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I was pleasantly surprised to come across this Audible Inc. production of Prof. Peter Brown's newest book "Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, the author of the best biography of Augustine of Hippo, is a careful meticulous and and well-respected historian of the late Roman Empire. He writes with authority.
In "Through the Eye of the Needle" Brown uses different sources (artefacts, catacombs, archaeological insights, written texts etc.) to reconstruct what has traditionally been seen as the time of the Roman Empire's decline. Already in the awkward dates that he uses in the sub-title of his book 350-550 AD and not for instance 324 (when Constantine was became emperor over the whole Roman Empire), Brown distances himself from traditional top-down historiography that focus important persons and places. While using important figures, like Maxentius, Augustine and others, he aims to document and interpret the way the not-so-important people of the late Western Roman Empire understood wealth.
He uses wealth at the key to sketch a different but more believable picture of late Roman Empire and its different churches' rise to prominence in its society. I found his take on the Pelagian controversy very interesting and enlightening.
Fleet Cooper did a fair job in reading the book. I am not sure if it is Brown's writing style or Cooper's way of reading, but it felt that some sentences were often to long and Cooper would break for breath making it difficult to comprehend a whole idea as a thought unit. That said, Cooper's pronunciation of foreign languages and the general ease of his reading made it pleasant to listen to.
Not everybody would like this book. At times it is very technical and might even be too thorough to some people's taste. It is an academic work and probably a trendsetter that cannot be ignored by historians reflecting on this part of history in future. Yet it might not be to the taste of someone who wants a light read.
It comes highly recommended. I hope Audible will see their way open to publish more of Prof. Brown's books in audio format.
22 of 23 people found this review helpful
I am about half the way through the audio book and completely absorbed by it. It's a detailed story of a complex swath of history, yet it hasn't gotten bogged down itemizing battles and rulers. Instead, it reveals the spirits of the times through the lives of history's notable intellects. Even better, it explores what historical writers didn't say, but that historians have since deduced, to shed light on the realities behind the dogma.
The narrator's mispronunciations, however, are driving me nuts. His voice is excellent, his pacing and emphasis are good, and even some of his mispronunciations I could live with if he would simply stick with them. But instead, he ping-pongs back and forth, seemingly unable to decide. Is it AM-brose or Am-BROSE? Constan-TEEN or Constan-TINE? Will it be tree-AY or tree-AIR for Trier? Sometimes I find myself talking back to him: "Prelate rhymes with pellet, not relate!" "Per-VANE-us? Did you perhaps mean parvenus?" And I almost spit out my coffee when he tried to say "Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose". It was so funny I wish I'd bookmarked it.
Nevertheless, I'd rather listen to this very dense book, mispronunciations and all, than try to find the time and focus to read all 800 pages myself.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful