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2.0 out of 5 starsAre You Entertained! Are You Not Entertained!
Reviewed in the United States on February 24, 2019
If you're looking for a nonfictional book of ancient Rome that successfully captures the history in a way that is intriguing and colorful and goes deeper than your typical bland and colorless encyclopedia types then I'm sorry to say this book isn't the one. I think my issue with this book was that although it presented the pivotal events in Rome's history in an efficient and moderately interesting way, it suffered due to the author's perpetual campaigning to show ancient Rome's political and social issues and how they mirror our current political system. The motivations behind the book aren't derived from an artistic attempt to portray Rome's intriguing and most iconic figures or the heated atmosphere of climactic events. Rather the motivations come from the author's interest in social issues. For example, there are more pages dedicated to Tiberius Gracchus and his reforming crusade than the entire 200 years of amazing events that preceded him including the Punic Wars and Hannibal's conquest. Those motivations also explain the author's disapproval of his subject; Ancient Rome. It was frustrating to read the frequent comments he made that stressed Rome's disingenuous actions whenever he possibly could. Writers so often become the moral police of history. How can a historian truly discover an intriguing concept from Roman history if he's more concerned with showing readers the immorality of Rome's rise to power. I think most people who are looking for a book on ancient Rome are intrigued by it and are hoping to find a source that can help them better understand that which intrigues them and experience something below the surface. However, it's rare to find a historian that can be an artist as well. I originally gave the book 3 stars because at least it gave a basic history of Rome's rise and fall in a "page-turning" way, but the more I read the more I felt like the author was trying to persuade me on current politics rather than Ancient Rome. If anybody knows of a captivating book on Ancient Rome and I don't mean the colossus style book of Gibbon leave a comment.
Reviewed in the United States on February 20, 2018
I’ve always been fascinated by Roman history. Over the years I have wanted to understand how this great empire came to be and ended. In researching these books online it goes without saying that I wanted one that was an easy read so to speak. Also, just as important was a book that kept the reader interested, and wanting to keep reading from one chapter to the next. I found this book and ordered it after reading some of the reviews. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a well written account and I believe anyone interested in the subject matter would like very much. I highly recommend this book.
4.0 out of 5 starsGood first book for me on the Roman Empire
Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2015
Good book for my first on Roman Empire history. We are going to Italy this fall and I wanted some appreciation of the Roman Empire. I have done a lot of reading on Greek history but not so much on the history of the Romans. I think I will try and buy the companion DVD series others have mentioned.
The book concentrates on approximately 7 turning points in Roman history and the personalities who mattered the most. I think the chapter I enjoyed the most was the one on the Jewish rebellion. With this as a background I think I'm ready to tackle works of Josephus.
I think you will enjoy this book, if you are like me and a relative novice on Roman history, give it a try.
5.0 out of 5 starsWonderful Overview, and interesting read...
Reviewed in the United States on February 5, 2011
I am a post-graduate student who is writing his thesis on Marcus Aurelius (He was one of the so called 5 Good Emperors). Anyway needless to say I have studied the Roman Empire extensivly. I read this book, because it was recomended to me by a fellow student. I was not going to read it, as it is a broad overview of a civilization that can hardly be expected to adequately fit into roughly 400 pages. To me it seemed a survey book for those wishing to get a general grasp of the time period, however curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read the book to see this authors take on the subject. Being a survey book I could see no other reason to read it. I was pleasantly suprised. I found the book to read like a novel. Overall the author nails the mood of the time period and inserts the facts needed for an introduction to what Ancient Rome was, where it came from, how it evolved, and the seeds of its undoing. I also enjoyed the period pieces that the author chose to write about, because to fit every major event in Rome's history into 400 pages would be impossible! Overall I found this book to be an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to learn about Ancient Rome, its culture, politics, military, and what Rome's accomplishments have meant to western civilization.
