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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eclectic, Enlightening and Enjoyable
Ferdinand Mount's latest book, a beautifully written account of the striking similarities between the modern and classical ways of life and the contrast with the Christian era in between, is by turns playful and profound.

He divides the book into two sections, the first looking at 'body' which discusses attitudes to bathing, exercise, sex and food, and then...
Published on 8 July 2010 by Mr. N. T. Baxter

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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hardly an argument
Ferdinand Mount is a writer of considerable ability and facility, and this makes it easy for him to put together a catena of more and less accurate facts and observations and offer it as if it were a justifiable thesis or as a set of insights.

Far from being either of those, it is a collection of weak correlations masquerading as scholarship. He says that the...
Published on 20 Dec 2010 by A. McGuire


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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eclectic, Enlightening and Enjoyable, 8 July 2010
By 
Mr. N. T. Baxter "Neil" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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Ferdinand Mount's latest book, a beautifully written account of the striking similarities between the modern and classical ways of life and the contrast with the Christian era in between, is by turns playful and profound.

He divides the book into two sections, the first looking at 'body' which discusses attitudes to bathing, exercise, sex and food, and then moves on to 'mind', where he looks for analogs between Greek and Roman ways of seeing and understanding the world and our own. For me it's the second section that really makes this book stand out. Here we are treated to sections on religion, fame, nature and dialogue, and as you would expect from such weighty subjects, the tone becomes a bit more serious and the linkages more subtle.

I'm a sociologist/psychologist by training, and a history addict by inclination, so I suppose a book like this was always going to pique my interest, but having read it in the space of about 5 days (mostly whilst sitting up late at night with my 3 week old baby girl who is having trouble sleeping) I have to say it is one of the best and most enjoyable books I've read for quite a while. It's very easy to read, despite the weighty topics.

I particularly enjoyed the last couple of chapters, which are quite profound - and, in the end, very funny.

The idea behind the book is something I have thought about before myself, but in relation to the ever more violent 'all in' martial arts that are proving increasingly popular on TV these days and are quickly catching up with the relatively pedestrian boxing in terms of fans and profile - another post-Christian return to Roman sensitivities (or lack of them)? Mr. Mount has done a great job of identifying many other areas where our two cultures meet, despite the intervening two millennia, and makes convincing arguments to suggest the spirits of these two epochs are comparable in many ways - but with one crucial difference.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mostly sardonic look at the state we are in, 15 May 2011
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The argument of this book is that, after two millennia or so of Christian culture, we are in many ways reverting to the attitudes and tastes of classical antiquity.

In the first part of the book, Mount deals with the cult of the body: the Ancient World took pleasure in it, pampered it with baths, trained it with exercise, gloried in sex, indulged it in sophisticated wines and elaborately prepared food. Today baths, gyms and fitness clubs, wine and restaurant critics again abound.

He describes the baths of the Roman Empire in great detail: they were gigantic structures, almost like cathedrals which many of them subsequently became. Some Christians deplored bathing for pleasure, suspected public baths are conducive to lustful thoughts; and it was not until the late 1850s that the building of new public baths - initially meant as a boon for the working classes - began to take off in Britain.

The fitness cult he traces back, in Germany to Jahn and in Britain to the influence of Charles Kingsley's Muscular Christianity.

The chapter on food and drink wittily exposes the pretentiousness and snobbery of foodies and oenophiles both in antiquity and in our own times, and contrasts it with the more austere attitudes to eating and drinking in the intervening Christian centuries. As in earlier chapters, one is impressed by the range not only of his knowledge of antiquity but also of the way he pulls together a large variety of manifestations in present day culture.

It is clear from the part of the book entitled `The Body' that Mount thinks there is something missing in both ancient and modern scepticism, something that might be called spiritual awareness and spiritual values. In the longer part, entitled `The Mind', his attack becomes fiercer. There is a magnificently written chapter (whether you agree with it or not) entitled `The God-Botherers' in which he trenchantly sets about the aggressive and what he considers the shallow attitudes of Dawkins, Grayling, Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and others like them.

