitude is the school of genius."

    "Of human life, the most glorious or humble prospects are alike soon bound by the sepulcher."

    "In speech they (Bulgarians, Hungarians, and Russians) were slow, in action prompt, in treaty perfidious. . . . Whatever they saw, they coveted; their desires were insatiate, and their sole industry was the hand of violence and rapine."

    "The discipline of the soldier is formed by exercise rather than by study. . . the battles won by lessons of tactics may be numbered with the epic poems created from the rules of criticism."

    "If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind."

    And with vivid portraits of key historical figures:

    "In the blaze of prosperity, [the Tribune Rienzi's] virtues were insensibly tinctured with the adjacent vices; justice with cruelty, liberality with profusion, and the desire of fame with puerile and ostentatious vanity."

    "Of the three popes, John the Twenty-third was the first victim: he fled and was brought back a prisoner: the most scandalous charges were suppressed; the vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest."

    "[The Hermit Peter's] stature was small, his appearance contemptible, but his eye was keen and lively, and he possessed that vehemence of speech that seldom fails to impart the persuasion of the soul."

    "Bold and subtle, rapacious and profuse, the avarice and ambition of Apocaucus [enemy of John Cantacuzene] were by turns subservient to each other; and his talents were applied to the ruin of his country."

    "A beautiful female, a matron in rank, a prostitute in manners, instructed the Younger Andronicus in the rudiments of love; but he had reason to suspect the nocturnal visits of a rival; and a stranger passing through the streets was pierced by the arrows of his guards, who were placed in ambush at her door. That stranger was his brother, Prince Manuel, who languished and died of his wound…"

    If the first audiobook volume has the most compelling figure in the history, the Apostate Emperor Julian, and the second one the most compelling supporting players (like Belisarius), this third one has the most charismatic city, Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire, inhabited by wealthy, decadent, proud, weak, and short-sighted people. After a selective but lengthy listing of the many tongue-twisting titles for the specialized ranks of Byzantine hierarchy, among them Autocrator (emperor) Sebastocrator (sub-emperor), Logothete (accountant), Protovestiare (wardrobe), Dragoman (interpreter of foreign ambassadors), and Protostrator (horse assistant), Gibbon says: "Their honors and emoluments, their dress and titles, their mutual salutations and respective preeminence, were balanced with more exquisite labor than would have fixed the constitution of a free people; and the code was almost perfect when this baseless fabric, the monument of pride and servitude, was forever buried in the ruins of the empire." He takes a nearly perverse pleasure in detailing how "The Greeks, by their intestine divisions, were the authors of their final ruin."

    Gibbon's account of the taking of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 after a furious 53-day siege is gripping. Ancient weapons (bows and catapults) fighting with modern ones (guns and gigantic canons). Irony and drama abounding, as when the last Greek emperor, Constantine, gives a morale raising speech, which turns out to be "the funeral oration of the empire;" as when, the Ottoman Janissaries, Christian tribute slaves molded into elite Moslem infantry, storm the Christian capital; or as when "The Greeks and Turks were involved in a cloud of [artillery barrage] smoke which could only be dispelled by the final deliverance or destruction of the Roman empire."

    For the intrepid, Gibbon's history gives much literary pleasure and historical insight, and is well worth the time it demands.

  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 2

    "More Crimes and Follies of Human Ambition"

