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While I have read a reasonable amount about Roman history (the rule of the Emperors from Augustus through Claudius, the three Punic Wars and, more specifically, Hannibal’s invasion of Rome and the subsequent Roman invasion of North Africa to destroy Carthage) I had never read a real history of the rise of Rome. Since I was preparing to (finally) read Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire I thought it was time to learn how the Roman Empire came to be before I read how it ceased to be. I bought this book for that specific purpose.
Mr Everitt has written a wonderful and enjoyable history of Rome from its beginning (actually from the fall of Troy) through the beginning of the civil wars at the time of Pompey, Julius Caesar and Octavian. While I was looking forward to reading this I was also somewhat apprehensive because I remembered how dull Roman history classes were when I was in school. I worried about a book made up of dates and events, especially since I would be listening, not actually reading, but I should not have worried. Mr Everitt has built this book around the individuals and events that constitute Roman history rather than a series of dates and that decision worked really well. Had High School history been presented like this I might have paid more attention.
Mr Everitt has broken down the story of the rise of Rome into 3 separate sections – Myth (starting from the fall of Troy and Romulus and Remus), historic legends and known historic facts and the whole fits together seamlessly into a very interesting story. There was much about Roman history that I never knew – Alexander The Great’s plans to “teach” the upstart Romans a lesson by invading, how Rome grew from a small settlement into the global superpower of the time, how the Romans held Italy together as subject peoples in spite of their being outnumbered and much else. I had read a good deal about the Punic Wars but never knew, until I read this book, why Rome forced Carthage into the third war.
The narration is very well done and the book very enjoyable. While it is not a “heavy” history it is also complete enough to not be “light” reading. I feel comfortable recommending this book to anyone with an interest in this period of time.
27 of 27 people found this review helpful
There is no doubt Anthony Everitt knows his Classical stuff. His previous books: 'Cicero' and 'Augustus' were amazing. 'Hadrian' aimed high, but didn't quite hold up to the first two. The Rise of Rome signals a severe decline in Everitt's popular Roman history, IMHO. The book is messy. His narrative begins with Section I (Legend) a review of the legends and foundation myths surrounding the rise of Rome. He then jumps into a review of 'big themes' as Rome's politics, warfare, and society develop.
IN this second section, He isn't interested in the history, rather he attempts to construct the narrative STORY of history. He tries (and fails) to draw a distinction between Section II (Story) and Section III (History), but the last two thirds of the book are really one, story-driven, narrative slog through 1000 years of Roman history and personalities.
The problem is Everitt tries to present 1000 years of Rome's rise in less than 500 pages and fills almost 67 of these pages with foundation myths, etc. The best parts of this book are those pages when he is talking about Rome's great enemy Hannibal, the problem is those pages are 50 pages less spent on the actual direct topic of his book.
Fundamentally, Everitt's biggest failure is the standard high school and college freshman failure. He starts with far too big a topic and devotes to it too little space. He tries for a sweeping history of Rome and only delivers a shoddy, uneven narrative. IN the end, the book feels like a graveyard for Everitt's unpublished background material for previous books or aborted histories.
25 of 26 people found this review helpful