02 December, 2016

SPQR: a history of ancient Rome by Mary Beard

I’d planned on reviewing a graphic novel but was less enthused about it by the end (it’s Staff Picks not Staff Worsts), *ahem* so here’s something else I enjoyed a bit more about… ROME. What sets this apart from the plethora of existing material in our amazingly excellent and diverse library catalogue? Well, it is written with such readable prose you may stop and think:

'Wait-a-minute, this isn't super boring as! What's going on here then?'

Mary Beard being a super excellent author and historian is what's going on. She chose to approach her dauntingly titled book (SPQR stands for the ‘Senate and People of Rome’) from both the ‘important’ figures and everyday citizens view of the empire, through well-established historical texts and archaeological findings ( i.e. what did Romans eat? Let's check the Roman cess pits!). The result is an engaging tour of Ancient Rome.

What I find most intriguing is the revisionist twist Beard brings to her narrative which challenges the old narrative 'gospel' of Roman history: Was Nero all that bad, or have subsequent emperors made him out that way to solidify their own position? Was Mark Anthony really a puppet of Cleopatra or merely the victim of propaganda?

I enjoyed this a lot and would recommend it to everyone from die hard classicists and Rome enthusiasts (who’ve probably read it already), to those of you who yawn at Roman history unless it has film stars traipsing about in sandals with English accents (hmm, I seem to fit in both groups).

Title: SPQR: a history of ancient Rome
Author: Mary Beard

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W was thinking about an apt quote for these times and decided to lean on Tacitus: Ratio et consilium propriae ducis artes. Thanks Tacitus.

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