The Fate of Rome

Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire
Narrated by: Andrew Garman
Length: 15 hrs and 20 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (197 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping new history of how climate change and disease helped bring down the Roman Empire

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome's power - a story of nature's triumph over human ambition.

Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. He takes listeners from Rome's pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the seventh century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a "little ice age" and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.

A poignant reflection on humanity's intimate relationship with the environment, The Fate of Rome provides a sweeping account of how one of history's greatest civilizations encountered, endured, yet ultimately succumbed to the cumulative burden of nature's violence. The example of Rome is a timely reminder that climate change and germ evolution have shaped the world we inhabit - in ways that are surprising and profound.

Author bio: Kyle Harper is professor of classics and letters and senior vice president and provost at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 and From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

©2017 Princeton University Press (P)2017 Recorded Books
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting and worthwhile

As others have noted, this is like some sort of Roman ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’, so much so that honestly Harper and Diamond should probably just team up. That, of course, could be a touch problematic: an event - even a series of them - does not happen in isolation. It can be tempting to lean a bit too heavily on the exciting new idea, and, as with Diamond, there is a whiff of that here.

But by and large this is a meaningful addition to the standard understanding of Roman history, so often told as variations on a timeline, each speaking of “the known world” as though those in the hinterlands assumed all the world before them was some sort of mass hallucination. That is to say Rome did not exist in a terrarium, a bubble, divorced from world events, from climate, from disease. It’s refreshing to dive into a book which not only acknowledges this, but is about it.

It’s not perfect. Some of it can be a bit of a slog. Some of it is presented as a revelation when really it’s probably obvious or common sense. And the narration is unremarkable, in either direction.

If this topic didn’t immediately pique your interest then the book itself likely won’t persuade you. But if it did then I don’t think you can go wrong in checking this out.

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Excellent meld of History & Science

As Diamond did in Guns germs & Steel, Harper makes a great case for the deep influence of environment in the course of history. We are all familiar with the stories of the Roman Republic & empires as told by men writing things down. But the larger view of that history in the context of climate change and disease evolution suddenly makes a lot sense. Many Aha! moments. I trust this work will be reinforced and expanded by others on the trail of history synthesis.

3 people found this helpful

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Compelling History

Does an excellent job with showing the power of scientific sources for history. Full disclosure, I do have a fascination with epidemic history, so not completely unbiased. A very interesting take on the decline of the Roman empire.

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Good Covid Listen: Romans vs Germs

Swings back and forth between bits of Roman history, climate change, energy capture and consumption, plagues, microbes. More or less chronological. Repetitive & definitely could use copy editing. Could use a chapter on slavery, since energy and slavery were intricately related throughout the thousand or so years covered. Narrator has a nice voice but repeats several idiosyncratic mispronounciations. Marseilles spoken as "Murs Seals" throughout? Argh. The last chapter is the best - a nice little essay and summary. Lots to think about during stay safe at home.

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Thoroughly engaging

Great read, even for the non-historians among us. I found it thorough and well-constructed from start to finish. I’ve recounted to friends and colleagues numerous statistics and facts from this booked that I had failed to be aware of or appreciate the magnitude of. It helps one reflect on the true fragility of life even when death seems so distant to all but the aging or ill among us in today’s sanitized and industrialized society. We, like the romans, are still living creatures in a world with many things we depend upon for wellbeing beside ourselves.

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Wonderful update of Gibbons

Delighted to learn about all the research and new discoveries that have updated the fate of Rome. Well narrated and very well written. Ideal book for my daily two mile walk.

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fascinating mix of environment, disease & politil

So much of Romes incredibly long history and ebbs and flows of the Empire only based on Human and Politucal dynamics. this book abandons this 1 dimensional view and adds the dimension of climate and disease that loved the Roman rise and destroyed its foundations in the failing years.

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Great book!

First original outlook on Rome's fall that I have heard in a long time. If you're a classical history fan, this book is for you

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Comprehensive assessment

This book incorporates an organized narrative, detailed cultural history, accurate sources and a wealth of scientific information. It’s rare to find a book on this topic that is both informative and interesting. This is the best in the genre that I’ve come across.

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Just a terrific book. Every chapter is enlightening and substantive.

I have a degree in classics and have read many books about Rome. I will say that this is one of my favorites. It’s inclusion of scientific techniques and how they are reshaping our understanding of the Roman world is brilliantly done.

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  • Tomiwa
  • 03-13-20

A Masterpiece Narration of the Greatest Empire

When I write my book I want to have an immersive narrative style like Kyle Harper. This book is history, biology, climatology and sociology, all wrapped up in one. A masterpiece.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-23-19

Fantastic read and thought provoking

This book is well written and well read, I would recommend it to anyone interested in late antiquity. As a biologist and arm chair historian, I found this book fascinating in its insight into disease and the world of the late Roman empire. I especially like how Harper frames the decline of Rome in a disease and natural disaster setting but does not claim that these are the whole and only reasons for collapse, as indeed many other historians do with their pet theories. I highly recommend this book.