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    The 2nd volume of the audiobook of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire contains the 3rd (1781) and 4th (1788-89) volumes of the classic six volume history, moving from 340 AD through the “total extinction” of the Western Empire and 600 years of the continual decay of the Eastern Empire. Along the way Gibbon performs refined autopsies on 250 years of internecine Christian warfare fought over the precise nature of the Incarnation of Christ (“religious controversy [being] the offspring of arrogance and folly”); the “apostolic fervor” of the Christian extirpation of paganism and destruction of its beautiful temples; the pernicious popularity of relics and saints (“myriads of imaginary heroes, who had never existed, except in the fancy of crafty or credulous legendaries”); the rise of savagely solitary hermits (“unhappy exiles from social life . . . impelled by the dark and implacable genius of superstition”); 1000+ years of Roman laws, from property and inheritance through marriage and divorce to crime and punishment; the superstitious perception of disasters like earthquakes, comets, and plagues; and the impacts on language, religion, law, class, and empire of “barbarians” like Attila and the Huns, Theodoric and the Goths, Genseric and the Vandals, Clovis and the Franks, and Alboin and the Lombards (Long Beards!). And he writes fascinating cultural reports about things like the Green and Blue chariot racing faction conflict that pervaded every sphere of society (from the familial and vocational to the political and religious) and nearly toppled the Eastern Empire (making the soccer hooligans of today seem like quaint Quakers and casting light on our own obsession with sports stars and teams). He even recounts legends of interest, like the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, a Rip Van Winkle-like tale that spread throughout the world, a human response to shocking change like that of the pagan Roman Empire turning Christian.

    There is in this second audiobook volume no single figure as fascinating as the Apostate Emperor Julian in the first, but there are more compelling supporting characters. The emperor Justinian, for example, the persecutor of Jews and torturer of homosexuals, the rewarder of enemies and punisher of friends, the reformer of the law code, promoter of science and technology and builder of churches, hospitals, and aqueducts, unprecedentedly gave half his reign to his wife Theodora, who in her younger days acted in ribald comic pantomimes and sold her sexual favors to a parade of lovers and who after becoming Empress had people disappear into her private prisons and reappear as maimed monuments to her displeasure and had an old palace converted into a home for 500 prostitutes. The general Belisarius, perhaps the greatest military leader in the history of the Empire--an active giant among a race of supine pygmies--used his brains, bravery, charisma, leadership, and reputation to recover in only six years with pitiful resources and puny armies half of the provinces of Africa and Italy etc. lost by the fall of the Western Empire. In return for his boon-service, Belisarius was repeatedly humiliated by suspicious Justinian but ever exercised a patience and loyalty “either below or above the character of a man,” and his only flaw was uxoriousness, giving Gibbon the opportunity of remarking, “the revenge of a guilty woman is implacable and bloody.” And the life of Andronicus, the last Emperor of the Comnenian dynasty, was an engaging cross between a romantic pulp adventure novel and a revenge tragedy.

    No one can run down a villain as enjoyably as Gibbon! Now he introduces the archbishop Theophilus as “the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue; a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood.” Now he dryly caps the life of the emperor Arcadius: "At length, in the thirty-first year of his age, after a reign, if we may abuse that word, of thirteen years, three months, and fifteen days, Arcadius expired, in the palace of Constantinople." Now he ironically sums up Empress Theodora: “The prostitute, who, in the presence of innumerable spectators, had polluted the theatre of Constantinople, was adored as a queen in the same city, by grave magistrates, orthodox bishops, victorious generals, and captive monarchs.” And now he takes to task Romanus: “The hours which the emperor owed to his people were consumed in strenuous idleness. In the morning he visited the circus; at noon he feasted the senators; the greater part of the afternoon he spent in the sphoeristerium, or tennis-court, the only theatre of his victories.”

    Gibbon’s moderation even compels him to qualify his admiration for things he likes, like the St. Sophia cathedral in Constantinople, a sublime work of taste, wealth, and skill that seemed the residence if not the workmanship of the deity: “yet how dull the artifice and insignificant the labor if it be compared to the formation of the vilest insect that crawls on the surface of the temple.”

    The audiobok sounds a little tinny and “skips” several times, but Bernard Mayes is a pleasing reader through this long history, sounding like a wittily articulate and dryly enthusiastic British professor. He never stoops to donning different voices, but merely reads Gibbon’s elegant text with every appropriate nuance.

