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The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

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The classical civilizations of Greece & Rome once dominated the world. They continue to fascinate & inspire us. Classical art & architecture, drama & epic, philosophy & politics--these are the foundations of Western civilization. In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox chronicles this vast sweep of history from Homer to the reign of Augustus. From the Pel The classical civilizations of Greece & Rome once dominated the world. They continue to fascinate & inspire us. Classical art & architecture, drama & epic, philosophy & politics--these are the foundations of Western civilization. In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox chronicles this vast sweep of history from Homer to the reign of Augustus. From the Peloponnesian War thru the creation of Athenian democracy, from the turbulent empire of Alexander the Great to the creation of the Roman Empire & the emergence of Christianity, he serves as a witty & trenchant guide. He introduces extraordinary heroes & horrific villains, great thinkers & bloodthirsty tyrants.


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The classical civilizations of Greece & Rome once dominated the world. They continue to fascinate & inspire us. Classical art & architecture, drama & epic, philosophy & politics--these are the foundations of Western civilization. In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox chronicles this vast sweep of history from Homer to the reign of Augustus. From the Pel The classical civilizations of Greece & Rome once dominated the world. They continue to fascinate & inspire us. Classical art & architecture, drama & epic, philosophy & politics--these are the foundations of Western civilization. In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox chronicles this vast sweep of history from Homer to the reign of Augustus. From the Peloponnesian War thru the creation of Athenian democracy, from the turbulent empire of Alexander the Great to the creation of the Roman Empire & the emergence of Christianity, he serves as a witty & trenchant guide. He introduces extraordinary heroes & horrific villains, great thinkers & bloodthirsty tyrants.

30 review for The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Not particularly good. This reread was a disappointment. I found myself wondering how I managed to get through it the first time. It’s a slog. Ancient history is always an interesting subject, but there are better books about Greece and Rome out there. Reading a couple of shorter works on each would probably be more gproductive then this massive work. The main issues with this book are twofold: inconsistent writing and inconsistent analysis. There are rare times where the narrative flows smoothl Not particularly good. This reread was a disappointment. I found myself wondering how I managed to get through it the first time. It’s a slog. Ancient history is always an interesting subject, but there are better books about Greece and Rome out there. Reading a couple of shorter works on each would probably be more gproductive then this massive work. The main issues with this book are twofold: inconsistent writing and inconsistent analysis. There are rare times where the narrative flows smoothly, especially when glossing over particular earas to get to the points the author wants to focus attention. But once the author focuses, here comes the lecture. Not only does the writing bog down, most of the detail doesn’t really add to understanding. It seems an excuse to discuss all her research. This is particularly prevelant in the Greek section. This leads to the second problem with this work, the analysis is iffy. Too often, she states her opinions without mentioning what the otherwise consensus view. Makes it hard to judge the quality of the narrative and research unless one already has a background in Greece and Rome. This book is really geared for a general audience who doesn’t have the deep background and so it feels a bit like the author his trying to sneak views past the reader. So, to sum up, too long, too windy, and not enough about what the scholar community really thinks regarding Greece and Rome. Not really worth the time invested unless you like the author or have to read everything you can about Greece and Rome

  2. 5 out of 5

    Smiley

    I think this book should interest some readers who need an overview on Rome and Greece in the Classical World. At first sight, it may intimidate some reluctant ones since we need time to cover its 606 pages, 55 Chapters from 'Hadrian and the Classical World' (Prologue) to 'Hadrian: a Retrospective' (Epilogue) encapsulated by Parts One-Six. However, its first advantage is that each Chapter's not too long; I think the author's planned well and kept this in mind or else they may be too tedious for I think this book should interest some readers who need an overview on Rome and Greece in the Classical World. At first sight, it may intimidate some reluctant ones since we need time to cover its 606 pages, 55 Chapters from 'Hadrian and the Classical World' (Prologue) to 'Hadrian: a Retrospective' (Epilogue) encapsulated by Parts One-Six. However, its first advantage is that each Chapter's not too long; I think the author's planned well and kept this in mind or else they may be too tedious for his readers who want to know the Classical World in general. The second one is concerned with its ample black-and-white as well as colour illustrations in which we can better understand while reading his narrative. Some are quite rare and we can't help admiring each caption because it gives us more light on such an unimaginable 'World' some 2,000 years ago. The last one deals with the way he's started and ended by the Emperor Hadrian. One of the reasons is that, I think, the author as an English writer would like to present the Emperor since, presumably, The Hadrian's Wall's long been famous since the Roman invasion in Britain and the Wall built by the Emperor to defend other tribes who might attack the Empire there. Therefore, we're grateful for his style that allows us to know the Emperor and his deeds more rather than just the Wall.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    This book sets itself a massive task, telling almost a thousand years of Greek and Roman history in a few hundred pages. It is an enjoyable read, and I gained new insights into a fascinating era. The book is as much a political and cultural history as it is a series of dates and events or the doings of great men. I found this extremely interesting, and it chimed well with the broad sweep of the narrative. One other thing I really liked was the authors clarity on the limits of what is knowable, whe This book sets itself a massive task, telling almost a thousand years of Greek and Roman history in a few hundred pages. It is an enjoyable read, and I gained new insights into a fascinating era. The book is as much a political and cultural history as it is a series of dates and events or the doings of great men. I found this extremely interesting, and it chimed well with the broad sweep of the narrative. One other thing I really liked was the authors clarity on the limits of what is knowable, where he says "in my view" or "we cannot know" A good read

