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Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire (edition 2007)

by Simon Baker

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184464,254 (4.04)2
Member:aine.fin
Title:Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire
Authors:Simon Baker
Info:BBC Books (2007), Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Read 2012, Your library
Rating:****1/2
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Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire by Simon Baker

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Showing 4 of 4
Simon Baker's Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is a good introduction to Roman history, covering various key points in the history of Rome. Probably not the same key points that someone else would choose, but he makes a decent case for the importance of each stop on the tour. Some people's reviews say that if you have the most basic grasp of Roman history, this is too simple: I wouldn't say so. I have a GCSE and an A Level in classical studies, but the effect was a very similar kind of 'tour' of Roman history that just picked out different stopping points. So there were some things I didn't know much about at all.

One thing that is a little disappointing is the transitions between each chapters. It isn't really made clear how the transitions between the different time periods were made -- it goes straight from Constantine, for example, to the attacks on Rome by Alaric, without covering the intervening time at all. Even a little timeline at the start of each chapter would've helped.

Still, Simon Baker's prose is pretty readable and accessible. If you're not especially interested in the topic, I still wouldn't recommend this, as despite the six turning points it uses, it's still a 400 page volume. A Very Brief Introduction it ain't.

All in all, for me it was okay, but I'll be donating my copy to the local library rather than keeping it. ( )
  shanaqui | Jan 29, 2014 |
Despite my interest in its subject this book (clearly) didn't hold my interest. The writing was dry and the narrative lacked ... oomph? a hook? cohesion?
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
If you, like me, don't know much about the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire it spawned, or the impact of Roman culture on the subsequent millennia beyond what you saw on television when men in golden breastplates flogged and stapled history's most successful anarchist to a cross of wood between Paul and Jan Crouch's sobs and pleas for money, you could do worse than read this book. Though largely artless, it is not naively so, and proves as unrelenting as any anonymous, sweaty, bloodthirsty beefcake in fish scale bikini briefs in its presentation of the epochal moments that gave form to that lodestar of classical civilization.

Rome, at least mythological Rome, was founded first on murder, and then as a sanctuary for the detritus of other societies -- criminals, exiles, refugees, their tired, their poor, their huddled masses. Then these castoffs invited their neighbors to the city, ostensibly in observance of a religious festival, only to steal their womenfolk so they could make babies. Babies that would grow up not to invite neighbors to do anything other than to submit to Rome or be put to the sword. With such violent origins, one is moved to wonder if their hymns would keep time with the Star Spangled Banner.

A popular history from BBC Books, I cannot help but think that author Simon Baker is, at times, addressing the United States in a roundabout fashion. Perhaps this is self-consciously nationalistic of me because the paranoid Puritanical founding of my own country casts such a long shadow. Maybe he has merely succeeded in touching upon the overarching themes native to all civilizations with the conceit to aspire to imperialism. It amounts to the same.

Romans, like Yankees, soon tired of their kings (Etruscan, by the bye, from whom we inherit the word fascism because they would carry a bundle of elm or birch branches bound together with an axe at its center called a fasces), ran them off and founded that most remarkable and fragile of things, a republic. A republic that gave lip service to the political freedom of its citizens, but nevertheless vested the power of the kingship in two elected consuls that would share power for a set period of time and that, in practice, came from the wealthiest two percent of adult Roman males. Yet even so, the memory of one man rule would stay with Romans and, in times of crisis, dictatorial powers would be ceded to that one happy man to do as he saw fit to restore order and preserve the republic.

But Rome would succumb to triumphalism despite its high mindedness. Riding the wave of its economic and military successes -- made almost exclusively on the backs of the middle and lower classes and through the strategic application of pre-emptive wars of self-defense -- Baker notes:

In becoming a superpower, Rome, so it was said, abandoned the very values with which it had won its supremacy. At the pinnacle of its achievement, the virtues that had made the Roman republic so successful failed it and were lost forever.

An idealistic man by the name of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, a military hero and the grandson of Scipio Africanus, himself famous for having saved the young republic from the wrathful genius of Carthage's Hannibal, would attempt to redistribute lands he perceived as unjustly taken from the citizen militia who, while fighting Rome's wars of conquest, would see their properties go untended, fall into arrears, and then bought up on the cheap by the aristocracy.

In the first politically motivated murder of the republic, Tiberius would be killed and his mangled body unceremoniously dumped in the Tiber River.

Then would come the Caesars, the obsolescence, the decline, and the monotheistic statism. As I write these last words, my eyes wander to a Roman coin that I purchased some months ago and which I have worked at cleaning nearly daily. The profile of some emperor or other adorns one side; the image of an entire man holding what appears to be a bow, or perhaps even a plough, the other. One day I will set to examining it more closely in the hopes of dating it. Maybe I'll even try to decipher the Latin that haphazardly rings it. However, I will only do these things in the vein of an antiquarian. Our history cannot be found on any coin or written in any book. It can only be found in us, and I sometimes despair that it will never be overcome. ( )
  KidSisyphus | Apr 5, 2013 |
An excellent book that keeps the reader fascinated from the foundation of Rome and the Roman empire through the multitude of historical events eventually leading to its descent into disintegration. The vivid style puts you in the middle of the struggles between Senate, emperors and the military. You can look over the shoulders of great figures like Julius Caesar, Augustus or Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, better known as Nero. But in the end not a Roman emperor keeps the upper hand, instead the 'barbarian' king Odovacar brings the Western half of the Roman empire to its ultimate conclusion. ( )
1 vote ThomasK | Sep 10, 2008 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0563493607, Hardcover)

Ancient Rome is the story of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Focusing on six turning points in Roman history, Simon Baker's absorbing narrative charts the rise and fall of the world's first superpower—a political machine unmatched in its brutality, genius, and lust for power. From the conquest of the Mediterranean in the 3rd century BC to the destruction of the Empire at the hands of barbarian invaders 700 years later, we discover the pivotal episodes in Roman history. At the heart of this account are some of the most powerful rulers in history: men like Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nero, and Constantine. Putting flesh on the bones of these legendary figures, Baker looks beyond the dusty caricatures to explore their real motivations, ambitions, intrigues, and rivalries. Accompanying a landmark BBC television series, Ancient Rome is a fresh, fast-paced account that addresses themes as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:16 -0400)

This volume focuses on the pivotal moments in Roman history and introduces some of Rome's most thrilling personalities - Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Augustus, Nero and Constantine. It explores the ways in which the Romans were completely different in their outlook and values. Originally published: 2006.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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