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The Ancient Guide to Modern Life [Paperback]

Natalie Haynes
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

3 May 2012
It's time for us to re-examine the past. Our lives are infinitely richer if we take the time to look at what the Greeks and Romans have given us in politics and law, religion and philosophy and education, and to learn how people really lived in Athens, Rome, Sparta and Alexandria. This is a book with a serious point to make but the author isn't simply a classicist but a comedian and broadcaster who has made television and radio documentaries about humour, education and Dorothy Parker. This is a book for us all.Whether political, cultural or social, there are endless parallels between the ancient and modern worlds. Whether it's the murder of Caesar or the political assassination of Thatcher; the narrative arc of the hit HBO series The Wire or that of Oedipus; the popular enthusiasm for the Emperor Titus or President Obama - over and over again we can be seen to be living very much like people did 2,000 or more years ago.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (3 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846683246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846683244
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Natalie Haynes is a writer, broadcaster, reviewer and classicist. She was once a stand-up comic, but retired when she realised she preferred tragedy to comedy. Always keen to be paid for what she would be reading anyway, she judged the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2010, The Women's Prize for Fiction in 2012, and the Man Booker Prize in 2013. The Amber Fury is her first novel.

Product Description


"'Reminds us (or tells us) about people, events and practices in the Greek and Roman world, and at the same time explores their contemporary echoes and parallels. A classic double-whammy, in fact - and delivered with wonderful energy, wit, zeal and expertise. Irresistible' (Andrew Motion) 'As wise as Socrates, as witty as Aristophanes, as modern as tomorrow - a classic for our times' (Gyles Brandreth)"

Book Description

How modern are our lives? Or are we still living the lives our ancestors lived?

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a really, really good episode of QI 3 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A well, written, witty and engaging overview of various aspects of life in ancient Greece and Rome, showing that human nature, civilisation and our social institutions haven't changed as much as you might think over the millennia. As someone whose school didn't offer any sort of classical education (presumably considering it elitist; I wish our LEA had read this book!) The Ancient Guide to Modern Life provided a fascinating insight into some of the stories we're all vaguely aware of - and they made much more sense afterwards. Why DID the Trojans fall for the old wooden horse ruse? You'll find out when you read this book. A perfect stocking filler for the thinking person.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A modern take on ancient life 29 Aug 2011
By anozama
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Natalie Haynes' entertaining foray through Ancient Cultures is diverting enough. Her objective - to draw wisdom and wit from the comparisons between their lives and ours - is a laudable one.

The main message is that life wasn't that different. Ancient life was in some ways surprisingly good (Athenian democracy, Rome's meticulous laws), in other ways appallingly bad (Spartan infanticide; Hebrews' genocide), but generally predictably ugly (hooliganism, corruption,status obsession, profound racism and sexism; politics and intrigue; futile wars. The relentless tragedies of Greek Culture; the egotistical tempestuousness of the mythical Roman Gods. Socrates' execution for agnosticism).

Overall, it felt like a survey of arbritary similarities and differences, conveyed in a rather airy style - sometimes humorous, sometimes glib - with a few random witticisms. Surprisingly, for a comedian, what it really lacked was a good punchline.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I have enjoyed reading Nathalie Haynes' articles in newspapers whenever they are left on the train but had no idea of her classical background. My own love affair with Latin fizzled out after my first recitation of "amo, amas, amat".

So this book was not, perhaps, one that i would have sought out had it not been recommended by a fellow scientist. What strikes me about this book is the author's combination of knowledge and communications skills, the latter benefitting from her earlier career as a stand-up comedienne.

Haynes' genius is to blend comedy, up-to-date examples and very precise language, and to add very pithy definitions of the terminology and issues that she is discussing. As a result, this book is a pleasure to read and, what is more important at my advanced age, REMEMBER. Her aim, which she achieves completely, is to contrast the obvious differences between antiquity and our world today, and to point out the many similarities.