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gergely

    Clearly written by an academic, but intended for the popular history market, this book was worth the reading but still a disappointment - on a number of levels. The format is largely chronological, running from circa. 800 BC through to 140 AD, with the occasional themed chapters on cultural, military and economic histories of the peoples of the Classical age. The style of writing varies from dense and tiring (especially in the first half) to beautifully fluent, with not much consistency from chap Clearly written by an academic, but intended for the popular history market, this book was worth the reading but still a disappointment - on a number of levels. The format is largely chronological, running from circa. 800 BC through to 140 AD, with the occasional themed chapters on cultural, military and economic histories of the peoples of the Classical age. The style of writing varies from dense and tiring (especially in the first half) to beautifully fluent, with not much consistency from chapter to chapter. The author's passion clearly lies with the Greeks ahead of the Romans, and yet the "Greek" half of the book is certainly the weaker. His deeper interest in that period actually leads him into too much detail and too little of the big picture history I was hoping to read of - for example, he has a habit of commenting on minor historiographical debates largely irrelevant to the lay reader. The second, "Roman", half reads overall far better; the chapter on the cultural influence of the Romans on life in Britain and Gaul, for example, left me thirsting to find out more, and the chapters on the last years of the Roman Republic give Tom Holland's 'Rubicon' a run for its money. My question would be why he decided to write one book here and not two - it's not that the influence of Greek life on the Romans is ignored, but it does feel much like two separate, largely unrelated stories stuck together. It would have made sense to at last include a chapter on where Greek influence can and cannot be seen within the Roman world. Other personal niggles include the overuse of brackets and too frequent sharing of his personal views (in my opinion)- a misplaced tirade against the Chelsea Flower Show being one of them! Having said all of that, it really was a "worth it", if quite dense, hop, skip-and-a-slog through the main events and players of the Classical world. If there isn't already a better popular overview, though, there is certainly still space in the market for one!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Probably I should give it two stars - the section on Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic kings is really fascinating - but by the time I got to the end, it felt like it had been such a dull, frustrating slog. I think the fundamental problem is that Lane Fox hasn't really thought about his audience; the book appears to be a bunch of chronological essays charting how attitudes towards and the practice of freedom, luxury and justice developed in the Greek and Roman worlds, but it gives too much Probably I should give it two stars - the section on Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic kings is really fascinating - but by the time I got to the end, it felt like it had been such a dull, frustrating slog. I think the fundamental problem is that Lane Fox hasn't really thought about his audience; the book appears to be a bunch of chronological essays charting how attitudes towards and the practice of freedom, luxury and justice developed in the Greek and Roman worlds, but it gives too much factual background for classicists and too little for laypeople. As someone with a patchy knowledge of the Romans and even less of the Greeks, I was somewhat confused a lot of the time; e.g. what was the result of the helots' revolt against the Spartans? how did the introduction of democracy benefit Cleisthenes? I get the impression he's used to bouncing off incredibly bright tutees and guiding them towards thinking for themselves rather than telling them the answer, but obviously in a book you can't have that dialogue and need to be far more direct. Plus I couldn't get on with his attitude towards the Romans; he clearly knows a great deal about them, but I felt like there was a lack of empathy, an inability or unwillingness to get under their skin and look out from their eyes. It's most obviously there when he talks about their attitude towards luxury; whether it's true or not that luxury is enervating and will lead to being conquered, their belief that it did should be taken seriously. (it's also peculiar that luxury as a source of glory - cf. Lucullus's attempts to outdo others - isn't mentioned.) And he mentions their horror of kings several times, but doesn't seem to see that that was why the senators feared populism and feared those who could command the support of the people. Again, whether or not populists really were demagogues and the Roman people could be easily swayed, the belief should be approached on its own terms. Lane Fox is clearly a passionate liberal, who believes strongly in the freedom of the people, but his beliefs seem to get in the way of his writing. It feels a bit like reading one of those bad historical novels where the characters are 21st-century Westerners in fancy clothes, because the writer can't conceive that any good and decent person could possibly think otherwise from the way we do now. While I'm not saying that he shouldn't condemn blood sports and point out how Roman democracy wasn't perfect, I feel like that constant criticism of their imperfect freedom and justice keeps him from understanding why the Romans were as they were (because they might have been messed-up, but it was a very specific and coherent kind of messed-up) and why there's so much tragic irony in the transition from Republic to Empire. Instead there's just a continual undertone of "not as good as Athenian democracy, so not worth anything". The absolute nadir was when he referred to Emperor Claudius as a "cruel and susceptible spastic". There's no justification for using that word, anywhere, ever. Ultimately I came away from this book realising just how incredibly good Tom Holland is, to be able to convey large amounts of information in a clear and vivid style, and to be able to truly get the Romans and understand how their society and mentality worked, without being blind to how horrific they could be. He's writing a book about Augustan Rome at the moment, and I'm sure everything he has to say about the Empire will be far livelier and more insightful than this.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Maitrey

    Robin Lane Fox's monumental Classical World was a tour de force of a book spanning the worlds of Greece and Rome right from the time of the epic poet Homer (7th(?) - 8th(?) Century BCE) to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (1st - 2nd Century CE). Robin Lane-Fox is a professor of Classical History at Oxford University, and is eminently suited to handle such a massive task he has taken on. Lane-Fox makes it immediately clear why he picked the two giants as bookends very early in the book. Both characters su Robin Lane Fox's monumental Classical World was a tour de force of a book spanning the worlds of Greece and Rome right from the time of the epic poet Homer (7th(?) - 8th(?) Century BCE) to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (1st - 2nd Century CE). Robin Lane-Fox is a professor of Classical History at Oxford University, and is eminently suited to handle such a massive task he has taken on. Lane-Fox makes it immediately clear why he picked the two giants as bookends very early in the book. Both characters suit very well into the overall theme of the book which explores the Classical World in the light of "Luxury, Liberty and Justice". It might be a little abstract, and it might take a few re-readings by me to make it absolutely clear what Lane-Fox was going for. But that doesn't reduce the enjoyability of the book one bit, as the reader comes to get a good understanding of the world which has influenced Western thought to such an extent. Lane-Fox's political view is very clearly championed throughout the book. He's very pro-Athenian especially for its representative democracy and slightly anti-Roman and makes it abundantly clear that Rome's slide into authoritarianism was very deplorable. The book's narrative structure is fairly chronological and eschews a blow-by-blow detail of kings, battles and other standard narratives although these are by no means ignored. We get great little chapters on 6th Century BCE technologies and taxes and another on how Alexander's Hellenestic successors viewed the massive "New World" they had opened up thanks to Conqueror's escapades all across West Asia. But these are few and far between. This book is not a social history that gives a voice to the slaves and women (although Fox is critical of the slavery and patriarchy). It clearly follows the doings of what could be called the elites of the time, whether it is the upper class citizens in Athens, or the Senators in Rome (Hellenistic Kings are more or less ignored as they didn't much directly impact the two core regions of interest: Greece and Rome. Even Macedon after the death of Alexander is ignored). While I couldn't much support Lane-Fox's political philosophy of blind Athenian worship (I came into this book having read excellent, balanced works on both Carthage and Sparta, two cities which receive too much negative flack, when not ignored in this book); I can understand and appreciate how Lane-Fox arrived at them. He pops into Athens every now and then throughout the book, even after their empire has collapsed. Some of the best writing appears here, dealing with Athenian culture and philosophy. The book spends a lot of time on the transition from Roman Republic to Empire, and while I did get a little bored with the politics of "Liberty" (which sounded a lot like whining after a while to me), I liked the argument that slide to autocracy might not have been inevitable as has been presented by many authors for two millennia at least. The emperor Hadrian ties up the narrative nicely as he toured his massive empire and gave especial interest to both Rome and Athens and also wrestled with themes such as liberty and license. Overall the book was a great stepping stone into the history of the Classical world, and I thought its narrow themes actually helped in confining the narrative and make it more compact and flowing. Although, for the same reasons, this book might not be for everyone.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Iset