Those writers may have contributed to undermining traditional religion (or rather, they merely stridently articulate what is happening anyway); but, now as in antiquity, many people embrace weird cults instead. Astrology, of which there is very little evidence in the Christian centuries, flourished in Antiquity and has columns today even in the quality press. There was a proliferation of cults in late Antiquity as there is today. (He discusses only Christian cults like Pentacostalism and, in a later chapter and in a different context, the cult of Gaia. He could have added many other, admittedly rather smaller cults, like Madonna's Kabbalism, Aquarians, Wiccas, Moonies, Scientology, Hare Krishna, and the followers of the Maharishi.)

In the next section Mount establishes a link between the way politicians are expected to press the flesh, to show themselves on television and submit themselves to rude interviewers today and the lively and participatory politics of the Athenian and Roman Republics - little or none of that in the period between the Roman Empire and Lord Reith. (But vide Hogarth's "An Election".)

The next chapter links the PR-inspired worship of celebrities in our time with that of the Roman triumphs - contrasting it with the Christian humility of ascribing any achievements to God - but were not saints, the legends promoted about them, the cults surrounding them and the worship of them akin to the worship of secular idols?

In the next chapter, on Art, Mount shows parallels in the commodification of art, the accumulation of art works for show and for commerce; but for the gimmickry of much modern art there is no parallel in antiquity.

In the chapter on Nature he shows how both today and in antiquity there were people who delighted and rejoiced in it. It is, incidentally, the only chapter in which Mount - clearly a lyrical nature lover himself - shows an unalloyed identification with that particular aspect of our age, and he does not show here the witty mockery he bestows on other contemporary trends. (His assertion that Christianity seldom saw labour as a bringing about spiritual fulfilment strikes me as rather sweeping: that "laborare est orare" was taught both by the Benedictines and by the Protestants.)

I am not entirely convinced by this book: it strikes me as being rather selective, occasionally a little forced (in content, though never in style). But I have learnt a great deal about many aspects of the ancient world and about some of our own. There is an immensely fertile and cultivated mind here; I share his basically conservative critique of the shallowness and meretriciousness of so much of contemporary culture; and although there is often almost a stream of consciousness connection between one thought and another, I found it a joy to follow these links in the company of such a witty, learned, sensitive, and morally committed author.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hardly an argument, 20 Dec 2010
By 
A. McGuire "Alec McGuire" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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Ferdinand Mount is a writer of considerable ability and facility, and this makes it easy for him to put together a catena of more and less accurate facts and observations and offer it as if it were a justifiable thesis or as a set of insights.

Far from being either of those, it is a collection of weak correlations masquerading as scholarship. He says that the modern world has striking similarities with the ancient world, yet feels free to ignore the fact that the classical world covers several hundred years of complex history and includes widely differing cultures. Take a big enough time-frame and geographical spread, decide not to be too careful about the criteria for similarity, and write in vague, generalising terms and you can always find apparent parallels between any age & culture and any other.

If a work like this was submitted to a publisher by a writer who hasn't got Mount's cachet then the only outcome would be a rejection slip. Quite simply, it is impossible to take Mount's book seriously.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cultural, easy, enjoyable, 23 July 2010
By 
M. G. Azevedo (Portugal, Colares) - See all my reviews
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The book describes the similarities between our modern world and the classical Greek and Roman's world.

Bath, exercise, sex, food, art, religion , fame, culture, nature, who would say our way of seeing and understanding them are much the same of the classical world ?

The book takes you from the SPA to the Baths of Caracala, from the gym to the gymnasium , (the body is beautiful, the body become a god); from the sex free of guilt to Cattullus advocating sex with women or sex with man because there no such a thing as rigth and wrong in this context; from the celebrity culture to the Roman obsession with fame; from the understanding that the world is composed of matter and is no more immortal than we are, to Lucretiu's "So it is a fair inference that sky and earth too had their birthday and will have their day of doom".

