on 23 April 2006
Well who whould have belived it! Boris Johnson, the blonde buffoon from "Have I got News For You", the Tory M.P. for Maidenhead forced by Michael Howard to make a fool of himself by apogising to the City of Liverpool, the former editor of the Spectator who got caught with his pants down by the tabloids,has writen one of the best and least stuffy books on Rome and it`s Empire for a long time. This book is both infomative and at the same time very funny, at one point Boris recomends that every child in the E.U. should be required to read Aeneid by the time of their 16 birthday, wrong Boris, every child should read this book to give them a glimmer of where the Europe we know comes from.Well done Boris, give up all the rest of what your into and stick to writing you have a future in it.One small drawback is that the black and white photo`s are poor, a few colour plates would have improved it.
on 10 February 2010
I've just finished a great book written by - would you believe it - Boris Johnson! I have a bit of a soft spot for Boris. Well alright, a lot. I can't see him without grinning. Not only is he one of the true English eccentrics, there's a fierce intellect lurking behind that flustered exterior.
The Dream of Rome is a warm, well-written and funny book which takes as its starting-point the signing of the EU Treaty: its chosen symbolism and imagery, its aims, and ultimately its failures. As Boris puts it, 'it is a formidable ambition, and one would have to be a pretty hard-bitten sort of Euro sceptic not to be filled with admiration for what they are trying to achieve. Call me idealistic, but I think it would be a rather wonderful thing if the peoples of Europe did indeed share the same mind and will. Believe me, they do not, nor are they likely to do so in my lifetime or yours.'
In looking at the various spanners in the EU works (and Boris makes a pretty good case for his above sentiment) he examines just how far the EU have tried to emulate the imagery and sentiments of the Roman Empire, and why: Rome's multiculturalism, economic success, and general peacefulness lasted for 400 years and at its peak stretched from Scotland to Libya. How did they do it? What could we learn from their example? And ultimately, what toppled the empire?
Boris (see how I feel like I'm on first name terms with him?) provides a potted history of Rome's greatest achievements and struggles, beginning with the Emperor Augustus (fans of the HBO series Rome may remember he was Atia Caesar's then-emasculated young son Octavian) and the development of the Emperor cult (with an interesting aside on how early Christianity modelled Jesus's mythology along incredibly similar lines). Then the lion's share of the book is a witty and enthusiastic examination of the empire at its height and how it fostered the desire for citizenship in its people: its structure, its adaptability, its economics, its entertainments and its single currency. Of course there were struggles and resistance to put it mildly, but many thousands of people wanted to be Roman in a way that people don't, or at least don't seem to want to be European today.
To conclude, Boris Johnson looks at the decline and fall of the empire; the weakening of the strict social hierarchy, the burgeoning of an overpaid and self-perpetuating bureaucracy (something we could definitely prick up our ears for today) and of course the wildfire spread of Christianity, why it appealed, how it was transmitted, and how/when it was persecuted. He finishes on a look at Islam, specifically Turkey's desired EU admission: he manages to knock the worst of Islamic belief without hiding behind the word 'culture' and also makes some sensible suggestions for the future without just crossing his fingers and hoping that liberal democracy will spread as rapidly as a virus.
Boris Johnson manages to move from 44BC to the present and makes the history feel lively and envigorating without sacrificing any of the gravitas of his central point. I'm no classical scholar but having read this book, I'd like to be: I'm now assured of its continued fascination and importance. In fact, his chief motivation in writing the book deserves to be quoted at length, as it says a hell of a lot about the modern UK and the types of people who have informed our education policy for the past 12 years:
'It may seem eccentric to begin by thanking a Labour cabinet minister, but I owe a debt to Charles Clarke for the candour with which he spoke in 2003 when he was Secretary of State for Education. He was discussing the study of ancient languages, literature and history, and offered the opinion - quite unprompted - that 'education for its own sake' was 'a bit dodgy'. He went on to say that he would 'not be much occupied' if the study of classics were to die out altogether in Britain. A few weeks later the British state's chief custodian of scholarship and learning made a speech in which he said that the study of medieval history was merely 'ornamental' and did not deserve taxpayers' money.
'As soon as I read those words, I was filled not just with fury, but also with real terror that these could be the instincts of people with the power of life and death over the curriculum. And I was grateful to Clarke for showing so clearly why you can never really trust other people to run the country, and why it is important, if you care about something, to seek political office and to try to wrest control from the hands of the thugs and barbarians...
