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The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine

The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine [Kindle Edition]

Peter Thonemann , Simon Price
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

To an extraordinary extent we continue to live in the shadow of the classical world. At every level from languages to calendars to political systems, we are the descendants of a 'classical Europe', using frames of reference created by ancient Mediterranean cultures.

As this consistently fresh and surprising new book makes clear, however, this was no less true for the inhabitants of those classical civilizations themselves, whose myths, history, and buildings were an elaborate engagement with an already old and revered past filled with great leaders and writers, emigrations and battles. Indeed, much of the reason we know so much about the classical past is the obsessive importance it held for so many generations of Greeks and Romans, who interpreted and reinterpreted their changing casts of heroes and villains. Figures such as Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar loom large in our imaginations today, but they were themselves fascinated by what had preceded them.

The Birth of Classical Europe is therefore both an authoritative history, and also a fascinating attempt to show how our own changing values and interests have shaped our feelings about an era which is by some measures very remote but by others startlingly close.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 39932 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (29 April 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003P9XCPI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #256,786 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but Kindle edition flawed 20 Dec 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While I'm not going to disagree with much of Jane-Anne's assessment (though I found the section on Republican Rome a little too much a mixture of a slightly patronizing presentation of basic info mixed with debunking views of scholarship that the general reader is hardly likely to be aware of, and it seemed quite misleading in places - someone being 'proscribed' doesn't mean his being 'put to death for [his] money', surely a 'simplification' that will seriously mislead) the main problem I have had with my Kindle copy this that neither the plates nor the page numbers would display. Most Penguins give page numbers; this apparently doesn't. More infuriating is the lack of plates (I'm reading on a Kindle app on an iPad). Come on, Penguin, update the files for us so we can read ALL the book we paid for.
Otherwise, if you'd like a slightly longer and more detailed view of the ancient world, try Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome (also from Penguin).
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent, even better than I expected from the reviews. It takes an effort to engage with the content, but is well worth the effort.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Glory and the Grandeur 17 Feb 2011
By Charlus - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How do we know what we know about the Ancient World? The authors of this terrific history are willing to reveal the translation process from findings to speculations. Archeological evidence is interpreted and at times reinterpreted to explain what we think we know about what happened between two and four thousand years ago in Europe. The data used is current and findings from just the past few years are referenced to support various hypotheses.

Nonetheless this book isn't an archeological dig but a full scale history. Finding a history that covers both Greece and Rome (with side trips to the Near East and Africa) can be difficult, but finding one that does a good job in under 400 pages is an accomplishment indeed. Although much is covered, the writing never feels like a skim. In fact, if a caveat can be made, it's that the writing at times can be too dense. Saying that, it is always clear and jargon-free.

Another strength is the wealth of maps and charts that clarify the text, and the aptly chosen color plates, the latter used more sparingly.

Many ideas are controversial which has lead some reviewers to direct this book to the specialists. Controversial ideas are presented as such and the data for and against are easily followed (the African influence on Ancient Greece, whether flipping the evidence supports either Greek or Phoenician presence in the colony of Al Mina in the Levant, for example).

This volume continues the outstanding precedence of the Penguin History of Europe series that have previously produced excellent single author volumes to satisfy the academic as well as the general reader. This is probably the best and most up-to-date single volume text covering both Greek and Roman history currently in print.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Decent Introduction 25 Oct 2011
By Arch Stanton - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Before reviewing the book I'd like to discuss the series which it is a part of. The problem with the Penguin History of Europe series is that they are terribly inconsistent. This book is designed as a basic introduction for beginners while others attempt a serious overview of the era in question. The book immediately following this one (even though it was written before it) was The Inheritance of Rome. It covered the Dark Ages, or more precisely the period from 400-1000 AD. This book covers 1750 BC-425 AD. That's 600 years vs. 2175! Admittedly most of the Bronze Age material is dismissed in a chapter, but the section on Classical Greece doesn't even start until page 113. So after covering over 1200 years of history in 100 pages they have 200 pages in which to cover 900 years. The later ones cover even less time than Inheritance. Europe in the High Middle Ages covers about 300 years while The Pursuit of Glory covers about half that. I know it makes sense to spend more time on fewer years as we get closer to the present since the quality and number of the sources increase, but they have seriously limited the value of the Classical era and relegated it to little more than an introductory volume to their series. In my opinion, if you're going to do something then do it properly. If you don't want to cover the Classical Era then you don't have to.

This brings us to the question of intent. What is the purpose of these books? What audience are they written for? This one will never be used by scholars as a serious source. Which is fine, except that the other books don't match. The Inheritance of Rome is a very detailed book which, while comprehensible for a beginner, is useful for the scholar as well. The Pursuit of Glory is even less like this in that it is divided up by topics instead of being a narrative. The length is also a difference. While this book clocks in at under 400 pages, both Inheritance and Glory are around 700. That is despite the fact that they cover smaller time periods. While enforced and absolute consistency is not to be desired in a series such as this, a basic agreement on the target audience and depth would seem essential.

So having said that, what do I think of the book? It's alright. It serves its purpose which is to detail the early history of Europe as a background to the later books in the series. As an introduction it's pretty good too. It is easy to read and includes the material expected of it. As you might guess I'm not particularly enthused about this book, but if I have little praiseworthy to say then similarly I have little to condemn. The book does serve its basic purpose well, and anyone who's read little or nothing on this period could read far worse books on the topic than this.

