Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world's foremost scholar of late antiquity.
Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.
Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity's growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.
©2012 Princeton University Press (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across this Audible Inc. production of Prof. Peter Brown's newest book "Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, the author of the best biography of Augustine of Hippo, is a careful meticulous and and well-respected historian of the late Roman Empire. He writes with authority.
In "Through the Eye of the Needle" Brown uses different sources (artefacts, catacombs, archaeological insights, written texts etc.) to reconstruct what has traditionally been seen as the time of the Roman Empire's decline. Already in the awkward dates that he uses in the sub-title of his book 350-550 AD and not for instance 324 (when Constantine was became emperor over the whole Roman Empire), Brown distances himself from traditional top-down historiography that focus important persons and places. While using important figures, like Maxentius, Augustine and others, he aims to document and interpret the way the not-so-important people of the late Western Roman Empire understood wealth.
He uses wealth at the key to sketch a different but more believable picture of late Roman Empire and its different churches' rise to prominence in its society. I found his take on the Pelagian controversy very interesting and enlightening.
Fleet Cooper did a fair job in reading the book. I am not sure if it is Brown's writing style or Cooper's way of reading, but it felt that some sentences were often to long and Cooper would break for breath making it difficult to comprehend a whole idea as a thought unit. That said, Cooper's pronunciation of foreign languages and the general ease of his reading made it pleasant to listen to.
Not everybody would like this book. At times it is very technical and might even be too thorough to some people's taste. It is an academic work and probably a trendsetter that cannot be ignored by historians reflecting on this part of history in future. Yet it might not be to the taste of someone who wants a light read.
It comes highly recommended. I hope Audible will see their way open to publish more of Prof. Brown's books in audio format.
This is a book of outstanding scholarship written with great clarity by one of the most knowledgable and trustworthy historians of the period of the late Roman empire. Brown uses the issue of wealth as a key to enter a complex social and religious world that saw the emergence of Christianity into the ancient hierarchies of power, prestige, and vast wealth that had powered the Roman empire for many centuries.
Brown's narrative is fascinating and relatively easy to follow and brings to life the variety of characters and interests of the period in a wonderfully vivid way. He leads the listener to understand the nuances of primary texts while evaluating many current debates among historians with a sure touch.
Brown writes as a person who has lived in the world he describes for many years and understands its nooks and crannies like a native. I emerged from the long journey with a tremendous sense of gratitude for Brown's guidance through an important historical period in which modern prejudices could easily distort my perceptions.
Cooper reads the book with great clarity and articulation. My only problem with the narration was that quite a number of the names of ancient people or texts or technical terms seemed mispronounced. It did not seem in keeping with the high scholarly quality of the book otherwise.
I highly recommend this work. It is very substantive and assumes that the listener has a basic knowledge of the period covered. But it certainly rewards careful listening.
Again and again, Brown considers traditional interpretations major events and personalities in this period, and then offers a new interpretation, sometimes his own, but more often a condensation of an emerging consensus among Late Roman scholars. He is very much a cheerleader for recent developments in the study of this period, often citing and complementing, the work of others. This book is not simply a narrative study, although it does generally progress chronologically. It is also an exploration of how historians work, and a lesson in interpreting sources. Brown is a confident but unpretentious guide through a territory about which I knew nothing aside from a few offhand generalizations. As I near the end, I not only feel that I have a vivid and insightful understanding of some of the major figures (Augustine, Jerome, Paulinus of Nola), but also a real sense of how people's ideas and feelings about wealth evolved, and how these developments interacted with the wider context of a disintegrating empire and an emerging new order.
Brown studiously avoids both political history and discussion of doctrinal differences, both of which are fascinating, but available elsewhere. So you won't learn anything consequential about who the emperors were, or theological beliefs of the Manicheans or Arians or Donatists. It is a bit jarring at times to skip over what seems like essential information, but I have to grudgingly admit that Brown's precise, unwavering focus pays off. In the end, the vision of evolving attitudes towards wealth is unclouded by any distractions.
The book is long, and the topic obscure, but if that doesn't scare you off, this is a rewarding experience
The author is perhaps the greatest living historian of this period. His literary style is poetically vivid and his use of metaphor makes voices long since silenced by death seem momentarily to tremble with life. He shifts between the grand vistas in which an entire horizon is laid before one, and darts down to show the smallest of details. It is truly an astonishing achievement.
Surely not. It's a lengthy audiobook but is so delicious that I could have wished it longer.