'Of course classics passes the Charles Clarke test of utility, and with flying colours. It is far more vocationally useful than 'media studies', for instance, which has expanded by 464 per cent over the past ten years. It is no disrespect to students or teachers of that subject to say that many of its adherents would be far better off reading classics full-time, and reading the newspapers in their spare time...
'But I don't want to play Charles Clarke's game. I refuse to submit to his dreary utilitarian calculus. I would not mind if he could prove that classics added not a penny to Britain's GDP. It is still worth studying as an end in itself.
'The civilisations of the Greeks and Romans made our language, made our art, our architecture, our political institutions, our literature. They made us.
'If this book encourages a single person to want to study this stuff, then my mission will have been accomplished.
Now tell me you didn't give an inward cheer at that? Let's not be bankrupted by the newspeak of the Key Skills Government - next stop, Aristophanes!
on 27 November 2015
i have read three of Boris books now - on Churchill, London and Rome and have found each to be utterly absorbing. Boris seems to like the grandiose in history and i am beginning to have visions of him at home reclining on a chaise in his toga while he churns out this wonderful stuff. i touched on a lot of the Greek and Roman stuff at school years ago and reading this reminds me how much fun i could have had if i had taken it all a bit more seriously. i intend to revisit the book with a marker pen and underline all the things to which i should have paid more attention while Colonel Roberton and Mr Morris had me declining conjugating and wading unhappily through Pliny. Above all, the book reminds you of the ebb and flow of the tide of ambition in history; the wars, the invasions, the massacres, the shift of territory from one wageing clan of power hungry despots to the next. i don't know how many researchers helped to assemble this tome but you have to admire the breadth of learning and the illuminated view of the last couple of thousand years enjoyed by the author. i learned a lot and will enjoy boring my few remaining friends with the detals of the Roman games, the cruelty of the rulers and the rise and fall of the Roman empire. Wonderful stuff - thank you Boris,
on 25 June 2012
This is really an extended essay with Boris using his memories from his Classics degree to illustrate his theory that the Roman Empire was the aspirational blueprint for subsequent, less successful, european empires. Along the way we learn a little, but not much, roman history. For historians of the Roman Empire, they will learn nothing ; for the general reader interested in the period, there is very little here. Boris writes in any easy style, with his usual amusing tone. His main point, surprise, is that the EU is the latest manifestation of a yearning to reinvent the Roman Empire. He makes comparisons, points up the similarities and differences of The empires that follow Rome. Some of these are pretty strained. And what of the empires he doesnt mention - Austro-Hungarian for example? Or Ottoman? And what of empires outside Europe., uninfluenced by Rome. No doubt there are features common to many empires, European or not, and to ascribe all these feature to a desire, thwarted or not, to emulate Rome, would be bonkers, Boris. Its an amusing enough light read, available very cheaply now second hand, and its worth a little time reading but also only a few pennies buying
on 6 February 2006
This is a wonderful book. Mr Johnson focuses on how the Romans made Europe work as a diverse civilisation that tolerated modes of private personal behaviour now considered risque within Europe. He looks at why we are failing to make the EU work in modern times, in a manner only someone such as himself, a best selling author who has known what it is like to 'swing both ways'could achieve.It is much better than his television series, where Mr Johnson came across to me as irritating. Others do not share my view as his series has been hailed as fabulous by the television critics who know better than me. The book uncovers the behind the scenes, bedroom secrets of the empire, and the reasons behind why the Romans held such power and prestige for so long against the odds. The book is illustrated with many pictures, some risque, and is full of witty descriptions, insight, politics, and some great jokes. All in all good value. But not suitable for your children! Definitely an 18 certificate!
on 15 May 2008
As someone who is currently studying Classical History with the Open University I am more used to text books - this, in contrast, was light entertainment, but of the best kind. Not only has Boris succeeded in making the Romans human, interesting and vibrant, he has also proved why they are so interesting to scholars. Rome in the time of Augustus was fascinating and that it can be compared so well with Europe today shows how pertinet its policies and belief systems still are. I read this on the train and when I'd finished I started it again! Absolutely great, don't hesitate to buy - even if it's just to find out about Roman fish sauce!
on 22 April 2014
I recommend this book, because it is surprisingly easy to read and says some very interesting things which lead ultimately to Boris Johnson's clearly worked out political philosophy, which every politician should have, but in general don't seem to have these days. It is lively and colloquial, but you always have to respect the learning an interest he displays.