    Well, at the risk of repeating what so many other reviews of this book have already said, I do find myself agreeing with them: this is a somewhat simplistic narrative history of classical Greece and Rome (albeit with something of an odd end point, during the reign of Hadrian rather than taking us to the collapse of the Western Empire as most such histories do). It’s a good book for a beginner: it clearly lays out the key events, with some exploration of interconnectedness, and Lane Fox writes wi Well, at the risk of repeating what so many other reviews of this book have already said, I do find myself agreeing with them: this is a somewhat simplistic narrative history of classical Greece and Rome (albeit with something of an odd end point, during the reign of Hadrian rather than taking us to the collapse of the Western Empire as most such histories do). It’s a good book for a beginner: it clearly lays out the key events, with some exploration of interconnectedness, and Lane Fox writes with passion for the subject as well as a smooth style that makes it easy to read. However, it doesn’t engage in the kind of analysis or debate that those undertaking deeper study would prefer to participate in, and, as so many books of the ‘overview history’ type, it has a tendency to skim, so if you’re looking for a lot of detail on one particular event, you’re probably better off with a book dedicated to that subject rather than this one. 7 out of 10

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chakib Miraoui

    what an elegant exposition of Athenian and Greek prowess

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    Robin Lane Fox has authored a sweeping history of what he calls "The Classical World," from Homer's Greece to Hadrian's Roman Empire. While a work of such scope means that there cannot be great depth in discussing any point in that era; on the other hand, it provides a bird's eye view of issues, themes, and change over time. The author himself notes that (page xv): "It is a challenge to be asked to write a history of some none hundred years, especially when the evidence is so scattered and diver Robin Lane Fox has authored a sweeping history of what he calls "The Classical World," from Homer's Greece to Hadrian's Roman Empire. While a work of such scope means that there cannot be great depth in discussing any point in that era; on the other hand, it provides a bird's eye view of issues, themes, and change over time. The author himself notes that (page xv): "It is a challenge to be asked to write a history of some none hundred years, especially when the evidence is so scattered and diverse, but it is a challenge which I have enjoyed." Some definitional issues. Lane defines "The Classical World" as (page 1) ". . .the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, some forty lifetimes before our own but still able to challenge us by a humanity shared with ours." Fox ceases his narrative with the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Why? Lane says (page 2): ". . .'classical literature' ends in his reign. . . ." Even more important Page 2), ". . .is that Hadrian himself was the emperor with the most evident classicizing tastes." First, Fox focuses on three themes across this span of history--freedom, justice, and luxury. He believes that each of these--and the changes that occurred with time--can help explain the sweep of events. Second, he divides the time span into several eras, and treats each separately, although noting how the themes of freedom, justice, and luxury play out in each. "The Archaic Greek World" begins with Homer's Greece and concludes with the great Persian Wars. The next time period is what Fox refers to As "The Classical Greek World." This period runs from the rise of democratic Athens, the Peloponnesian War, Socrates, the rise of Philip of Macedon. The next phase is what he terms "Hellenistic Worlds," beginning with Alexander the Great's incredible success and the development of one of the world's largest empires. This frame runs until the final struggles between Carthage and Rome. Fox then moves on to a discussion of "The Roman Republic." Here, he considers the increase in luxury in Rome, the intrigues among Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Caesar's death. He follows this with a discussion "From Republic to Empire." The chapters in this segment include the rise of Octavian (to Augustus), his conflicts with Mark Antony, the Civil War against the assassins of Caesar, and so on. The last portion of the book, "An Imperial World," traces the post-Augustan period, concluding with Hadrian's rule. Under Hadrian, according to Fox (page 571): ". . .the two worlds of this book, the classical Greek and the Roman, came closely together. Hadrian's love of Greek culture is evident in his patronage, his favours for Greek cities (especially Athens) and his personal romantic life." In a history as large as this, one sacrifices depth for breadth. It is interesting to note Fox's rather dismissive treatment of Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus, as compared with more sympathetic treatments of each in the recent biographies by Goldsworthy and Everitt. Also, Everitt's biography of Cicero provides greater depth on that key figure in the period of time when the Republic was moving toward Empire. All in all, this is a well written book and worth looking at by those interested in this slice of history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Absolutely wonderful! Fox has written a superb book on the classical world from the time of Homer (c. 800 BC) to the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (c. 120-140 AD). Staying away from a purely story form of telling the history of this time, Fox mixes historical detail with some historical sociology of both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome within clearly defined time periods (ex. the differences between Archaic Greece, Classical Greece, and Hellenistic Greece). He does this by revolving around three Absolutely wonderful! Fox has written a superb book on the classical world from the time of Homer (c. 800 BC) to the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (c. 120-140 AD). Staying away from a purely story form of telling the history of this time, Fox mixes historical detail with some historical sociology of both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome within clearly defined time periods (ex. the differences between Archaic Greece, Classical Greece, and Hellenistic Greece). He does this by revolving around three main themes during these years: freedom, justice and luxury. At first, I was skeptical about this approach, having read a few dismal history books that attempted to do the same thing, but Fox pulls it off very nicely. And it is through these three themes that Fox makes us miss the classical world and want to be a part of it with all of its beauty and hypocrisy. Having said that, there are two complaints I have against the book. The first is that Fox doesn't extend his history far enough. He should have ended with the end of the Nervan-Antonine dynasty of emperors, which ended with the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commidous (from the movie "Gladiator" if you are not familiar with Imperial Roman history). From the end of that dynasty the classical world does begin to give way to those most unclassical groups: the barbarians and those "mad" Christians. The other complaint is the invective spirit against the Roman Empire under the emperors starting with Julius Caesar and never really ending, even after the death of the Emperor Nero. Yes, the lost their "freedom" to republican government is lamentable and some of the actions of the emperors are grotesque, but Fox conspicuously glosses over the problems the late Republic had caused, pinning most of the blame (typically) on Julius Caesar's, and then Octavian/Augustus', shoulders. This leaves out the fact that the empire might have collapsed under the bungling and overly competitive republican system had it not been reformed as heavily as it was under Julius and Augustus Caesar. Despite these setbacks, I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to any newcomers to the classical world.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    Truly an epic history of the ancient world 18 April 2010 While I might not agree with everything in this book (and a book on the Ancient World is going to deal with a lot of speculation based upon the evidence that we have) this is a good book that gives a great overview of Greece and Rome between Homer and Herodotus (one of the disagreements I have is that I believe the classical world came to an end with Augustus). There are two main themes running through this book and that is the question of Truly an epic history of the ancient world 18 April 2010 While I might not agree with everything in this book (and a book on the Ancient World is going to deal with a lot of speculation based upon the evidence that we have) this is a good book that gives a great overview of Greece and Rome between Homer and Herodotus (one of the disagreements I have is that I believe the classical world came to an end with Augustus). There are two main themes running through this book and that is the question of liberty and luxury. It is interesting to note that the ancient people did not like tyranny (but then again, who does – other than the tyrant that is), and in fact, many Greek city states, Rome, and Carthage, were all ruled by councils and elections as opposed to hereditary monarchies. In fact, as we look at Athens and Rome, we see a period of oligarchy move to tyranny which is then overthrown to produce a democracy. However the flaws with democracy is that there is a pandering to populism which results in a return to tyranny. Churchill was right when he said 'he who neglects the past is doomed to repeat its mistakes'. The question of luxury, something that we should take a long hard look at in our day and age, raises the question of a civilisation becoming soft, and in becoming soft, opens itself to danger from without and within. In our days we not only take luxury foregranted, but we actually see it as our right to live a luxurious life. However in the last few years we have seen this desire for luxury result in an economic crisis as our lifestyle has been supported by debt, which in the end must be paid back, but because credit has been so easy to obtain it has resulted in bad loans and toxic mortgages which brought the banking system to its knees and we have not yet seen the effects of the resulting bail outs. He who neglects history certainly is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    What I learned from this book is that huge overviews of time periods, no matter how well-written, cannot save themselves from sounding like lists of names and dates. I'm not going to read books like this anymore. I'll pick specific things from interesting times and focus in on them instead. Not your fault, Robin Lane Fox! Good effort! What I learned from this book is that huge overviews of time periods, no matter how well-written, cannot save themselves from sounding like lists of names and dates. I'm not going to read books like this anymore. I'll pick specific things from interesting times and focus in on them instead. Not your fault, Robin Lane Fox! Good effort!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    A standard 'history' of classical Greece and Rome This is undeniably a good, light read, but in some ways it is out of touch with the actual research occupying classicists working academically in the field. Yes, I know that Lane Fox is a hugely respected Oxford academic, but all the same there is something very traditional and almost wistful about this simple reading of the history of Greece and Rome. This concentrates on 'events' rather than analysis, and given the huge scope of the book, treats A standard 'history' of classical Greece and Rome This is undeniably a good, light read, but in some ways it is out of touch with the actual research occupying classicists working academically in the field. Yes, I know that Lane Fox is a hugely respected Oxford academic, but all the same there is something very traditional and almost wistful about this simple reading of the history of Greece and Rome. This concentrates on 'events' rather than analysis, and given the huge scope of the book, treats them fairly simply and reductively (the entire Julio-Claudian dynasty, for example, is covered in one short chapter). I suppose the major problem for me is the dismissal of classical literary culture to the margins: Athenian tragedy for example has a paragraph, and even there Lane Fox regards it as being 'timeless' and completely divorced from the institutions of democracy. Not just does this assume a huge coincidence that tragedy appears and disappears precisely in the years coinciding with 5th century democracy in Athens (and nowhere else), it also evades the political discussions and negotiations that take place in the plays about the very ideology of democracy which make the plays so important. Similarly there is little discussion of Roman, especially Augustan literature, that engages so closely with the political transformation from Roman republic to principate. That aside, the end point was slightly odd, in that Lane Fox chooses to end with Hadrian, rather than continuing to the collapse of Rome, thus ending on a high note rather than following through to the, perhaps, more appropriate conclusion. If you know nothing about the classical world, then this is an excellent starting point but it's just the beginning...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    I picked this up a couple of years ago but never quite found the right time to start. Perhaps the week my son came home from hospital wasn't the smartest, as the sleep deprivation and distractions made it tough to get through at times. I find this era of humanity interesting but have very little actual knowledge regarding the details. This book goes a fair way towards rectifying that. It's a tough one though - at times it's a little too detailed and specific, at others broadly sparse. I'm not sur I picked this up a couple of years ago but never quite found the right time to start. Perhaps the week my son came home from hospital wasn't the smartest, as the sleep deprivation and distractions made it tough to get through at times. I find this era of humanity interesting but have very little actual knowledge regarding the details. This book goes a fair way towards rectifying that. It's a tough one though - at times it's a little too detailed and specific, at others broadly sparse. I'm not sure whether it works as either a beginners primer or as an advanced refresher. The tone and content is quite varied. I found parts quite tedious and slow, especially much of the first half focusing on Greece. The Roman half picks up though, especially from Julius Caesar onwards. This may just be a reflection of the greater diversity of surviving information from these later years but regardless, it makes for more interesting reading. There are anecdotes and trivia galore along with more of a sociological approach threaded throughout. Sadly my Penguin Classic version is lacking the illustrations that are listed in detail in the back. It does have the maps though. Overall, it's generally well written but didn't quite do it for me as a historical overview.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    49th book for 2016. This book was helpful in giving me a very useful in giving me in very broad brush strokes a 1000 year history of Greece and Rome (basically from the time of Homer till the reign of Hadrian). However, it's basically an impossible task to write such a history and still give depth to events. I found the writing a bit of a slog at times, but I am glad I finished the book, and would ideally now read a lot of narrower histories to fill in much more detail about specific events (e.g. 49th book for 2016. This book was helpful in giving me a very useful in giving me in very broad brush strokes a 1000 year history of Greece and Rome (basically from the time of Homer till the reign of Hadrian). However, it's basically an impossible task to write such a history and still give depth to events. I found the writing a bit of a slog at times, but I am glad I finished the book, and would ideally now read a lot of narrower histories to fill in much more detail about specific events (e.g., Homer and his works; Democracy in Athens; Alexander the Great; the Rise and Fall of Caesar; Anthony and Cleopatra etc.). All these chapters in the book were fascinating, but way too short to give the subject mater justice.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Stelling

    One of the best summaries of classical Greece and Rome I've read, and so far the only one which presents ancient history in a narrative style rather than doing it thematically. This allows the author to show the influences of archaic Greece on the Roman empire and beyond - and shows how (especially in the case of Greece) that our understanding of these ancient worlds is far from complete. One of the best summaries of classical Greece and Rome I've read, and so far the only one which presents ancient history in a narrative style rather than doing it thematically. This allows the author to show the influences of archaic Greece on the Roman empire and beyond - and shows how (especially in the case of Greece) that our understanding of these ancient worlds is far from complete.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    This was a four for the information but a three for the dryness. It dragged for me, taking almost three weeks to finish which is a long time with my reading speed. Copious information. But I didn't run back to it when I had a free minute.... This was a four for the information but a three for the dryness. It dragged for me, taking almost three weeks to finish which is a long time with my reading speed. Copious information. But I didn't run back to it when I had a free minute....

  18. 4 out of 5

    C.

    Best part of the book: short chapters. Each chapter is about 6-12 pages (usually on the lower end), so it didn't take long to read a chapter, and that was a big part of the motivation to keep moving. Book is written pleasantly, and does a very good job covering history of Greece to Rome. It touches briefly on all the main players, from playwrights to emperors. There were also chapters devoted to aspects of life back then (gender roles, blood sports, religion, life in the Roman colonies, and a ch Best part of the book: short chapters. Each chapter is about 6-12 pages (usually on the lower end), so it didn't take long to read a chapter, and that was a big part of the motivation to keep moving. Book is written pleasantly, and does a very good job covering history of Greece to Rome. It touches briefly on all the main players, from playwrights to emperors. There were also chapters devoted to aspects of life back then (gender roles, blood sports, religion, life in the Roman colonies, and a chapter on Pompeii, etc.). Serves well as an introduction. The author was also honest in handling evidence. Sentences such as "while So-and-so wrote of this or another event, so far there is no archaeological evidence for a conflict/fire/whatever in that region" are common. He does not simply write off the ancient sources as spouting falsehood, and respects the limitations of archaeology. I wish every history book were this honest.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shyam

    The first book I read before I delved into Graeco-Roman history and serves as an excellent introduction to the latter, as well as being good for reference.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adam Glantz

