Boy was this a treat! As noted, the title is misleading, rather than being a general history of the Mediteranean, this book actually concerns the events that brought the Roman Republic to its zenith--the struggle and eventual triumph of Rome over Cartharge. This work is difficult to follow without more background information, I recommend the listener first try a general introduction to Roman history, such as The History of The Roman Empire, (one of The great Courses), which also happens draws heavlily upon Polybius. With a little more info this book becomes a fantastic listen!
Polybius recounts events from the aftermath of Alexander's conquests to the end of the Punic Wars in a style that is unmistakably modern. Polybius does tend to ramble and go off and tangents, but his analysis is based on well reasoned, logical analysis. He paints a believable picture of the Mediteranean world, free of warring Olympian gods,flying snakes, racial generalizations, tabloid gossip and so many other quirks present in the works of other ancient historians. Better yet,Polybius makes things fun by sprinkling the narrative with snarky comments about the work of other historians and poignant analysis of what history is and is not. According to Polybius, the true historian reports on the evidence he has, he doen't try to psycho-analyze historical figures, put words in their mouths or paint them as caricatures. Whats more, the true historian actually visits the historical sites in question to get a feel for the terrain and evaluate which of several accounts of events was actually feasible.If historians today followed his advice, I think us history buffs would be a lot better for it.
The work really shines in its descriptions of the campaigns and final defeat of Hannibal. One can almost feel the awesome fear his rag-tag international army must have inspired: naked Celts decked out in gold chains, swarthy Carthaginians, seasoned African Cavalrymen, Indian elephant riders and Spanish conscripts. Its amazing the man held them together as long as he did. One other treat was the account of Archamedies using mathematical and scientific know-how to fend off waves of Roman invaders.
Polybius succeeds in coming across as impartial, I finished the book feeling more admiration for Hannibal than for Scipio, which is an amazing feat as Polybius was basically an employee of the Scipio family.
Charlton Griffin is a master narrator, If i could nitpick though, sometimes he comes across as unecessarily evil-sounding when the text doesn't require it.
Sadly, while part one of this audiobook is more or less a seamless narrative, part two resembles the leftovers of a newspaper after it was used to light a beach bonfire. While many interesting tidbits do make part two worth listening to, its really quite furstrating to get involved in the narrative only to find the next four chapters are missing.
A real qualm I had with the book was the total lack of any notes to help modern readers get their bearings. I wish footnotes had been inserted into the text at critcal points, I had no idea where most of the places or barbarian tribes were located and a short (" note, modern day Slovenia") would have been great help . In addition, the essay at the begining was far too critical and made me want to not listen to the book, they should have put it at the end or read one that was more flattering of the work.
Despite being hopelessly biassed at times Livy manages to give us the Roman side of the story in a beautifully written and dramatic account of conflicts both political and millitary. Unfortunately Livy starts off slow. After his account of the reign of the kings, which was interesting, his descriptions of the early republic pretty much boil down to a seemingly endless recounting of election results and millitary conflicts with little or no critical commentary. Things get intriguing again at the end of Volume I with the rise and fall of the Decimvirs.
Frankly I would recommend listeners to start with Volume II or III of this work unless you really want to understand Rome's early political development. Initially, Livy seems to pretty much stick to his sources and not add much of his own to the story, but towards the end of Volume I and really beginning in Volume II, he begins to give differing accounts and his own critical analysis of events and becomes much more interesting. In volume II, the battles get much more interesting and the listener is taken step by step through Rome's domination of Italy. Volume III can be summed up by the name Hannibal.
What I got got out of Volume I was a deeper understanding of how the idea of a Republic came into being and how the Romans viewed society. While there are a lot of things that Livy doesn't state outright, much can be inferred by "listening" between the lines. The picture of early Rome presented by Livy shows the hard and often bloddy struggle between partisans of Democracy and Oligarchy (ie the plebs and patricians) which eventually produced the system that came to dominate the modern Western world. Their system had many of the same problems ours does today, notably the tension between political elites and those skilled at populist rhetoric.
Charlton Griffin is a master narrator, nothing more need be said.