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The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome [Paperback]

Robin Lane Fox
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 July 2006

Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome is a comprehensive and enthralling introduction to Ancient civilization.

The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome dominated the world for centuries and continue to intrigue and enlighten us with their inventions, whether philosophy, politics, theatre, athletics, celebrity, science or the pleasures of horse racing. Robin Lane Fox's spellbinding history, spans almost a thousand years of change from the foundation of the world's first democracy in Athens to the Roman Republic and the Empire under Hadrian.

Bringing great figures such as Homer, Socrates, Cicero, Alexander, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Augustus and the first Christian martyrs to life, exploring freedom, justice and luxury, this wonderfully exciting tour brings the turbulent histories of Greece and Rome together in a masterly study.

'Epic in the true sense'
  The Times Books of the Year

'He writes supremely well ... a keen eye for the telling detail and powerful example ... the humanity of the exercise shines through ... compulsory, and compulsive, reading'
   Peter Jones, Sunday Telegraph

Robin Lane Fox is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and a University Reader in Ancient History. His other books include Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians and The Unauthorized Version. He was historical advisor to Oliver Stone on the making of Stone's film Alexander, for which he waived all his fees on condition that he could take part in the cavalry charge against elephants which Stone staged in the Moroccan desert.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; First Thus edition (6 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141021411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141021416
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 24,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The Classical World is a more epic epic than any toga-clad celluloid epic to date... Mr Lane Fox's brilliant book, where soldiers, poets and orators fight for attention in a story that is never cluttered and always stimulating. (The Economist)

witty, ferociously learned, enormously well read (Mary Beard, The Independent)

an ambitious and exhilarating volume...The Classical World is so replete with insight and anecdote that I would love to see it in every school library. (Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday)

we are in the hands of an author who knows that an epic can only be driven by big characters such as Pericles, Demosthenes, Philip, Cicero, Pompey, Caesar and Cleopatra...Here lies the author's mastery, matching a lifelong familiarity with his subject to the basic needs of a newly arrived apprentice (Nigel Spivey, FT)

About the Author

Robin Lane Fox was born in 1946 and educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and a University Reader in Ancient History. His other books include Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians and The Unauthorized Version. He was historical advisor to Oliver Stone on the making of Stone's film Alexander, for which he waived all his fees on condition that he could take part in the cavalry charge against elephants which Stone staged in the Moroccan desert.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I first came across Robin Lane Fox's work when I read his brilliant biography of Alexander the Great. In this book, Lane Fox takes a broader brush to paint a picture of the Classical worlds of Greece and Rome, from the age of Homer to the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.

The early sections on the Archaic Greek World are a bit of struggle. Most of our evidence for this period comes from the archaeological record, leaving a lot of speculation about the events of the age, which only comes down to us in fragments from later Greek writers. These chapters help set the scene, but they are not as exciting as the later sections simply because they lack the human dimension. Lane Fox is at his finest when he describes the struggles and achievements of the individual, and not the physical remains of the Classical World.

It is in when the book reaches the period of the 5th century BC that the book really starts to shine. Lane Fox gives us a vivid view of men like Socrates and Pericles, and also the everyday lives of the classical Athenians, including a look at the lives of the Greek women and children.

He also provides brilliant chapters on the Julio-Claudians, the Punic Wars, and the Hellenistic World. Yet he also covers subjects as diverse as the Roman Army, diplomacy, Greek philosophy, technology, sports and a dozen other subjects.

One of the strengths of this book is Robin Lane Fox's text, which is lucid and very readable. He is a great writer who is able to impart a lot of information in short chunks. Most chapters only run for a few pages ( on average 13 pages) which makes them readable and accessible, and especially good if you want to read a few chapters at a time.
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Olympian in every sense 13 Jan 2006
Robin Lane Fox, well known for his books on Alexander, has here produced one of the best overviews of classical Greek and Roman history, from the emergence of preclassical Greece to its second coming, so to speak, under Hadrian, that most philhellenic of Romans. Urbane but enthusiastic, revealing an immense learning very lightly, Lane Fox is unashamedly narrative in his approach. Essentially a Hellenist, he is perhaps unfair to some of the Romans - especially to the emperor Augustus whose achievements as a ruler surely atone for his lack of appeal as a man. Both Homer's world at the book's start, and that of the emperor Hadrian at the book's end, were aristocratic. Although Lane Fox treats the rise and fall of Athenian democracy very favourably, his general viewpoint is also elevated, unfashionably so. He concentrates on political and military events, rather ignoring cultural factors. For Greece especially, this is an omission. But overall, while his Olympian narrative may not impress some specialists, it will probably still be read with fascination and appreciation long after more specialist works have been forgotten. Lane Fox can stand deservedly in the grand narrative tradition of Gibbon.
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88 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classical History - Short, Sweet, Elegant 21 Aug 2006
By Withnail67 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding sweep across hundreds of years of Classical Greek and Roman history by a very fine scholar with a well-tuned popular touch.