    A massive effort that's still easy to read for the nonspecialist...though I'm concurrently listening to Mike Duncan's peerless History of Rome podcast, so I have a little context for the subject. I'm still not sure why the author ended with Hadrian — something about his unique "classicizing" taste — but he had to end somewhere, and there are worse places to conclude than the Roman Empire at its height. His decision to follow a chronological narrative punctuated with chapters on overarching polit A massive effort that's still easy to read for the nonspecialist...though I'm concurrently listening to Mike Duncan's peerless History of Rome podcast, so I have a little context for the subject. I'm still not sure why the author ended with Hadrian — something about his unique "classicizing" taste — but he had to end somewhere, and there are worse places to conclude than the Roman Empire at its height. His decision to follow a chronological narrative punctuated with chapters on overarching political, economic, and social topics provides a complete picture of the classical age as Fox defines it. (I don't understand what he means by reading with, not against his source material, but it wasn't an impediment.) Classical Greece steals the show, and not just because of Athens' indispensable contribution to Western intellectual life. To head off dictatorship and perhaps to outmaneuver his aristocratic opponents, Cleisthenes initiated the most democratic constitution the world had heretofore seen...at least, for free male citizens. (Rome, by contrast, had a messy, gradual evolution toward greater political participation that never reached democracy.) Fox insists that the Athenian Empire wasn't as burdensome to its lesser members as we might think, and that the Greek poleis, contentious as though they were, didn't collapse into decadence so much as they were over-powered by Macedon. Ironically, Rome isn't as impressive. Its massive growth, largely at the expense of Carthage and the Hellenistic kingdoms, usually came out of the base motive of greed. The Senate was eventually thrown open to wealthy non-nobles, but it was ultimately sidelined as strongmen fought it out for control; despite symbolic concessions by emperors (e.g., in the beginning, they referred to themselves as "First Citizen," to maintain a republican veneer), it became increasingly irrelevant in the age of imperium. All of Fox's protagonists are flawed, but I felt that his Roman notables were especially so: e.g., even the great orator and republican Cicero comes across as vain and self-deluding. And the less said about the emperors, particularly the Julio-Claudians Gaius (a.k.a. Caligula), Claudius, and Nero , the better. Toward the end, Fox makes an interesting comparison between pagan and Christian values...interesting, because the two, so different in many ways, would somehow amalgamate in the Middle Ages. But as for culture in general, Rome's seems to be pretty weak sauce compared to classical Greece. The Greek cities of the east never assimilated into Latin, but Rome was constantly importing Greek knowledge, art, norms, gods, even people. To make sense of it all, the author focuses upon the changing definitions of freedom, justice, and luxury. Spoiler alert: luxury wins, and periodic attempts to rein it in, as during Augustus' "family values" policy or Vespasian's preference for simple living, came to nothing. As for freedom and justice, they declined from their Athenian heights to subservience under the rule of one man, despite fawning rhetoric to the contrary. If we go strictly by Fox's account, it's hard to see much value in the contribution of Rome to Western civilization...maybe its law code and efficient city planning, but it's not a great example for much else. Are we missing something here?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Lane Fox's book is probably the best one volume history in English of the nine centuries centered on the Mediterranean that stretch from the "pre-classical classical" world of the blind poet to the satirist Juvenal when Rome ruled the world from Britain to the Red Sea. Knowing a bit of the Greeks--Homer (of course) lots of Plato, not much Aristotle; Thucydides but not Herodotus; Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides; some of Alexander's campaigns and much less of the Romans, based on mostly on spottil Lane Fox's book is probably the best one volume history in English of the nine centuries centered on the Mediterranean that stretch from the "pre-classical classical" world of the blind poet to the satirist Juvenal when Rome ruled the world from Britain to the Red Sea. Knowing a bit of the Greeks--Homer (of course) lots of Plato, not much Aristotle; Thucydides but not Herodotus; Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides; some of Alexander's campaigns and much less of the Romans, based on mostly on spottily recalled high school Latin class translations of "The Conquest of Gaul", I was looking for a reference that covered or at least mentioned what little I knew and the great deal that I did not. Lane Fox traces Greco-Roman history through three themes that have long interested classicists: freedom, justice and luxury. For the Greeks the Romans were barbarians and it is difficult to argue with the view from first century BC Athens: Rome’s first emperors made it a point to restrict freedom and Augustus’ successors spent much of their time engaged in fratricide, incest, intrigue and conquest. Lane Fox makes some oddly anachronistic points when describing Athenian political life; while fourth century BC Athens is the earliest known functioning democracy, with the vote of citizens the ultimate and only stamp of sovereignty, he still makes the point that Athens was a slave owning society and that slaves, women and foreigners, however long resident, didn't have the vote. This situation in, for example, the United States of America 2400 years later wasn’t a great deal different. Actually Athens was more "democratic" and inclusive than the later republics since there was no class or property owning qualification for voting and citizenship. All adult males born of Athenian parents had the autonomy of the franchise no matter what the source and amount of his wealth. Equal votes for all male citizens and a popular rotating council and assembly with power to accept or reject proposals were unprecedented in the ancient world. A singular aspect of Attic civic life was ostracism by which a prominent citizen who threatened the stability of the state could be banished without bringing any charge against him. It was done very sparingly, openly and by popular vote--an annual meeting of all citizens would decide whether to hold a vote on ostracism that year. If so, any citizen entitled to vote in the assembly could write another citizen’s name down, and, when a sufficiently large number wrote the same name, the ostracized man had to leave Attica within 10 days and stay away for 10 years. He didn't lose ownership of his property (unlike the later Roman exile, which involved forfeiture of property and banishment for an indefinite period, essentially for life. Themistocles, conqueror of the Persian fleet at the key battle of Salamis, was one of the most notable Athenians ostracized when he was seen as too eager in creating even more open and responsible government based on the citizens' assembly. He spent his time away from Athens in the south--Spartan territory--to provoke political dissent among the allies of Sparta.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eli

    This was a book that I have struggled to finish, having got about halfway through in my first attempt, before ignoring it for a while, and then finally deciding to restart from the beginning, which still took more of a dedicated effort to follow all the way through than many books would require for me. It is not very well-tied together, I find, and the author follows the chronology of the narrative through an indirect, thematic focus which emphasizes a particular theme along the series of event This was a book that I have struggled to finish, having got about halfway through in my first attempt, before ignoring it for a while, and then finally deciding to restart from the beginning, which still took more of a dedicated effort to follow all the way through than many books would require for me. It is not very well-tied together, I find, and the author follows the chronology of the narrative through an indirect, thematic focus which emphasizes a particular theme along the series of events without applying this to the full timeframe. I have never encountered this approach before, and it seems to be a good mechanism for the compression of content for which an introductory overview such as this would benefit. I did not find that it made the work more interconnected or easier to follow, however. As one disparate fact or anecdote piled atop another in a growing accumulation of detail which was not enjoined by a clear unity or understanding from which the material is presented, it became increasingly difficult to follow. I am not a classicist (nor do I propose to be able to write a superior history by any means), but I do have some familiarity with the subject matter, and it frankly seems as though it was not approached with much care or effort. That said, this is an overview (and that of a vast subject, at that), and thus, I can cut it a good deal of slack as regards unity or clear presentation (for that would be even more difficult for a history of this sort, than one with a more narrow, defined subject). I do not expect perfection, or even excellence, as a standard, but even so, I was not impressed with the presentation. Perhaps, if I had a stronger prior-knowledge of the classical world, then my already-present understanding of it would aid in the comprehension of the text that really appears to be more of a commentary than a narrative, and even at that, a somewhat disorganized one. Despite all of this, as a commentary of sorts, my existing but fledgling knowledge of classical history was still strengthened, and there were a good number of times where I encountered new, interesting perspectives of its themes and content. In conclusion, a pleasant, insightful, yet clunky and sometimes frustrating popular history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alastair Heffernan

