This is a book that is better neither to give or receive. I would guess that a commissioning editor at Thames and Hudson thought this a bright idea to complement their existing catalogue and talked the authors into "knocking it out" for the lucrative Christmas market.
Simply the book is thumbnail sketches of an eclectic mix of Romans, politicians, generals, artists, builders, courtesans et al. It is neither for expert or novice. Who is it for? It looks dull and is!
I found Philip Matyszak's "Sons of Caesar" an interesting book, the "Chronicle of the Roman Republic" a useful book and "Ancient Rome on Five Denari a Day" an entertaining book. The Lives of Romans is neither interesting, useful or entertaining. Joanne Berry, is the co-author. With the same publisher she produced "The Complete Pompeii" which, despite the silly title (no such thing with so much yet to be excavated), I liked it as a general reference source. The Lives of Romans reeks of a quick cut and paste, and an indifferent collection of illustrations and just one map.
This is a very lazy coffee table book, destined to languish unopened and sooner or later make it to the charity shop. If it had been better done, perhaps I might have bought it for my friends. They are a puzzled why I find the classics more entertaining than the memoirs of some minor footballer or TV chat show host but I worry this book would confirm a negative view of the Roman world. If Thames and Hudson want to commission popular ancient history why not take some of the Roman classics, update their translations and publish well-illustrated commentaries?
on 13 May 2010
Lives of the Romans paints a portrait of an ancient civilization, which still continues to fascinate us, through short biographies of one hundred of its citizens. What makes this book particularly interesting is its choice of people to put under the spotlight. In addition to the usual suspects, Caesar, Cicero and Augustus, we find a whole host of ordinary figures, whose stories, however, provide additional insights into the complex and fascinating world of Ancient Rome. Citizens such as Titus Tatius, father of the one of the legendary Sabine women, or Clodia Laeta, a Vestal Virgin who broke her vows and was buried alive.
My one real cavil lies with the illustrations. While the book is very well illustrated, we are hardly ever told where the original object can be found. If I see something illustrated, I want to know where I can see the original artifact.