Reviewed in the United States on December 18, 2019
This is one of the most entertaining ancient history books I have read, and probably an ideal introduction for someone who wishes to dive into the history of Ancient Rome. This book is not dry or academic. Instead, it focuses on telling a great story. There's very little of the important-but-boring stuff (e.g., archaeological analysis of pottery fragments) and lots of the good stuff (e.g., all the romantic stories and salacious biographical details contained in the primary sources).
It does not cover every year of Roman history evenly. Instead it zooms in on about 10 pivotal moments in Roman history and gives you a real sense of these points and why they were so important; but it also provides an adequate bridge of narrative to connect these moments up so you at least have somewhat of a feel for the whole scope of Roman history.
I was a bit disappointed when I found out in the forward of the book that this was a companion to a BBC TV series, but I continued to read further. This was a very readable book with each chapter centered around a major character in Roman history with many facts and anecdotes about the theme of the chapter, so this isn’t an emperor by emperor history because it is trying to relate each chapter as a major event or turning point in Roman history which is why I gave it four stars. It is mostly educational and enjoyable as a book.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 16, 2017
I have never been moved to write a book review here before, however, this book is the exception. Having always been curious about the evolution and subsequent downfall of the Roman Empire, this book ( according to some helpful reviews) would enlighten me. I feared that it may be too academic, or too anecdotal, however it was a balance of both, making it very readable and enjoyable. It is quite brilliant. Buy it.
I am interested, like many others, in this period of history and was looking for a book that wasn't too learned but still informative. This book is certainly very accessible to the ordinary reader and provides a lot of insights into some of the main protagonists and the events in which they were involved. Some of the facts/opinions presented are surprising and likely to overturn many of the preconceptions we have, mainly created by Hollywood, regarding the Roman Empire, it's people and it's leaders. An example being Nero, he who fiddled while Rome burned, according to the author he didn't, in fact was venerated by the people and did all he could to provide relief and aid during and after the fire. There are occasional moments of dry humour usually at the expense of legendary figures and their doings and the things they said as apposed to the things they did. The author though obviously having a great knowledge of and love for the period is not overawed by the momentous events he describes nor is he unduly reverential when discussing the towering main characters. This has the effect of humanising the characters and giving a perspective on their doings that is accessible to the modern mind. I had one regret with the book - it is not a massive tome and therefore does not go into quite as much detail as I would have liked, for example the destruction of Rome's traditional and long standing enemy, Carthage, is dealt with in a short chapter without going into the gory military details, the battle of Cannae is more or less dealt with in a paragraph. To be fair this was not the authors intention which was to provide an overview of the historic events. It left me wanting to read more on the subject especially the military details of some of the world changing conflicts that occurred. I recommend this book as an excellent, enjoyable and informative read
5.0 out of 5 starsvery modern interpretation of rome's history and while reading it i was amazed at how history really does repeat itself
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 20, 2017
thought about the 3 volume decline and fall and opted for this instead. very modern interpretation of rome's history and while reading it i was amazed at how history really does repeat itself. using modern idiom (like weapons of mass destruction) and interpreting ancient events as one might understand modern political intrigue, war and crises Baker shows that roman ideology is still alive in modern western states responses to and incitement of war and imperial control. a great read.
I couldn't have asked for a better look at Rome than this. Well, yes I could, but not of this size. Simon Baker has a real talent for storytelling and makes the subject come alive. I've read lots of books on Ancient Rome, ranging from the extremely dull and detailed to the extremely long and detailed. Not many of them bring the human elements of the story to the fore as effectively as Simon Baker does. He also explains more effectively than anyone else I've read why the year 476 is the best date to consider the Empire ended. A lot of modern scholars disagree, but Baker is quite convincing.
Unless you are a real expert on Rome, there's a lot to surprise you in this book. Most interesting of all, to me, was the lengths Alaric went to NOT to sack Rome in its final days. Reading Baker's account, it's difficult to avoid feeling that the Roman Empire deserved to fall when it did, and that history was better off without the festering morass of duplicity and vanity that it had become. Again, not something I was expecting to feel.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 19, 2020
easy to read but erudite and clearly carefully researched. I knew many of the names but little of the details. For example I had no idea that Josephus was a military commander nor did I have any idea of the role he played during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD70