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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars light hearted and irreverent look at the Roman Empire
Boris Johnson, well known Tory MP, columnist, journalist and editor increases his reputation as an engaging and entertaining writer with this light-hearted and enjoyable romp through Roman history. In turn Boris covers the emperor cult, the origin of the Empire, citizenship, the relationship with Greece, elite culture, economics, popular culture (illustrated by the...
Published on 1 Jun. 2006 by Dr. Sn Cottam

versus
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Skimpy essay
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...
Published on 25 Jun. 2012 by Captain Kirk


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars light hearted and irreverent look at the Roman Empire, 1 Jun. 2006
By 
Dr. Sn Cottam "Steve the medic" (Preston, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Hardcover)
Boris Johnson, well known Tory MP, columnist, journalist and editor increases his reputation as an engaging and entertaining writer with this light-hearted and enjoyable romp through Roman history. In turn Boris covers the emperor cult, the origin of the Empire, citizenship, the relationship with Greece, elite culture, economics, popular culture (illustrated by the universality of the disgusting sounding garum - fish sauce - eaten all over the Empire), religion, the army, currency, the games and the end of the whole shebang. Boris illustrates these by reference to his own travels and meetings with experts (including one who tried to make garum for himself) and his punchy, irreverant and entertaining style is extremely readable. His asides are wonderful and apt - comparing Latin poets moaning about the loss of the 'good old days' to 'the politicians and journalists of today's Britain who lambast Tesco for forcing down the prices pain to farmers and then whip round it in half an hour on Saturday when they do their weekly shopping', and his comparison of the Augustus emperor cult and the rise of Christianity is thought-provoking if nothing else. And the book is scattered with interesting and pleasing anecdotes - the very un-Romance word cerveza (Celtic for beer) is still used in Spain for the same liquid.

Perhaps the comparisons to the contemporary European Union are a bit overdone (and it's difficult to say where Boris himself stands on the EU issue) but as he points out himself it's essential to know where we come from if only to avoid the mistakes of the past. And some of the prints illustrating the beginning of each chapter are so dark as to be barely discernable. But Boris' enthusiasm for the ancient world is infectious and exhilarating, providing more than an effective counter-blast to the dismal utilitarian approach to education propounded by some of his political opponents.

Enjoy!!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boris pulls it off (so to speak), 26 Aug. 2007
By 
Andrew Walker "Andrew Walker" (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Paperback)
You don't need to be a Conservative to like this book and you certainly don't need to know anything about Roman history (it might even help if you don't). You'll have come across Boris Johnson's "Tim Nice But Dim" TV image but you will be pleasantly surprised in several ways.
The book is about the rise of the Roman Empire, the way the Romans ran their affairs (a subject on which Boris is, of course, an expert!) and most specifically what messages it holds for us in the 21st century. I am no Roman scholar but I was impressed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge and the extent to which he had thought about it - you get the sense this book has been gestating for at least 20 years.
Don't be put off by this praise for his research. You will also know he has been the editor of `The Spectator' and you do not get there by being the upper class twit he has played in front of the cameras. Journalism has allowed him to develop a style of writing that talks directly to you as the reader, never patronising, using different ways to get his message over (humour, analogies, "imagine you were there", and so on). This makes the text very, very readable.
Where the book could turn off some readers is with the message for us today - does the success of the Roman Empire suggest a federal Europe is a good idea, for example? Some other reviewers have said you end up not really knowing where Johnson stands but I don't think that's the point. He lays out his interpretation of history, starts the reader on the path of thinking about the implications and then leaves us to make our own minds up. If there were dogmatic conclusions to the different chapters I think it would be a much weaker book, that was rightly seen as a historical excuse for a political rant.
So, this is not a textbook but if you enjoy history or politics and want an entertaining and thought-provoking read, I thoroughly recommend this to you, especially as the price of a used copy is now £2. Don't you pay that for your lunchtime sandwich???
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lively and entertaining, but academically not quite tip-top, 9 April 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Hardcover)
Johnson's inimitable style and panache pervade this book, which is a rumbustious survey of the Roman Empire, how it unified Europe and why the EU is failing to do so. Starting with the Teutoburg Forest disaster in AD 9, which is recreated with a dash of imagination but in a very plausible and engaging manner, Britain's favourite flop-haired politician covers an admirable range of material. The chapter on how later empires have used the imagery and vocabulary of Rome particularly deserves mention.
The one flaw that this book has is an insufficient engagement with the process of "Romanisation", the way in which non-Romans "become Roman". Johnson accepts the process more or less at face value, providing the interesting example of a (fictional) Gaulish peasant who slowly assimilates the values and practices of Rome. Unfortunately, over at least the last ten years, the consensus that had formed around the idea of Romanisation has been exploded: there is now very little agreement over exactly how, if, and why it took place. Emphasis has been placed on resistance to Roman rule (which, to be fair, Johnson does discuss), on the continuance of native practices under a Roman guise, the idea of Creoleisation and a whole variety of other models. In short, the scholarship has become fragmented, and Johnson's book does not reflect that.
Still, given that the usual state of public knowledge about the Roman Empire tends to reflect, at best, 19th century views, at least Johnson's engaging and entertaining book may contribute to dragging them into the 20th. It is not an academic book - there is no bibliography, no index - and so perhaps shouldn't be held to academic standards of work. It is a thought-provoking work, thoroughly enjoyable, and is certainly to be recommended!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pax Romana, 12 Feb. 2013
By 
Mac McAleer (London UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Paperback)
Boris Johnson has produced an enjoyable tour around the Roman Empire which is easy to read yet always informative. And he has given it an extra twist by using it to compare and contrast the Pax Romana with the European Union. Their methods in establishing their respective unions were very different. Pax may mean peace, but for the Romans it was always the peace that came after war, usually by bloody conquest. The EU has a more gradualist approach.

He begins with the calamity, for the Romans but not the Germans, in the Teutoburg Forest which forever established the eastern frontier of the western Roman Empire at the Rhine, a distinction which lingers to this day. He continues with the lure of Rome. Thus the naming of the later Holy Roman Empire which was famously described as neither holy, nor Roman and not an empire. Thus the longevity of the name Caesar (pronounced in Latin as if it starts with a K) in titles such as Kaiser and Tsar. The French modelled themselves on the Roman Republic during their Revolution; Napoleon modelled himself and France on the Roman Empire. The imperial British tried to draw parallels with the Roman Empire. Neither the British nor the French presumptions were particularly convincing.

In general his comparisons between Rome and Brussels are insightful, not hostile. The EU has a Christian and post-Christian culture to unify it, but not a shared history. The attitude of a French and British person to Waterloo are different. The Roman elites, and later many of the middling people, felt Roman, at least once the slaughter of conquest had become a faded memory. This is a feeling Europeans have yet to achieve. As a unifying force he suggests the adoption of Virgil's Aeneid as a set book across the EU. The Roman currency held a confidence that the euro lacks.

At the end of Chapter 13, he says in summary about Rome: ". . . what would we take, and what would we leave? We would avoid the slavery . . . the militarism and the cruelty. But we would want the religious tolerance and curiosity. We would surely want the laissez-faire government of the High Empire, in which the economy grew and people prospered with minimal bureaucracy and regulation."

This book has 215 pages spread over 14 chapters with 22 black and white illustrations and 2 maps of the later Byzantine Empire. There is no index. Read this book as an entertaining overview of some aspects of the history of Rome and enjoy the side-swipes at the aspirations and pretensions of Brussels.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dream of Rome - Boris' take on the Empire, 18 May 2010
By 
David Herdson (Wakefield, Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Hardcover)
Boris Johnson brings his unique and very accessible style to an interesting but at first glance esoteric question: why does the Roman empire still hold such a fascination for rulers and public alike?

Johnson's opening sentence is "no one knows the exact moment Publius Quinctilius Varus realised what a colossal idiot he had been, but when the barbarians on either side of him started uttering their war cry we must assume the penny finally dropped". It is typical of the whole book: informative, entertaining and imaginative. If - as here - it assumes more than the facts strictly justify, it does so with a nod and a wink to the reader. It's not written with academic hesitations but with the style and panache of a talented journalist and politician, with a story to tell and a case to make.

That case is an interesting one. There were empires before and have been empires since. Why does Rome still echo down the ages as the definitive? Why have kings and emperors sought additional legitimacy in tying their power to the memory of Rome?

The answer - as Johnson explains - lies partly in what Rome was and partly in how Rome did it. The Roman empire was the last time that as much of Europe as lay within it (and large parts of Asia and Africa beyond) was at peace and united for so long a time. Those within the empire enjoyed a standard of life way beyond that of barbarians beyond the borders. It was almost literally the granddaddy of empires: the biggest, the most durable, the most peaceful and so definitive that the Romans gave us very words 'emperor' (and from Caesar, kaiser and tsar) and 'empire'. What was not to emulate?

Johnson regularly compares that unity and peace with today's EU and how the two went or have gone about fulfilling those objectives (though he skims rapidly over the fact that in order to achieve that peace and unity, Augustus had to abolish democracy).

The 'dream' of Rome of the title has a double-meaning. It is both the dream of later rulers seeking to recapture that lost glory and also the concept of Rome that the Romans themselves had; their own dream, as it were. As Johnson explains, with the aid of various real and imagined characters, this self-image of what it meant to be Roman was vital in maintaining cohesion, and he goes through the various unifying factors, from the baths and games to the cult of the emperor to the more prosaic such as the ubiquitous fish-paste sauce beloved across the empire. Rome sold its dream and for a long time, conquered people assimilated, integrated and became Roman themselves.

It's a very personal book, not just in the well-judged and often irreverent references Johnson makes to his own experiences but in style. In few other books will you get writing such as "[Rome] tolled to us across the ages, like the church bell of a sea-drowned village. It is like a memory of childhood bliss that the elderly continent has struggled ever after to recapture" sitting alongside an assertion that "if you wanted to create a First XI of history's world-class statesmen, you'd pick Augustus as your midfield playmaker". But here you do and here it works. It works because Johnson's enthusiasm and skill shine through and the cascade of metaphor, simile and analogy mesh to brilliantly highlight how they did it and what the dream was and is.

I was going to give this four stars when I began writing the review (the book is a bit short and some subjects are dealt with briefly), but heck, what matters isn't a dry, detailed study of Roman life, culture and history - there are enough of them anyway - it's the ability to make his point and to make it in a way that convinces, enthuses and entertains. The Dream of Rome does this without question. It gets five stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cripes! Who would have thought we could learn so much from 2000 years ago?, 6 Aug. 2007
By 
Caterkiller (Darlington, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Paperback)
Before getting started on this book roman civilisation meant Hadrian's Wall, Time Team and throwing Christians to the lions. This book tells you what the piles of stones can't: how the Roman Empire was built on trade with others, imbedding Roman values into conquered civilisations and how the cult of the empreror enabled this to come about. The romans were the first ones to understand globalisation and the benefits of free trade: each country trades with another the products it makes best and as a result everyone benefits (2000 years later most governments still do not understand this) and by imbedding shared values everyone works towards a common purpose. The romans did not achieve this by military force either, army payrolls and headcount were low and the empire only got into a mess when they overeached themselves in invading Bavaria and Britain; the rest of the time the "conquerees" were happy to be part of a greater empire because they soon saw the benefits at close hand (take note EU apparatchiks). In answer to some of critical reviews Boris acknowledges that this is not an exhaustive study of the Roman Empire but I for one am now keen to find out more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so much about Rome as about Brussels and Istanbul, 22 Feb. 2009
By 
Nicholas J. R. Dougan "Nick Dougan" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Paperback)
This is a marvellously witty book. It is full, no doubt, of gross simplifications and downright errors about Roman history, although I was not up to spotting any of them. I regret that I resented almost every hour of every week of the five years that I was required to learn Latin, and feel that my time would have been much better spent learning another modern language - or, indeed, anything else. Boris, however, thoroughly enjoyed studying classics, and even though he spent much of his university career "in dissolution of one kind or another" he certainly absorbed, and reflected on, the broad themes of what made the Roman Empire the longest lasting empire in history.

Boris claims to have written the book as a riposte to the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke, who had said, (I should say allegedly - in true "Have I Got News for You" style) in 2003, that "he would not be much occupied if the study of classics were to die out altogether in Britain". Boris claims great things for the Classics - the country would be better off, he says, if all kids had read the Aeneid (in the original). It didn't do much for me, although perhaps I read the wrong book, Book 2, on the siege and fall of Troy. "Timeo Daneos et donna ferentis" is all the Latin I can recall of it.