    Throughout, Gibbon’s history is marked by his Age of Enlightenment value of humane, rational, and moderate behavior and his condemnation of its opposite, by his rich and balanced sentences, by his wit and imagination, by his attempts to obtain from earlier panegyrics and invectives an objective historical truth about his subjects, by his application of the lessons of history to his own contemporary era and to human civilization in general, and by his impressive ability to hold the reader’s interest through thousands of pages of centuries of history. He says near the end, “In a composition of some days, in a perusal of some hours, six hundred years have rolled away, and the duration of a life or reign is contracted to a fleeting moment: the grave is ever beside the throne: the success of a criminal is almost instantly followed by the loss of his prize and our immortal reason survives and disdains the sixty phantoms of kings who have passed before our eyes, and faintly dwell on our remembrance.”

Mark

Mark Raglan, New Zealand 08-21-13 Member Since 2011
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  • "Tantalizing time trip"

    50 of 50 helpful votes

    This lecture series spans 24 hours of listening time, covering thousands of years of human history and prehistory. Although it is a lecture series, it isn’t at all stuffy or boring. In fact it is an enthralling, gripping and moving story of how our ancestors used to live their daily lives. The author focuses on what he calls the ‘other side’ of history, looking at the way ordinary people, rather than the ruling classes, lived their lives. He paints vivid pictures of the daily challenges facing early humans, Neanderthals, hunter-gatherers, the first farmers, the first citizens of Mesopotamia, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. He then moves to Britain to describe the Roman occupation, and the Anglo-Saxon period, finishing with the Norman invasion and the mediaeval era.

    Themes that arise and recur many times across this immense span of history and prehistory include: the prevalence of slavery; the low social status of women and the hazardous nature of childbirth; the ever-present threat of violent death and appalling injury; short life expectancy; the constant discomfort caused by lice, worms, tooth decay, arthritis and gastroenteritis, and the smell of bad breath, body odour and faeces which would have filled the air in most of these societies most of the time. The immense power of religion was another force controlling the lives our ancestors to a depressing extent.

    For each period of history the narrator focuses on a few different roles within the society in question. For example, in the Roman period you would learn what it was like to go into battle as a legionary, or to be a criminal facing the hideous ordeal of crucifixion, or an elderly man who can’t afford to retire and must work until he drops, living on the top floor of a rickety high rise Roman apartment block, with no sanitation and the constant risk of being burned alive in a fire.

    I was never bored for a moment as the narrator transported me back through history and into the shoes, or sandals, of my ancestors. I wholeheartedly recommend this talking book.

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    The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

    • ORIGINAL (24 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Robert Garland
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    (857)
    Performance
    (773)
    Story
    (766)

    Look beyond the abstract dates and figures, kings and queens, and battles and wars that make up so many historical accounts. Over the course of 48 richly detailed lectures, Professor Garland covers the breadth and depth of human history from the perspective of the so-called ordinary people, from its earliest beginnings through the Middle Ages.

    Mark says: "Tantalizing time trip"

What's Trending in Ancient:

  • 4.8 (18 ratings)
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    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor John R. Hale
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    Spanning more than two centuries, the Greek and Persian wars forged a new world order, sparking developments in battle strategy, naval technology, world exploration, and art and culture that impact the world even today. These 24 lectures are your opportunity to survey this globe-spanning conflict and see the human experience behind some of the most remarkable episodes in ancient history.

    Rick says: "Outstanding"
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    Allen L. Harris says: "DAVID TIMSON IS AMAZING!"
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    The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Robert Garland

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    Mark says: "Tantalizing time trip"
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    In AD 476 the Roman Empire fell - or rather, its western half did. Its eastern half, which would come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, would endure and often flourish for another 11 centuries. Though its capital would move to Constantinople, its citizens referred to themselves as Roman for the entire duration of the empire's existence.