Very sensibly, Haynes begins with an Introduction which calms the nervous reader. In successive chapters, she deals with:
Politics (entitled Old World Order): The word "barbarian" originated from the strange sounding language of foreigners - "bar-bar-bar", Julius Caesar's final words were really "kai su teknon?", "Even you, my son?", Votes for women.

Laws (How Many Angry Men?): Apophasis, tricolon, asyndeton and litotes - all employed by great orators of the past, Cicero and Perry Mason, the crime for parricide being to be scourged then thrown into the Tiber in a sack with a dog, rooster, snake and a monkey.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The premise of this book is that our lives will be enriched if we look at what has been passed down to us from the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome. She looks at politics, warfare, women, religion, philosophy, art and culture. But instead of producing a terribly worthy (and, perhaps, dull) piece of work she offers us instead a witty and erudite work comparing our present to the past.

As well as being informative it is all good fun - you can hear her voice in every sentence. The best chapters (in which her writing really comes alive) were the ones on women and on "show business". Most of the Greek women are fictional as the Greeks preferred to keep their wives and daughters well away from public life. These come over as a terrifying bunch - wily seductresses and vengeful murderesses. But Medea and Dido had a pretty bad time of it so no wonder they didn't behave well. Other wives are shown to have been patient and faithful (such as Penelope and Andromache) though in the end it doesn't do them much good.....

The flawed hero is still a staple of literature today. Instead of Odysseus, Jason and Oedipus we now have Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Rebus and Wallander - all troubled in their own ways. She says: "It is, perhaps, a sign of our times that self-destruction should have become rather more internalised and rather less about poking out eyes with pins." Until reading this book I hadn't made a connection between Stringer Bell (of The Wire) and Oedipus but, yes, I can see that now....

I have been a fan of Natalie Haynes ever since she recommended (and got me hooked on) Battlestar Galactica. She writes with style and wit.

Very informative - and great fun along the way.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book to dip into. Shall find some more Natalie Haynes - thanks for introducing me to her. Maria
Published 2 months ago by Maria Fallows
3.0 out of 5 stars What Guide?
Plenty of the Ancient stuff but a bit weak on the guide to Modern Life. A very pleasant introduction to the brave philosophy and brutal justice of the Ancients but the comparisons... Read more
Published 4 months ago by TONY RICHARDS
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new
An interesting examination of the relevance of "ancient history" to situations still being encountered today. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Michael Allen
3.0 out of 5 stars Mildly entertaining
When I read a non-fiction book, I like to learn something new. My difficulty with this book was that, although light, easy to read and amusing in places, it didn't contain any... Read more
Published 12 months ago by FEC23
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun, entertaining and informative
I wasn't sure about this book before I started it; was it going to be a dreary exercise in trying to make the ancient world relevant to today? Read more
Published 17 months ago by Simon Binning
2.0 out of 5 stars not convinced
now i might have been spoilt for this book by John O'Farrell, who, if you're not sure where to begin, writes a funny history book. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Miss J. Griffin
5.0 out of 5 stars really enjoyable if you like the ancient world
I loved this book - very readable and witty along the way. It was a good nostalgic journey for me because I studied Classics for A Level fifteen years ago. Read more
Published on 30 Sep 2012 by Ms. R.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and funny
Excellent, I thoroughly enjoyed this. The parallels from the ancient world to modern issues are striking and the writing is sharp and amusing.
Published on 17 Sep 2012 by Jo Brookes
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read - everyone should read this!
I've only just finished this book and cannot express how much I enjoyed it. As a former Latin student, I found many familiar things in this book, but also many concepts and... Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2012 by Serafina
1.0 out of 5 stars Not convinced sorry
It's a tricky thing to be light and amusing while educating. I don't think this pulls it off.

I was neither entertained nor learnt anything substantial. Read more
Published on 31 May 2012 by Alanm
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