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This Very Short Introduction is blessedly free of the typos that usually infect this otherwise excellent series, and for once, the illustrations are relevant, indeed central, to the text. There is a timeline and a very useful map at the end of the book, but the text itself is not a conventional, chronological narrative of the rise of Empire. It is rather a series of essays on a selection of topics, covering the period from Augustus to Commodus, that is, from around 30 BC to about AD 190. These excursions through aspects of the subject are concerned almost as much with how history is rewritten and reinterpreted as it is with the actual facts of history. There is an emphasis on architecture, particularly as an expression of social status and political ideology, an emphasis that will suit the taste of some readers more than others. The prose is clear and very readable, with the occasional topical, colloquial flourish ("The Empire writes back", "Through the keyhole") which can seem somewhat forced. Authoritative and illuminating, this little book is an essential addition to the reading list of anyone interested in ancient history.
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What would have made The Roman Empire better?
This isn't a short introduction as in "abridged" or "concise", but short as in "wandering stream of conscious". It's as if Kelly took a trip to Italy and was so impressed by the architecture, he looked up a few references and tossed a book together.
There's very little good history here, and what there is mostly opinion. Inferences on how people "must have thought", backed by recorded dialog are the most interesting, but they're not placed in context very well.
Would you ever listen to anything by Christopher Kelly again?
How did the narrator detract from the book?
He must have been bored, because there are edit points every few minutes after which his voice pitch goes up a few octaves, making for a very distracting listen.
Any additional comments?
The last chapter, which focuses on contemporary views of the Roman Empire is frustratingly opinionated and irrelevant to historical Rome.