    Joseph M. Dolan says: "Excellent Book about Little Known History"
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  • 4.7 (252 ratings)
    The History of Ancient Egypt  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Bob Brier

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    Nassir says: "Incomprehensibly complete"
  • 4.6 (223 ratings)
    The Fall and Rise of China  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Richard Baum

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    Yu-Chin says: "Offers excellent objective perspective!"
  • 4.3 (206 ratings)
    The Vikings  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Kenneth W. Harl

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    As raiders and explorers, the Vikings played a decisive role in the formation of Latin Christendom, and particularly of western Europe. Now, in a series of 36 vivid lectures by an honored teacher and classical scholar, you have the opportunity to understand this remarkable race as never before, studying the Vikings not only as warriors, but in all of the other roles in which they were equally extraordinary - merchants, artists, kings, raiders, seafarers, shipbuilders, and creators of a remarkable literature of myths and sagas.

    Peter says: "Good Informational Listen"
  • The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Robert Garland

    The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

    • ORIGINAL (24 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Robert Garland
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    Mark says: "Tantalizing time trip"
  • 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (






UNABRIDGED) by Eric H. Cline Narrated by Andy Caploe

    1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 3 mins)
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    Performance
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    In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the "Sea Peoples" invaded Egypt. The pharaoh’s army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians.

    Emily says: "But it was all going so well....."
  • Mythology (






UNABRIDGED) by Edith Hamilton Narrated by Suzanne Toren

    Mythology

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    Overall
    (80)
    Performance
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    Story
    (69)

    Since its original publication by Little, Brown and Company, in 1942, Edith Hamilton's Mythology has sold millions of copies throughout the world and established itself as a perennial best-seller in its various available formats. Mythology succeeds like no other audiobook in bringing to life for the modern listener the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths and legends that are the keystone of Western culture - the stories of gods and heroes that have inspired human creativity from antiquity to the present.

    Kathi says: "Good reading of classical myths"
  • The Story of Human Language  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor John McWhorter

    The Story of Human Language

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    Language defines us as a species, placing humans head and shoulders above even the most proficient animal communicators. But it also beguiles us with its endless mysteries, allowing us to ponder why different languages emerged, why there isn't simply a single language, how languages change over time and whether that's good or bad, and how languages die out and become extinct.

    Saud says: "You'll Never Look at Languages the Same Way Again"
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  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (






UNABRIDGED) by Reza Aslan Narrated by Reza Aslan

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    From the internationally bestselling author of No god but God comes a fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history's most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor.

    Charles says: "Palastinian Politics 4 B.C.E. - 70 C.E."
  • The Fall and Rise of China  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Richard Baum

    The Fall and Rise of China

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    For most of its 5,000-year existence, China has been the largest, most populous, wealthiest, and mightiest nation on Earth. And for us as Westerners, it is essential to understand where China has been in order to anticipate its future. These 36 eye-opening lectures deliver a comprehensive political and historical overview of one of the most fascinating and complex countries in world history.

    Yu-Chin says: "Offers excellent objective perspective!"
  • How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (






UNABRIDGED) by Bart D. Ehrman Narrated by Walter Dixon

    How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Bart D. Ehrman
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    Performance
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    In a book that took eight years to research and write, leading Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman explores how an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee crucified for crimes against the state came to be thought of as equal with the one God Almighty Creator of all things. Ehrman sketches Jesus's transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Only when some of Jesus's followers had visions of him after his death - alive again - did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God.

    Emily P says: "Monotone Excitement"
  • The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Jennifer Paxton

    The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest

    • ORIGINAL (19 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Jennifer Paxton
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    Performance
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    Story
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    These 36 lectures tell the remarkable story of a tumultuous thousand-year period in the history of England. Dominated by war, conquest, and the struggle to balance the stability brought by royal power with the rights of the governed, it was a period that put into place the foundation of much of the world we know today. As you journey through this largely chronological narrative you'll see key themes emerge, including the assimilation of successive waves of invaders, the tense relationship between kings and the nobility, and the constant battles over money and taxation.

    Jake says: "I was happily surprised!"
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  • The Joy of Ancient History  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Professor Bob Brier, Professor Craig G. Benjamin, Professor David Roochnik

    The Joy of Ancient History

    • ORIGINAL (18 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
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    Performance
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    (10)

    For years, The Great Courses has taken lifelong learners on stirring explorations of our ancient roots; ones that bring you face to face with what history means, and how we use it to understand both the past and the present. So where's the best place to start? Right here with this eclectic and insightful collection of 36 lectures curated from our most popular ancient history courses.