    Disappointing is the first word that comes to mind when reviewing Robin Lane Fox's ambitious attempt to provide a one-book history of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Contrived is another. You will learn a lot about the history of Ancient Greece and Rome, from the Archaic Greek world of Homeric epic right through to the Roman Empire at its (arguable) zenith under Hadrian in the 130s AD. Quite a lot of this history is well told to be sure, but you will have to endure reading the good parts ami Disappointing is the first word that comes to mind when reviewing Robin Lane Fox's ambitious attempt to provide a one-book history of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Contrived is another. You will learn a lot about the history of Ancient Greece and Rome, from the Archaic Greek world of Homeric epic right through to the Roman Empire at its (arguable) zenith under Hadrian in the 130s AD. Quite a lot of this history is well told to be sure, but you will have to endure reading the good parts amidst not one but two bizarre framing devices. Let's take these in turn to understand why (for me at least) this book is such a let down. The less pervasive but perhaps more irritating structuring device utilised by Lane Fox is the adoption of the conceit that we are following Hadrian in the 130s AD around the ancient world. He was an ardent traveller and so would have seen first person much of the Greco-Roman world that is of interest to us today. The first chapter introduces this notion and the rest of the book intermittently refers back to how Hadrian might have viewed something and the contrast between this and modern history's view. It strikes me as an utterly pointless device, the modern reader being far more interested in what current evidence says about events than what Hadrian might have thought. Perhaps it is a blessing, but the device is also very inconsistently applied; one goes dozens of pages without reference to Hadrian, only for him to be crowbarred into a discussion seemingly for no good reason. The second device is the framing of the historical analysis around three very deliberately chosen themes: luxury, freedom and justice. We hear in an early chapter how Homer speaks about luxury in his epics - "Homer's heroes and kings are not 'corrupted' by luxury" indicating a fairly accepting view of luxury goods (including for the "women portrayed in the poems"). We are also told how "Freedom is also a crucial value for the participants" and how the "heroes, often kings themselves, may complain about a king or leader, but they do not long to be 'free' from monarchy. They take for granted their own freedom to do much as they please before their own people". When we get onto discussing real events and societies, these three themes are used as guiding principles of the discussion. For example, we hear how "most of the laws which reformed Spartan society ... were intended to address the basic issues of freedom, justice and luxury which underlay the rise of tyrants and lawgivers elsewhere in the contemporary Greek world". And so on and so on. The problem of all this is that I veered between thinking the three categories of justice, freedom and luxury were so broad and vague as to naturally encompass most of what might be considered to drive historical changes (whatever 'drive' means in this context) - or at least be capable of explaining them, as per the Spartan laws noted above. Or else, they are a restrictive and arbitrary trio of concepts that will needlessly funnel the discussion to the loss of other ideas that might be illuminating in trying to develop a picture of long-lost societies and ways of life, or political and economic structures as Lane Fox variously tries to do. Which is precisely why I gripe with the device of constantly harking back to justice, freedom and luxury in the first place. Whether an inspired framework within which to explore history, or guilty of the above limitations (as I mostly saw them), the book is simply clearer and more enjoyable when they are not employed. Because much of this book is very engaging in spite of what I've said above. On the micro-scale the book is full of so much interesting information. To give just one example, there is some amazing detail on the accountability of Athenian rulers: "When [Herodotus] visited, the Athenians' Acropolis was being lavishly rebuilt with the support of the annual tribute received from their allies. Yet publicly elected committees were supervising all these public works and upholding the details of financial accountability on which the democracy insisted". I cannot help but ask why accountability or transparency of the rulers to the ruled is not just as valuable a guiding principle as justice, but that only returns me to my criticism above. More generally, Lane Fox does a good job showing us what life for women might be like, particularly given the paucity of evidence he has to work with. On the wider-scale of the book as a whole, I particularly value its weaving together of the Greek and Roman worlds. It is common to read a book on one or the other but this epic book adeptly joins them, showing how the Roman world was developing in the early 200s BC alongside the declining Greek one, characterised by fragmented states constantly at war with each other and still suffering the fall-out of Alexander the Great's many successors carving up the wider Mediterranean world. Yet even this good macro structure is somewhat undercut by another problematic feature of Lane Fox's approach: the interposing of cultural or economic or religious discussions in the middle of narratives telling us what happened when (the baseline all readers of a pop-history book need before the historian can delve into the nuances of societies' life itself). A typical illustration of this is in the discussion of the rise of Rome. We get a brief overview of how the not-yet fabled town began to dominate its surroundings. This is then interrupted by two chapters on the political and religious systems of these early Romans before we return to the city's attack on Tarentum and war with the Greek Pyrrhus (of 'Pyrrhic victory' fame for his habit of winning battles at great personal loss). None of which is to say the discussion of politics or religion is not valuable, but why did it have to be injected right into the middle of some genuinely exciting action? I'm currently reading Chris Wikham's The Inheritance of Rome (appropriately enough straight after this book, leaving a gap of about 250 years I now know nothing about from 150-400 AD). This has made me see how such a mixture of 'what happened' history with more sophisticated cultural (religious, political, economic etc) discussion can be achieved. The chapters on events like who overthrew whom, who died when, how states or empires rose and fell, these all need to be handled first and in a self-contained manner. Only afterwards should the nuanced discussions of life in those times be tackled. Of course this cannot always be hard and fast: economic changes can drive the events and so on and so forth, but there is still a way of broadly separating these things to help the reader who may know very little about the area (this is not an academic book after all). Overall this book gives and takes away: while we are given a keen insight into much of the ancient world, such as the procession of events that led (say) to Alexander's great conquests, we are then too often pulled abruptly into an analysis of freedom, luxury or justice or made to think about how Hadrian could have viewed something. The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome is certainly epically long and dense and is at times epic in the positive, 21st century sense. Yet far too often it buries itself in its own structural complications. Better books (like those of Tom Holland) certainly exist in this genre; I can only think that the glowing quotations on the cover reflect reviewers so overawed by Lane Fox's scholarship, and the heady scope of this book, that they overlooked what I think are deep issues with this work.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I'd read one of Fox's book previously. Therefore, seeing this title at the Park Ridge Library booksale, I picked it up with some confidence. Reviewing books on ancient history for a scholarly journal, but not being a classicist, I keep my hand in by regularly reading popular books on the subject. Robin Lane Fox is likely a very good teacher. His books are accessible, even fun, because he punctuates serious discussion with odd tidbits, the kinds of quirky facts which helped get me interested in hi I'd read one of Fox's book previously. Therefore, seeing this title at the Park Ridge Library booksale, I picked it up with some confidence. Reviewing books on ancient history for a scholarly journal, but not being a classicist, I keep my hand in by regularly reading popular books on the subject. Robin Lane Fox is likely a very good teacher. His books are accessible, even fun, because he punctuates serious discussion with odd tidbits, the kinds of quirky facts which helped get me interested in history as a kid. These bits include a lot of that old standby, the sexual proclivities of the great, as well as his own personal obsession, gardening practices--he happens to be the gardening editor of the London Financial Times as well as a history professor. The scope of this book is Homer to Hadrian, ca. 800 BCE to 138 CE. The two primary canvases are Greece and Rome. The three major themes running throughout, a bit stretched at times, are freedom, justice and luxury. Fox does not conceal his own ethical and political beliefs: Athenian democracy is good. Roman autocracy is bad. My only complaints about Fox's work are relatively trivial. First, a chronological table and some more maps would have been helpful. The maps he uses are mostly, of all things, elevation maps with major cities and the occasional landmark and political or regional division noted. Second, although he's a good writer, the text could have used a better editor. Personalities pop in and out without backgrounding sufficient to the intended general reader and some sentences are quite clumsy. Overall, this is a good general introduction to the period and cultures covered. Although tendentious, Fox is generally explicit in noting when his opinions are extraordinary or controversial.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Nusinow

