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The Fall Of The West: The Death Of The Roman Superpower [Paperback]

Adrian Goldsworthy
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Feb 2010

The Fall of the Roman Empire has been a best-selling subject since the 18th century. Since then, over 200 very diverse reasons have been advocated for the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire. Until very recently, the academic view embarrassedly downplayed the violence and destruction, in an attempt to provide a more urbane account of late antiquity: barbarian invasions were mistakenly described as the movement of peoples. It was all painfully tame and civilised.

But now Adrian Goldsworthy comes forward with his trademark combination of clear narrative, common sense, and a thorough mastery of the sources. In telling the story from start to finish, he rescues the era from the diffident and mealy-mouthed: this is a red-blooded account of aggressive barbarian attacks, palace coups, scheming courtiers and corrupt emperors who set the bar for excess. It is 'old fashioned history' in the best sense: an accessible narrative with colourful characters whose story reveals the true reasons for the fall of Rome.

Frequently Bought Together

The Fall Of The West: The Death Of The Roman Superpower + The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146BC (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) + In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (Phoenix Press)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; Reprint edition (4 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753826925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753826928
  • Product Dimensions: 3.9 x 13.7 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 125,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Goldsworthy describes this collapse with a strong, clear narrative, not forgetting that history is about stories, individual stories of horror and tragedy, while also describing the wider story. (CATHOLIC HERALD)

Book Description

A sweeping narrative of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

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

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - but mistitled! 1 Nov 2009
By bookelephant TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I take issue with and agree with some of the other reviews in about equal measure. I agree with a previous reviewer that calling this book the Fall of the West is somewhat misleading - and I suspect that the editors are to blame for this, because when one reads Goldsworthy's introduction is is quite clear that he is not purporting to cover just the fall of the West (likewise misleading - as a second reviewer notes - is the title's reference to "superpower", inviting a parallel with the US which the introduction expressly disavows). The point re "Fall of the West" links with a third reviewer's comment: "Why not just read Peter Heather?". Again the answer is to be found in the introduction - and actually again and again throughout the text - Heather starts later and really does deal with the fall per se; what Goldsworthy is aiming to do is something quite different. Indeed this book is in part designed as a riposte to Heather who starts his story in 376 and posits as his starting point a strong Empire which falls from that date. Goldsworthy's central point (which I think he makes very well indeed) is that the academic retreat from the picture given by Gibbon of a long decline predating the fall of the Roman Empire has been overdone. Yes, the Empire was strong in the C4 compared to most of the individual threats, but it was not the same empire that it had been 2 centuries earlier (and in fact if it had been a number of those threats might not have emerged). So if (like me) you read Heather and thought "Oh, so Gibbon was all wrong then?", do read this!! Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a Gibbon for our Time 25 Aug 2011
Adrian Goldsworthy's ambiguously titled history of the decline of the Roman Empire is a fine chronicle of the four centuries from Rome's zenith at the death of Marcus Aurelius, when it was the known world's sole and overwhelming superpower, to its collapse in the West and its diminution in the East to a mere rump state in the Balkans and Asia Minor, at the mercy of more powerful neighbours.

The 'West' in question is the Western Empire, which fell both politically and culturally, and fell absolutely. By the end of the sixth century there was little recognisably Roman of the inhabitants of its former lands. However, in the introduction and conclusion there's an explicit parallel with the current relative decline of the West, with particular reference to the US and UK, set against the rise of countries like China and India.

The big question underlying the book is 'why?', although most of the time the one being asked is 'how'. Only infrequently does Goldsworthy step back to consider the big picture: the great tide of events and the forces moving them. This is primarily a narrative of what happened.

It's a ferociously ambitious undertaking to fit it all into barely more than 400 pages, excluding appendices. That inevitably requires omissions. The Roman culture, lifestyle and economy are referenced but only briefly; the primary focus is on politics and the secondary is military - though these two frequently interlink. Even the main narrative can become confusing, particularly during periods of extreme instability when emperors and would-be emperors come and go with bewildering regularity, or when there are several at any one time.