    Emily says: "Ancient World Greatest Hits Playlist"
  • The History of Ancient Egypt  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Bob Brier

    The History of Ancient Egypt

    • ORIGINAL (24 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Bob Brier
    Overall
    (252)
    Performance
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    Story
    (240)

    Ancient Egyptian civilization is so grand our minds sometimes have difficulty adjusting to it. It lasted 3,000 years, longer than any other on the planet. Its Great Pyramid of Cheops was the tallest building in the world until well into the 19th century and remains the only Ancient Wonder still standing. And it was the most technologically advanced of the ancient civilizations, with the medical knowledge that made Egyptian physicians the most famous in the world.

    Nassir says: "Incomprehensibly complete"
  • The History of Ancient Rome  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Garrett G. Fagan

    The History of Ancient Rome

    • ORIGINAL (22 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Garrett G. Fagan
    Overall
    (139)
    Performance
    (129)
    Story
    (124)

    Even today, the influence of Ancient Rome is indelible, with Europe and the world owing this extraordinary empire a huge cultural debt in almost every important category of human endeavor, including art, architecture, engineering, language, literature, law, and religion. At the peak of its power, Rome's span was vast. In the regional, restless, and shifting history of continental Europe, the Roman Empire stands as a towering monument to scale and stability, unified in politics and law, stretching from the sands of Syria to the moors of Scotland. And it stood for almost 700 years.In this series of 48 spirited lectures, you'll see how a small village of shepherds and farmers rose to tower over the civilized world of its day and left a permanent mark on history. In telling Rome's riveting story, Professor Fagan draws on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, including recent historical and archaeological scholarship, to introduce the fascinating tale of Rome's rise and decline, including the famous events and personalities that have become so familiar: . Horatius at the bridge . Hannibal crossing the Alps during Rome's life-or-death war with Carthage . Caesar assassinated before a statue of his archrival Pompey . The doomed lovers Antony and Cleopatra . The mad and venal emperors Nero and Caligula . The conversion of Constantine The course also addresses one of history's greatest questions: Why did the Roman Empire fall? And you'll learn why most modern scholars believe that the empire did not "fall" at all, but, rather, changed into something very different-the less urbanized, more rural, early medieval world.

    Megan Clanton says: "So Much Better Than Reading a History Book!"
  • The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome (






UNABRIDGED) by Susan Wise Bauer Narrated by John Lee

    The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome

    • UNABRIDGED (26 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Susan Wise Bauer
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (88)
    Performance
    (82)
    Story
    (78)

    This is the first volume in a bold new series that tells the stories of all peoples, connecting historical events from Europe to the Middle East to the far coast of China, while still giving weight to the characteristics of each country. Susan Wise Bauer provides both sweeping scope and vivid attention to the individual lives that give flesh to abstract assertions about human history. This narrative history employs the methods of "history from beneath" - literature, epic traditions, private letters, and accounts - to connect kings and leaders with the lives of those they ruled.

    Troy says: "A Fantastic Overview!"
  • Cities of the Ancient World  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Steven L. Tuck

    Cities of the Ancient World

    • ORIGINAL (11 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Steven L. Tuck
    Overall
    (0)
    Performance
    (0)
    Story
    (0)

    Cities of the Ancient World is your opportunity to survey the breadth of the ancient world through the context of its urban development. Taught by esteemed Professor Steven L. Tuck, of Miami University, these 24 eye-opening lectures not only provide an invaluable look at the design and architecture of ancient cities, they also offer a flesh-and-blood glimpse into the daily lives of ordinary people and the worlds they created.