Quite profound, but easy and enjoyable to read this is a book to anyone interested in the culture and spirit of our epoch.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Generalism & Cliche., 26 Oct 2010
By 
ShiDaDao Ph.D (London UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
The classical age (of Greece and Rome) can not be compared directly to the postmodern age, and yet the entire premise of this book rests upon the idea that the two very different and distinct periods of human existence in time and space, are some how interchangeable, and reflective of one another. The author, a member of the Conservative Party and a former key member of Margaret Thatcher's mid-1980's administration, attempts to pursue this narrative throughout. The result is a book of poor academic standard, but strong in idiosyncratic opinion. The political agenda of the author is clear when he refers to the Guardian newspaper as being 'liberal-pacifist', and Mount was of course a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

The author, at no point in his narrative, clearly defines his terms of reference. For instance, ancient Greece is not distinguished from ancient Rome, nor are the internal historical watermarks made clear that define different and distinct aspects of ancient Greek culture that separate different kinds of Greeks from one another, or explain the differences between Greek states over a considerable time period. The Romans are equally undefined. Instead, the 'classical age' is presented as a vague and amorphous entity that existed some time in the past, and that has managed to replicate itself in the present, with no explanation of just how it has managed to do so.

Christianity is important for Mount. In fact it is a recurring theme throughout this book and he dedicates an entire chapter to what he refers to as 'The Anti-God-Botherers', a chapter that reads very much like an attempt to justify the relevance of Christianity through four of its most outspoken critics of modern times, namely Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling and Daniel C Dennett. The author seems oblivious to the fact that ancient Greece, prior to the rise of Rome, was polytheistic and that the Roman empire only succumbed to the state creed of Christianity very near to its demise as a world power. Simply stated, the classical world was not monotheistic, it was polytheistic, whereas the postmoderm, Western world of today is secular, with church and state kept firmly apart. Atheism today is very much part of the fabric of Western civilisation and is viewed as a valid viewpoint among many contending viewpoints. In ancient (that is pre-Christian) Greece and Rome however, atheism was a crime that carried the death sentence, and referred to a person who refused to acknowledge the existence and validity of the state sanctioned (polytheistic) gods. This is one of the charges levelled at Socrates (Impiety) in his famous trial, and may also have been applied to early Christians who preferred their monotheism over the prevailing polytheism.

There is no direct and discernable link between the classical world and modern United Kingdom culture. It is true that the Romans settled in the UK - it is also true that they left in the early fifth century AD. Between that time and 1066 AD, the UK heartland was invaded by Saxons, Angles, Danes, Jutes and Vikings, all representatives of various northern European peoples who had not been conquered by the Romans and who had not come into contact with the ancient Greeks. Their military invasions of Britain washed away the fragile Romano-British culture that limped on after the Roman legions left. The true Britons - the Celts - lived in the Western regions and by and large were uneffected by Roman culture. The British Celts stayed in these regions whilst Germanic foreigners fought one another for control of what would become England. Germany of course, was never conquered by the Romans and yet it is these people that eventually would create the English identity and nation, and define Great Britain itself.

In 1066, Francocised Vikings - known as Normans conquered England and introduced the idea of a permanent state. It is this permanent state that has been developed, altered, abolished, re-introduced and redefined over the last 1000 years. On the surface, very little of today's culture in the UK can be clearly identified as coming directly from Athens or Rome. The modern English language however, as Mount points out, is a misture of many influences, some of which are Greek or Latin. Mount pegs this influence at around 50%. Linguistic influence however, does not necessarily equate with cultural inheritance. Ancient Rome for instance, was very much closer to ancient Greece, both geographically and historically, but Rome did not directly inherit all of Greek culture even if it was influenced by much of it. Modern Britain is around two thousands years away from ancient Greece in time and thousands of miles in distance. The Roman presence in ancient Britain is best viewed through the architecture the Romans left behind, rather than through any contemporary modes of behaviour or institutions.

The British public school system however, does assume an intellectual link with the classical world. It is a linkage of ideas rather than of concrete facts. It is an appreciation of philosophy and clear thinking developed by the Greeks and copied by the Romans. As a tradition in Europe, this association probably does not date back much before the Renaissance (begins 14th century), the time of the rediscovery of ancient Greek texts written on the subjects of science and mathematics, etc. Prior to this time, Christian theology had dominated European thinking and stifled scientific development by perpetuating such ideas as a flat earth, the earth being the centre of the universe and the development of free thought being considered a sin.

