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The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History…
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The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History

by James J. O'Donnell

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The title of this book caught my eye while I was browsing through my public library catalog, so I borrowed it on a whim, interested in the subject no doubt but knowing nothing about the author, James J. O’Donnell. I found it fantastic – a sweeping saga of late Roman/early Byzantine history massive in scope, with flashes of insight and wit to match Gibbon (yes, that Gibbon).

The Ruin of the Roman Empire covers a lot of topics, but is structured and well-written so that the segue ways between Roman senatorial villa economics and early Christian debates about the exact composition of Jesus’ divinity appear seamless. The careers of King Theoderic and Emperor Justinian are covered in detail. O’Donnell work is a revisionist look at the question of a) when exactly did the thing called the “Roman Empire” fall and b) (to a lesser extent) what sort of lessons does that empire’s demise have for 21th century western civilization in general and the USA in particular.

My only criticism would be that about three-quarters through the book there’s just so much information and historic detail the overall effect is a bit ponderous. But all in all, a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Roman Empire, Byzantium, or Early Christian history. ( )
2 vote madcatnip72 | Jun 23, 2010 |
This is an erudite and well-written book about the declining daysof the Roman Empire, which is full of insight but was not of overly-great interest to me. The author is obviously a master of the subject, though a skeptic as to religion. His words on Theodoric, Justinian, and St Gregory the Great are deserving of more attention than I suppose I gave them. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 10, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060787376, Hardcover)

What really marked the end of the Roman Empire? Was it a long, inevitable decay, or did real people make real choices with surprising and unintended effects? The Ruin of the Roman Empire takes us back to the sixth century, into the lives, cultures, and events that influenced ancient Rome. James O'Donnell restores the reputations of many "barbarians," while showing that Rome's last emperors doomed their realm with the hapless ways in which they tried to restore and preserve it. Sweeping and accessible, The Ruin of the Roman Empire captures the richness of late antique life and the colorful characters of the age while offering insight into today's debates about barbarism, religion, empires, and their threatened borders.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:20 -0400)

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"The dream Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar shared of uniting Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East in a single community shuddered and then collapsed in the wars and disasters of the sixth century. It was a looking-glass world, where some Romans idealized the Persian emperor while barbarian kings in Italy and France worked tirelessly to save the pieces of the Roman dream they had inherited. At the center of the old Roman Empire, in his vast and pompous Constantinople palace, the emperor Justinian, with too little education and too much religion, set out to restore his empire to its glories. Step by step, the things he did to bring back the past sealed the doom of his entire civilization."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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