    This book was more of a slog for me than it should have been. I have to agree wholly with Kontika's review in that the first Greek half of the book is far weaker. Unfortunately, knowing less about Greek history than Roman, this is the half I was more interested in. It's clear that the author is a real expert on Greek history, but because of this he frequently gets bogged down addressing contentious questions that plague his field. This goes against the idea of a single high-level introductory ov This book was more of a slog for me than it should have been. I have to agree wholly with Kontika's review in that the first Greek half of the book is far weaker. Unfortunately, knowing less about Greek history than Roman, this is the half I was more interested in. It's clear that the author is a real expert on Greek history, but because of this he frequently gets bogged down addressing contentious questions that plague his field. This goes against the idea of a single high-level introductory overview that the book attempts to be. When he gets to Roman history he almost entirely leaves these questions behind, spending much more time on the story that he says he's trying to tell. Another flaw in the book is that he spends whole chapters on the historians that have informed our understanding of the classical world. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it felt very much like historian "inside baseball" for such a broadly general book. All of this said, it's a good high-level overview of a very long time span, and it does manage to cover an impressive amount of ground. I've yet to see a book that attempts to do what this one does, but I think that another competitor, or just a well edited second edition, could achieve much more in this space. Given that I don't know of another book like it that's out right now, if you're interested in a single book that conceptually attempts to tell you what the classical Greek and Roman worlds were like over a long time span, this is definitely the book for you.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gavin

    Was tired of my own titanic ignorance (Where was Carthage? Were Spartans Communist? Did Greeks love their wives? What did upper class women do all day?) and mostly got ok answers. Bit of a story-book, though he does always tell us when he papers over something controversial. Most common phrases in this are ‘surely’ and ‘in my view’ (e.g. he just says that the Greeks probably had our kind of parental affections), which is nice. Classicists really do get a lot of room to make stuff up (cough, I me Was tired of my own titanic ignorance (Where was Carthage? Were Spartans Communist? Did Greeks love their wives? What did upper class women do all day?) and mostly got ok answers. Bit of a story-book, though he does always tell us when he papers over something controversial. Most common phrases in this are ‘surely’ and ‘in my view’ (e.g. he just says that the Greeks probably had our kind of parental affections), which is nice. Classicists really do get a lot of room to make stuff up (cough, I mean abduction, inference to the best explanation).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    a historical summary by an academic who knows his primary sources. he has his (understandable) favourites - pliny, hadrian. all fine, plenty of compressed erudition. almost nothing on less traditional approaches to classics, e.g. economic history. but my main problem was that, contrary to the excerpted reviews on the cover and to the title, i found the writing dull. it didn't bring to life what really was an epic time that did change the world and still greatly molds how we think and act. a historical summary by an academic who knows his primary sources. he has his (understandable) favourites - pliny, hadrian. all fine, plenty of compressed erudition. almost nothing on less traditional approaches to classics, e.g. economic history. but my main problem was that, contrary to the excerpted reviews on the cover and to the title, i found the writing dull. it didn't bring to life what really was an epic time that did change the world and still greatly molds how we think and act.

  28. 4 out of 5

    s

    this would be fine-- except for the almost complete lack of social history and the personality of Fox (misogynist, priggish, bizarrely prejudiced). Robin Lane Fox is of a species that we all assume extinct but somehow continues to flourish at Oxbridge-- the old reactionary, deeply annoying, self-absorbed fox hunting toff.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julie Akeman

    Finally done!! That book has a lot of information but it is wonderfully organized and I feel ready to read some historical fiction that takes place during the Classical time period. One in particular I am thinking of is Hadrian's Wall. The Classical World is a pretty hefty read but so worth it when you want a broad scope of the Classical history. Finally done!! That book has a lot of information but it is wonderfully organized and I feel ready to read some historical fiction that takes place during the Classical time period. One in particular I am thinking of is Hadrian's Wall. The Classical World is a pretty hefty read but so worth it when you want a broad scope of the Classical history.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Also just ordered from Amazon. Ancient world kick continues!

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