A glaring omission as to a major influence and contribution to modern British society is of course the many different peoples from Britain's former empire. Chinese, Indians, Africans and many other people have all brought their distinctive culture to Britain - indeed, that quintessentially British drink of 'tea' originated in China, and Britain's favourite national dish is Indian 'curry'. There are many other examples of direct cultural influence, which must be considered in the light of linguistic borrowings from languages other than ancient Greek. The word 'ketchup' for instance, originates from the Fujian dialect of southeast China, and translates as 'tomato source'. In this respect, modern Britain does reflect both ancient Greek and Roman culture. The Oxford academic - Robin Lane Fox - in his excellent 'The Classical World', states clearly, and with authority that both these cultures borrowed from as far afield as Iran, Egypt, Levantine and the Jews, amongst others. This is established at the very beginning of the work of Fox, which may be taken as something of an 'antedote' to the current book being reviewed. Not to labour the point - Fox is an expert in the field of ancient Greek culture, whilst Mount is not.

This book is disappointing. The subject matter does have potential, but Mount seems to be attempting to make a political point, thinly disguised as historical comment. This is the book's main weakness. An over-arching, all consuming political bias that tries to shoe-horn random historical facts and events into a connected narrative that has no academic substance or bearing upon the title of the book itself. The book fails on two counts; the reader, although entertained is not educated, as nothing is learnt about either the classical or postmodern world that does not fall into the category of cliché.
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5.0 out of 5 stars We think we're sophisticated now?, 23 Nov 2013
By 
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This book has been a wonderful read and Ferdinand Mount has a very dry sense of humour, something I enjoy very much. Full Circle is perfect for anyone who loves classical Greece and Rome and how their influence is still with us today in the 21st century. The book was a great bargain and arrived very well packaged, so would buy from this seller again.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. Who else could credibly condescend to Richard Dawkins?, 19 Aug 2010
By 
Graham H. Seibert (Kiev, Ukraine) - See all my reviews
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This book is thoroughly entertaining, wonderful for broadening what an educated American considers an already broad vocabulary, and displays an encyclopedic knowledge of his extraordinarily broad subject matter. In this instance the puffery on the book's dust jacket stands up. It is a wonderful read by almost every measure.

Ferdinand Mount distinguishes himself as a model British gentlemen, erudite, effortlessly witty, and amazingly well-informed. He has taken an almost impossibly broad topic, the history of morals and mores over the past three millennia, and made it hang together beautifully. You might call it the sandwich of Christianity, with the meat of two millennia during which man was regarded as primarily spiritual bookended by the modern era and classical eras during which the pleasures of this life have been the uppermost or even the only considerations.

He comments on many fascinating events in classical times to which us moderns, lacking a both and educations in the classics and sufficient interest to acquire same. He draws parallels between our own cults of the body, the bath and food and those of the Greeks and Romans, and even more interesting, on the parallels between the manner of thinking of moderns and ancients in the realms of science, religion, art, and celebrity. His treatments of the cults of Jade Goody and Hadrian's gay lover Antinous I found absolutely engrossing.

Mount is that kind of old-school British writer who does not spare his reader a bit of work with the Oxford English dictionary. Some small part of the difficulty is that usages vary across the Atlantic, but the larger issue is simply that he is extraordinarily facile with words. In every paragraph there is at least one sentence in which his unexpected but delicious selection of words stands out like the herb which you cannot identify in your soufflé, but which makes all the difference.

My favorite part of the book concerns the "anti-God botherers" such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who are so strident in their attacks on religion. Why? Mount suspects, as I do, that it is more than the litany of historical crimes which may be credited to various tyrants who called themselves believers. He notes that the bloodiest wars in history, those of the 20th century, had nothing to do with religion.

Mount asks for a more nuanced view than the anti-God botherers seem capable of sustaining, namely that religion and science belong to different realms. He points out that every science, including mathematics, the most pure, bases itself on a prioris, axioms which cannot be proven. In his closing chapter he cites, as is his wont, an obscure but highly pertinent philosopher, Vaihinger, an interpreter of Immanuel Kant who pursues the philosophy of "what if?" Given that the tools of logic cannot irrefutably establish anything, scientific or Christian or whatever, why not accept some credo which satisfies the needs of the individual for a foundation to order one's life, and which appears to satisfy Kant's criterion that it can be generalized without leading to contradictions? Mount would advocate giving Christianity some consideration. Consider, if not believing, behaving as if you do. Why? The recent reissue of "Family and Civilization," by Prof. Zimmerman, examines what happens when we don't.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars amateurish, 16 Sep 2010
By 
Katerina "books fan" (Huddersfield, England) - See all my reviews
This is not a bad book, but it is not as profound and well founded as one would expect from someone with Mount's credentials.