Even so, Goldsworthy is at his strongest telling the story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of the superpower 31 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this book, Goldsworthy covers not only the time after Constantine, but starts with the events of the 1st century AD. As usual, Goldsworthy gives a very good account of history in a very captivating manner. He covers quite a lot of ground and describes the civil wars and the plagues which are mainly blamed for the sapping away of the manpower of the Roman military force which in turn lead to its inabality to stand up against the barbarian invasions. He analyses the growth of the barbarian powers and shows how they contributed to the final fall of the Eternal City.

He presents his reasons why he downplays the importance of the hunnic war tactics (another authour has written on the subject where he talks a lot about the "wonder bow of the Huns") and the fate of Attila's empire after Attila's death would suppport Goldsworthy's theories.

However, Goldsworthy has not commented on the possible effect that the metal lead might have had on the population of the Western Empire. One of the effects of mild lead poisoning is lethargy. The Western Empire had used lead lined pipes in their water supply system unlike the Eastern Empire which had used earthern pipes.

I found this book a very good addition to my personal library and would unreservedly recommend it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting journey through later Rome 17 Aug 2010
By Kentspur VINE VOICE
Adrian Goldsworthy - Britain's most popular Roman historian - has produced a very interesting jog through the last three hundred years or so of Empire - from the death of Marcus Aurelius to the bitter end (and slightly more) in 476 AD, but it's not quite as good as Peter Heather's 'Fall of the Roman Empire,' which it is clearly a commentary on/rebuttal of.

Heather points to the essential solidity of the Empire - evidenced by the Tetrarchy of Diocletian - while Goldsworthy challenges this, using a detailed narrative to show quite how insecure Imperial purple had become in the third and fourth centuries and maintains that the Tetrarchy was a anomaly rather than evidence of underlying strength. Goldsworthy makes the good point that vast institutions - like Rome - take some time to falter. He also shows - painstakingly - how insecure the life of a Caesar was with innumerable usurpations from governors, supposed illegitimate Imperial children, equestrian soldiers and how Emperors became pre-occupied with dealing with internal threats rather than those hirsute chaps just over the Danube, hence internal versus external collapse model. This is cogently argued, however the plethora of insurrectionist detail that Goldsworthy uses to make his point makes the narrative confusing. 'Who the Hell is this guy?' is a question you often end up asking yourself.

Nevertheless I thought it was great. I liked the fact he states early doors that this is a book about Rome - not a metaphorical examination of the USA. I liked it when he said a story might not be one hundred per cent accurate but it's a damn good story so worth including.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A superb but biaised read
This superb book tells the very well-written story of "the Fall of the West" (that is the Western part of the Roman Empire) by adopting a somewhat "Gibbonesque"... Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2012 by JPS
5.0 out of 5 stars Clue's in the story
Great book and he proves his point, that narrative history can also explain if well written. Thus the empire was too big from the start (so Rome the city was rarely the capital of... Read more
Published on 6 Nov 2011 by D. Cheshire
5.0 out of 5 stars Narrative history at its best
This is a really first rate book. It's quite a weighty book and looked a bit daunting when I arrived, but I was hooked within the first few pages. Read more
Published on 14 July 2011 by J. P. Swinfen Green
4.0 out of 5 stars Good narrative history
Adrian Goldsworthy has written a fine narrative history of the Roman Empire from 180 AD to 640, focusing on its internal conflicts. Read more
Published on 16 Oct 2009 by William Podmore
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Popular Book on the Fall of Rome
The title says it all - Goldsworthy does it again with a fabulous history book, which reads so well one wishes that he also wrote historical fiction. Read more
Published on 24 Aug 2009 by Dorothy King
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
As a big fan of both Goldsworthy and Late Empire History I was looking forward to this. Sadly I should have saved my money. Read more
Published on 25 July 2009 by berencamlost7
4.0 out of 5 stars Decline and Fall of the Roman Superpower
For those anxious to seek parallels between the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and the current US superpower, you are likely to be disappointed, although the book makes very... Read more
Published on 24 May 2009 by CM Weston
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not exactly what title suggests
I love all Goldsworthy previous books and even if this one is still etremely accurate and no less interesting I confess a bit dissapointed. Read more
Published on 19 April 2009 by Surenas
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book looking at one of the most fascinating and contensious...
The Fall of the West by Adrian Goldsworthy is a very good book dealing with the last three centuries of the Roman Empire in the West. Read more
Published on 16 Mar 2009 by HBH
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