But what Boris really sets about in the book is to compare the Roman Empire and the European Union, and explain that all the elements that allowed the former to be the longest lasting Empire in history, for what that was worth - a common language or two, a desire to conform to a common culture, racial and religious tolerance (so long as you weren't a pesky and difficult monotheist), a bit of Emperor worship, laissez faire economics and monetary stability - are largely lacking in the latter. In so doing, Boris Johnson, then Tory MP and now Conservative Mayor of London, was motivated by his inclination to oppose deeper European integration - Rome was a Union, Europe can never really be one.

At about the same time the first edition of this book was published the new Pope, Benedict XVI, made his somewhat notorious speech quoting the last but one Roman (aka, by that stage, Byzantine) Emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, who wrote (as the Turks burned his Empire to the ground around his ears) "Show me what Mohammed brought that was new...and there you will find things only evil and inhuman...". In consequence, Boris added a fourteenth chapter, "And then came the Muslims". In the first half of it he expounds Manuel's arguments, asking that his Turkish/Muslim ancestry (on his great grandfather's side) excuse his further quotations of anti-Islamic sentiment, e.g. from Winston Churchill, and references to "Johnny Turk" that would surely be unacceptable in any politically correct circles. (Boris brings up political correctness on a number of occasions in the book, usually with the purpose of demonstrating that he isn't!) I was, I admit, getting a little concerned about where it was all leading. In the second half of the chapter, however, Boris exposes both the hypocrisy of the "western European" view and argues that Turkey and Islam have a more or less equal claim to being inheritors of the Roman Empire and the Roman ideal. In so doing Johnson the serious Conservative politician makes a case for a wider (but not "deeper" )European Union, embracing Turkey, and hopefully with Turkey all moderate Muslims who wish to separate church and state.

Hear, hear! This book is a tour de force. When I read Barack Obama's "Audacity of Hope" I hoped that I was reading the work of a future world leader. The Dream of Rome makes me wonder whether Boris Johnson, part time buffoon but deadly serious statesman in waiting, may not usefully achieve the same status.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most enjoyable read!, 14 April 2013
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This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Paperback)
Whatever you think of Boris Johnson as a character or of his politics, he is undoubtedly a most entertaining writer. I greatly enjoyed this easy-read mini history of Europe beginning with a ripping yarn battle between three Roman legions and German tribes in the thick forests north of the Rhine, and how ever since Europe's people and leaders have wrestled to make the best out of their shared hopes and their fascinating differences. If you want to learn a bit of history and get insight into why Europe is the way it is today, you could hardly find a better or more enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dream of Rome, 7 May 2012
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This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Hardcover)
Having coming across this book in my local library I was so impressed I bought copies from Amazon for two of my daughters. I thought I'd read everything possible on this subject but Boris puts a completely different slant on the topic and I almost completed it in one sitting as I found it so concise and literally could not put it down. The only thing that spoils it is the picture of Boris on the front cover (I would have preferred something more pertinent to Rome) but that's a small price to pay for such an interesting work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I came, I saw, I read., 5 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Dream of Rome (Paperback)
As someone who's knowledge of the Romans was gleaned from Asterix books and Sword & Sandal epics, this was a fantastic introduction to the Roman Empire.

Now, Boris is a bit of a Tory, and though he does write thus it doesn't mean this book won't appeal to anti Tory types. Others have suggested that he could perhaps be accused of labouring the EU/Roman empire connection a tad, but it is a useful parallel. And it does help to illustrate one of the central themes of the book, that study of the classical world can still teach us much about current geopolitics and other stuff too.

The Dream of Rome was interesting, witty and thought provoking. And besides, I now know when Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated (44 BC), that there was a black Roman Emperor (Septimus Severus, who died in York by the way), that the Romans were into fish sauce in a big way and loads of other interesting stuff which will make me the toast of informed society.

I'm off to read some Virgil now. Good job Boris.
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The Dream of Rome
The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson (Paperback - 5 Mar. 2007)
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