  • The Nile: A Journey Downriver through Egypt’s past and Present (






UNABRIDGED) by Toby Wilkinson Narrated by Peter Ganim

    The Nile: A Journey Downriver through Egypt’s past and Present

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 19 mins)
    • By Toby Wilkinson
    • Narrated By Peter Ganim
    Overall
    (0)
    Performance
    (0)
    Story
    (0)

    Renowned Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson leads us through space as much as time: From the river's mystical sources (the Blue Nile which rises in Ethiopia, and the White Nile coursing from majestic Lake Victoria); to Thebes, with its Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and Luxor Temple; the fertile Delta; Giza, home of the Great Pyramid, the sole surviving Wonder of the Ancient World; and finally, to the pulsating capital city of Cairo, where the Arab Spring erupted on the bridges over the Nile.

  • The Last Viking (






UNABRIDGED) by Berwick Coates Narrated by David Thorpe

    The Last Viking

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Berwick Coates
    • Narrated By David Thorpe
    Overall
    (2)
    Performance
    (2)
    Story
    (2)

    With the death of Edward the Confessor, the crown of England is hanging in the balance. And in the north Harald Hardrada, the Norwegian Viking leader, is determined to take his chance of capturing the country. But newly-crowned King Harold Godwinson will not let that happen without a fight. Charismatic and the leader of a mighty army, he is determined to make Hadrada the last Viking in England. And so the bloodiest battle yet fought on English soil is about to begin. At stake is sovereignty, freedom and honour.

  • Marching with Caesar: Birth of the 10th Legion (






UNABRIDGED) by R.W. Peake Narrated by Simon Burdett

    Marching with Caesar: Birth of the 10th Legion

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By R.W. Peake
    • Narrated By Simon Burdett
    Overall
    (3)
    Performance
    (2)
    Story
    (3)

    Titus Pullus, the hero of the 10th Legion and the Marching With Caesar series, tells his story from the very beginning of his life, starting with his relationship with his father, how his friendship with Vibius Domitius began, and how their burning ambition to join the Legions was helped by a veteran nicknamed Cyclops. Enlisting in the 10th Legion, raised in 61 B.C. by Gaius Julius Caesar, Birth of the 10th Legion recounts the first campaign ever conducted by Julius Caesar as a commander...

  •  
  • The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire (






UNABRIDGED) by Susan P. Mattern Narrated by James Patrick Cronin

    The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Susan P. Mattern
    • Narrated By James Patrick Cronin
    Overall
    (3)
    Performance
    (2)
    Story
    (3)

    Galen of Pergamum (A.D. 129-ca. 216) began his remarkable career tending to wounded gladiators in provincial Asia Minor. Later in life he achieved great distinction as one of a small circle of court physicians to the family of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, at the very heart of Roman society. Susan Mattern's The Prince of Medicine offers the first authoritative biography in English of this brilliant, audacious, and profoundly influential figure.

  • The Joy of Ancient History  by The Great Courses Narrated by Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Professor Bob Brier, Professor Craig G. Benjamin, Professor David Roochnik

    The Joy of Ancient History

    • ORIGINAL (18 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor Bart D. Ehrman, Professor Bob Brier, Professor Craig G. Benjamin, and others
    Overall
    (11)
    Performance
    (9)
    Story
    (10)

    For years, The Great Courses has taken lifelong learners on stirring explorations of our ancient roots; ones that bring you face to face with what history means, and how we use it to understand both the past and the present. So where's the best place to start? Right here with this eclectic and insightful collection of 36 lectures curated from our most popular ancient history courses.

    Emily says: "Ancient World Greatest Hits Playlist"
  • Wandering Greeks: The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great (






UNABRIDGED) by Robert Garland Narrated by John Lee

    Wandering Greeks: The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By Robert Garland
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1)
    Performance
    (1)
    Story
    (1)

    Most classical authors and modern historians depict the ancient Greek world as essentially stable and even static, once the so-called colonization movement came to an end. But Robert Garland argues that the Greeks were highly mobile, that their movement was essential to the survival, success, and sheer sustainability of their society, and that this wandering became a defining characteristic of their culture.

    Joshua says: "Audible, fix your lousy review framework"
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