The narrator has a lovely voice and I enjoyed listening to his reading. He often mangles pronunciation of words that are not English and it seems from other reviews that many find this grating. I noticed it but it found it a minor part of the experience of listening to the audiobook.
This is one of those books that sheds an astonishing amount of light on the evolution of the western world, in politics, religion, and the distribution of power and of wealth. It's much less about how Christian doctrine changed the pagan world, than about how Christian doctrine evolved to co-opt pagan wealth and power structures, letting the church emerge as a temporal power in its own right. Along the way we get marvelous peeks at life in late antiquity which animate the whole narrative. I found this book fascinating, and perhaps recommended best for those with a taste for thorough historical documentation and methodical argument. Peter Brown is clearly a master of this period of Roman history, deeply familiar with the latest archeological and textual discoveries, allowing him to overturn many long held misconceptions.
I am about half the way through the audio book and completely absorbed by it. It's a detailed story of a complex swath of history, yet it hasn't gotten bogged down itemizing battles and rulers. Instead, it reveals the spirits of the times through the lives of history's notable intellects. Even better, it explores what historical writers didn't say, but that historians have since deduced, to shed light on the realities behind the dogma.
The narrator's mispronunciations, however, are driving me nuts. His voice is excellent, his pacing and emphasis are good, and even some of his mispronunciations I could live with if he would simply stick with them. But instead, he ping-pongs back and forth, seemingly unable to decide. Is it AM-brose or Am-BROSE? Constan-TEEN or Constan-TINE? Will it be tree-AY or tree-AIR for Trier? Sometimes I find myself talking back to him: "Prelate rhymes with pellet, not relate!" "Per-VANE-us? Did you perhaps mean parvenus?" And I almost spit out my coffee when he tried to say "Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose". It was so funny I wish I'd bookmarked it.
Nevertheless, I'd rather listen to this very dense book, mispronunciations and all, than try to find the time and focus to read all 800 pages myself.
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
I really enjoyed the approach of this history. It is a history of Rome from the fourth to the sixth century from the perspective of the economics of a changing world in a state of flux caused by the rise of Christianity. The importance of Northern Africa to the Roman world was brought out in a way that I have never understood before. The fact that history is made by the rich and powerful is made profoundly clear in this work. The poor and down-trodden leave no mark save for the manner in which the rich are moved to bring them aid. This is a fine book.
Fleet Cooper gets kudos for his excellent diction. I could always understand what he was reading. Some of his odd pronunciation choices, however, rise to the level of annoyance after a time. He has obviously done some study of different languages and he pronounces foreign words with ease. The problem is that he lets this foreign language training influence the way he pronounces words that are to be spoken in a certain way in English. This is pervasively noticeable for names containing the letter “U.” He insists on giving it the long vowel sound even when the short vowel sound is correct. Towards the end the historical figure Pelagius enters the narrative and I had to suffer through many pronunciations of “Pell-ay-gee-OOS” before he began to say it correctly: “Pell-AY-gee-us.” These oddities of pronunciation were a distraction but did not detract from making this an excellent audio book.
Professional librarian type, amateur historian.
There was a chance I was not going to finish this book because it was a little dry and there was so much necessary information the author was putting forth. But after listening I believe I am a better and informed Christian and would recommend the book with the caveat that it is a little difficult to really get into the book, in the beginning.
One of the things Peter Brown does well is provide a sense of the culture and environment people lived in for the modern reader. He made me realize my concepts of what was wealth and poverty did not match up to late Roman views of wealth, and the importance of citizenship, and poverty. He translates the past for the modern reader. Unfortunately it take a while to translate and can be a tad uninteresting.
I like history but this is way too particular for me to enjoy and keep interest for such a long listen. Someone with a major in Church history for that period might appreciate though.
something more general (in history still)
The narrator is excellent and probably the reason why I could hold on until mid point in the book.
I would use the abridged edition
The potential subject matter was very good, but I lacked knowledge of places and names to enjoy it.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
For those that are interested in Christian history and/or Christian understanding of wealth and economics this new book by Peter Brown is well worth paying attention to. It is long, but detailed look at the late Roman Empire. There are several places where Brown is going against the common understanding of that time period, but I think he well documents them.
The narration is fine, although there are so many foreign words (ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, etc) and some of them are not pronounced the way I think is right. I may be wrong, but it was a bit irritating. But the reading was good and the book was worth reading.
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