Ranging from the poet Homer in the 7th century BCE, to the Roman 'First Citizen' Hadrian surveying his empire from the Tyne to the Euphrates, Lane Fox communicates a lifetime experience of teaching the Classics in one compact volume, deliciously divided into chapters which can capture an era or event in one pre-sleep bite! His view is even handed, but his enthusiasm for figures such as Pliny and Cicero shine out. He also has a soft spot for gardeners...

This is an excellent starting point for further reading, with excellent and easily usable notes and bibliographies. The illustrations are fascinatingly discussed in an appendix. I especially enjoyed the careful modern nuances that alluded to 'spin' and 'regime change' - these can be clumsy in lesser writers, but they were revealing and apposite here.

A very very fine book covering a vital aspect of human history, and essential to fully understand the Western World with all its achievements, weaknesses and cruelties.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A narrative stroll through 800 years of history 1 July 2009
Engagingly written, this book sweeps through classical history, driven by a circular structure that begins and ends with Hadrian, the hellenophile Roman emperor. As an introduction to the topic, its focus is on personalities that the average reader will have heard of, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. With admirable brevity, the narrative fleshes out these individuals (and many more besides) and offers a succinct appraisal of their lives, times, feats and flaws. But they are carefully placed in context, and the chronology is rarely disturbed; and after a chapter or two, the reader is swept along into the story of the succession or the legacy, and before we know it we have been blown 50 years into the future.

So much for the facts and the politics. To give a taste of the social life and mores of these times, Robin Lane Fox chooses three themes and threads them through his narrative: freedom, justice and luxury. Although this lends shape to his story, the regular recourse to these themes occasionally feels repetitive and sometimes the analysis seems hurried and strays off-topic. If you've read any Erich Fromm, then Lane Fox's comparison of 'freedom to' versus 'freedom from', for example, will feel overlong and uninspired.

Nonetheless the strength of the book is in the little details with which he chooses to illustrate the era. Possessing an eye for populism, the author concentrates more on sexual mores than on the other staples of life (birth, tax, death). I was particularly impressed with his writing about urbanism: neither too technical nor too frivolous, I got a real sense of the eternal construction and reconstruction of the principal cities; of the fact that, over eight centuries, the physical world kept growing and fading away, while what we know as civilisation -- or history -- ploughed forward with a rapidity that feels terrifyingly modern.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good book - an interesting and informative read
Published 2 months ago by enchantment
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
To write a book on this subject, an author requires a depth of knowledge that is not available to your average scribe and Lane Fox displays all the credentials for the task. Read more
Published 11 months ago by RR
5.0 out of 5 stars A sound and interesting history
A good read and as always with Robin Lane Fox the assurance of finely researched scholarship. He has a singlular frame of mind which is refreshing.
Published 11 months ago by Breagha
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and great read
Needed a book spanning all the Classics period but put in context and could either be read from end to end or dipped into for facts. Read more
Published 12 months ago by CQRH0
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
I think it is one of the best book
It is very precise and very elaborated book !!!
I suggest this book to everyone
Published 18 months ago by evaghelos michilios
5.0 out of 5 stars College work
I bought this book for college and found that it was outstanding and easy to follow and made my course work a lot easier
Published 19 months ago by john mabbley
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Introduction to the Ancient World
If, like me, all you know about Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome is either what you picked up at school or through popular culture, and heavily biased towards the Roman occupation... Read more
Published 24 months ago by S. Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars Bored Lawyer
Having read ancient history books extensively as a hobby over the decades,this has been the most enjoyable, fluent and accessible read thus far. Read more
Published on 13 Mar 2012 by bored lawyer
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent buy
This was an excellent buy, as an undergraduate in Ancient History it has become most beneficial to my learning. Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2011 by Emilyj92
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but biased and with detail flaws
As other reviewers have remarked, this is definitely a good read and the narrative simply draws you in. Read more
Published on 7 Mar 2011 by Indiscriminate Reader
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