There are similarities between the classics (when do they occur according to Mount?) and modern times. But at the end of the day there are similarities between the classics and the middle ages, too. What is the difference between a gathering in Colosseum, medieval horse races and a modern concert?

Some of the author's historical "mistakes" are quite annoying. Historical facts are not open to interpretation. First of all the Stoics were not a humanitarian movement and there is no comparison between them and christianity. They do not belong to classics, the movement of stoicism belongs to the 1st century AC, while the classic are from 500 to 330 BC. Ancient Greece and Rome have never contributed any guru or sage or whatever you call them to human history and their religion has tremendous differences with the one of christianity or any other eastern religion.

The author spent a lot of time analyzing without any purpose the political system of Rome while there is no mention to the first democracy in the world that was the one of Athens and even more there is no mention to what caused the people of Athens to protest and ask for a reformation. The similarities between the present and the past in this case are so striking that they become dangerous because they can set the wheels of the minds of his readers into motion.

It is an amateurish book written in a lighthearted way that completely fails to prove any of it's points. The personal debate that Mount has with Dawkins is of no interest to anyone simply because there is nothing that can be gained from that.

Not a bad book to spend your time with, but do not take any of its point for granted. At the end you will be left wondering what the author is trying to prove and the true motives that he had when he wrote the book.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars History-lite, fine, but can the anti-atheist polemic..., 7 Sep 2012
I'll admit, I was having a fair amount of fun with Ferdinand Mount's assemblage of titbits and observations on the Classical world. I completely relate to other reviewers' criticisms that for the purposes of making this assemblage, he hangs his thesis on a very tenuous line, taking the vast Greek and Roman Empires as some sort of contiguous whole. Any parallels between societies of (up to) thousands of years in age and our own are bound to be shaky, but I was along for the ride, enjoying the factoids and the lively style of writing. Some of the polemic made me laugh.

Then that lively, amused style of writing turns a little red in the face with perplexity, when Mount gets going on what he terms 'the anti-God botherers'. It's a subject he picks up with relish mid-way through the book, as he attempts to lambast prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whilst only partially understanding, or choosing to understand, what they mean. Now, cards on the table, I'm not a religious person. But I believe that if you are, and if you really think, to quote Mount that "the eclipse of a single God-centred explanation leaves an enormous empty space in people's lives" (p. 216) then - why the personal attacks? It simply sounds bitter. Mount is, of course, entitled to his opinions. We just might wonder why he devotes such a lot of time to bashing other writers. And as for pondering aloud why these high profile atheists talk about religion "at such obsessive length" when it's at least part of their writing careers, and a relevant pursuit in days which are seeing increased fundamentalism in all parts of the world - did he ever ask himself why he decided to break off from an engaging, if historically-weak book to talk about atheists at this length? A more fitting chapter would have looked more closely at the polytheistic cultures which formed the bedrock of the Classical world, how and why Christianity unfolded, and then examined the fall of one and the rise of the other. Doing it this way would have allowed him to carry on with his thesis, and ponder why we may now again have thinkers who have a lot in common with Epicurus, rather than what we do get - a rather platitudinal pro-Christian chapter at odds with the rest of the book, with a quick mention of Classical thinkers right at the end.

Having trudged my way through this part of Full Circle, all the enjoyment I'd felt up to this point was extinguished. Ironic, considering Mount takes so much time essentially accusing Dawkins et al of joylessness. It's rare I can't finish a book but I had to give up on this schizophrenic one.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full Circle, 13 May 2011
By 
M. D. Vickers "time goes bye" (Linlithgow Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I sent the book to a friend so I don't know yet what they thought of it. I do have a copy myself which I find interesting and well worth anyone who feels that history goes in cycles should read.
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