One of the good features about this book is how up-to-date it is. I don't just mean that it is a new book, but that it includes the most recent scholarly information on this period. Generally books such as this are a decade or so behind the times, but this one manages to stay on top of its sources and for that it should be praised. Another good feature is that it connects the events of the Bronze and Dark Ages to the Classical Age. A lot of general books start with the Trojan War and then jump to the 500s and deal with the Classical Greeks. Which has always seemed somewhat cheap. As if nothing happened in between! It may not cover that period in much detail but it does cover it and this definitely makes it easier to understand the connection. Another major plus is the number of illustrations. These consist of maps, diagrams and photos and show up all over. The maps are particularly useful while the photographs are very nice and provide images of many of the places discussed. The description under the photos are good as well. Each photo usually demonstrates something with only a few thrown in there just as a nice view.

A feature of this book which I don't remember seeing in the others of this series are the digressions on various topics. These sections are highlighted and pop up as separate blocks of text. This is similar to what they include in modern textbooks, which seems to confirm my theory about the intended readership. These sections are usually interesting points that would be irrelevant and distract from the narrative if they were included in the main text. I'm not completely convinced of their effectiveness. In a textbook with its bigger pages and denser printing its possible to have these digressions on the side without interrupting the text. Since this is a shorter book it takes over the book completely until it is finished. On the whole I think that these sections should have been deleted or streamlined into the text. I liked the way that Wickham in his 'Inheritance of Rome' book did it. He put these quotes and digressions at the beginning of the chapter to serve as an introduction to the subject. Something like that would have served him better here.

I honestly don't understand the purpose of books like this. They cover too wide a period in too short a space and are bound to be superficial. The only use would be if the author pushes a certain overarching interpretation of human history (like H.G. Wells did) and uses the history as proof. This book doesn't really push any one angle and generally follows the traditional interpretation. I guess that books like this provide a basic outline, but even so being a little longer would help. If I were the publisher I'd have made room for two books of this length and covered the Greeks and Romans separately. That would at least have given them room to get into a little depth. As it is it seems like a series of isolated incidents thinly connected together. They could easily have written twice as much and still only have cracked the surface. While I can't blame the authors for not splitting their topic into multiple books since the nature of the series prohibited it, I still feel that they should have written much more. If this book had been as long as those other two it might have achieved something. As it is they cover about six and a half years with every page. It feels diluted almost to the point of uselessness.

So there you have it. If you want a general history of Ancient Europe then this is an excellent place to start. If you want something that will cover the material that you might find in a textbook without the tediousness of that medium then thus might be the book for you. If you've read up on the era before then this work will provide nothing new for you.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed, but who cares? 20 Sep 2011
By Brionesflash - Published on
This entertaining book is a collection of original insights, anecdotes, and asides about different periods in history, from the murky past of the second millenium B.C. to the well-documented period of the Roman Empire, with even a few interesting fast-forwards to the present age. The book has no apparent continuity (although the chapters do), and that is its strength. It appears to be about things that interest the authors, and those things should interest the reader as well (I found just about every page fascinating). Sure, the authors pay lip service to a Theme, because we are all taught at some point that everything must have one (in this case, it is something about cultural memory), but the Theme seems thin and imposed.

This is a perfect book for a layperson, very readable and well-written. After spending more than a year slogging through Gibbon's superlative "Decline and Fall", "The Birth of Classical Europe" is a refreshing overview of the same period, with an extra 1500 years thrown in as a bonus. I would bet that scholars also would find this book to be interesting and insightful, although they may not admit to it because it is so much fun to read. I wanted to send emails to the authors thanking them for writing it, but this review will do instead (and hopefully get more people to read it). I hope they will not be offended because I found that the book offers hundreds of excellent little insights, but not one big point.

One note of caution: the reader should come to this book armed with some (perhaps even a lot of) pre-knowledge of classical history because there might be too much in the book to absorb otherwise.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what it appears to be... 31 Jan 2014
By Nowhere Man - Published on
The title, "The Birth of Classical Europe," implies a broad survey of ancient history "from Troy to Augustine," but that's not really what this book provides. Instead, its a more specific study on the ways that Ancient Greeks and Romans appropriated myths and history for political purposes. The authors deftly show how provincial cities or regions acquired by the Athenaen or Roman Empires would seek to curry favor or privilege by connecting themselves to mythic stories or invented shared genealogies with their imperial masters. Gods, myths and history, then, served as forms of "soft power," as way for imperial states to bind their colonies and provinces to them through the constructing of a shared culture.

Price and Thonemann's shows how these ancient peoples constructed usable pasts for themselves in a clear and engaging manner. There's little academic jargon here and the authors even manage to make descriptions of archaeological sites interesting. Yet, this is a specialized study. If you're looking for a survey treatment of the rise of Athens, say, or the fall of the Roman Republic, or the collapse of the Roman Empire, you will be disappointed. Most of the 'standard' topics of ancient history are rather cursorily treated and the authors do assume that you already have learned much of this background information already. Charles Freeman's "Egypt, Greece, and Rome" is far better as a comprehensive survey that fleshes out all the important details.

I would have changed the (misleading) title to something like, "The Construction of Classical Culture," which would give a better impression of the author's real concerns. As it is, it is a fascinating look at how the ancients used their own myths and histories but it should not be anyone's introductory read on classical civilization.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic book, worth a second read 17 Aug 2013
By lakeqi - Published on
I'm not the type to read books twice, but this book has vaulted to the top of my list of books that I will, in theory, one day re-read. But not for the enjoyment so much, as for the fact that I barely remember anything in it,and of all things I've ever read, it seems to me, this stuff should be remembered. Its an important topic, and an important book on human history.Really, so much came from this particular area and this particular period. This is the book that makes you understand, even though you've heard it before, just how the importance of Europe to world history came to be. This book makes the last two thousand years look like the blink of an eye. Its a very enjoyable book. My only criticism is that it ends up saying very little about the barbarian invasions of Rome and tends to focus on the growth of Christianity, so if you're expecting much on that aspect look elsewhere.The part on the rise of Greece is especially good. Great book.
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