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The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome Paperback – 6 Jul 2006
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The Classical World is a more epic epic than any toga-clad celluloid epic to date... Mr Lane Fox's brilliant book, where soldiers, poets and orators fight for attention in a story that is never cluttered and always stimulating. (The Economist)
witty, ferociously learned, enormously well read (Mary Beard, The Independent)
an ambitious and exhilarating volume...The Classical World is so replete with insight and anecdote that I would love to see it in every school library. (Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday)
we are in the hands of an author who knows that an epic can only be driven by big characters such as Pericles, Demosthenes, Philip, Cicero, Pompey, Caesar and Cleopatra...Here lies the author's mastery, matching a lifelong familiarity with his subject to the basic needs of a newly arrived apprentice (Nigel Spivey, FT)
About the Author
Robin Lane Fox was born in 1946 and educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and a University Reader in Ancient History. His other books include Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians and The Unauthorized Version. He was historical advisor to Oliver Stone on the making of Stone's film Alexander, for which he waived all his fees on condition that he could take part in the cavalry charge against elephants which Stone staged in the Moroccan desert.See all Product description
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Although i agree with some reviewers that Robin Lane Fox does go into too much detail on his favourite topics, he displays a good understanding of what a general reader wants from a book spanning many centuries, making it a book to return to, time and time again, each time finding something new.
Ranging from the poet Homer in the 7th century BCE, to the Roman 'First Citizen' Hadrian surveying his empire from the Tyne to the Euphrates, Lane Fox communicates a lifetime experience of teaching the Classics in one compact volume, deliciously divided into chapters which can capture an era or event in one pre-sleep bite! His view is even handed, but his enthusiasm for figures such as Pliny and Cicero shine out. He also has a soft spot for gardeners...
This is an excellent starting point for further reading, with excellent and easily usable notes and bibliographies. The illustrations are fascinatingly discussed in an appendix. I especially enjoyed the careful modern nuances that alluded to 'spin' and 'regime change' - these can be clumsy in lesser writers, but they were revealing and apposite here.
A very very fine book covering a vital aspect of human history, and essential to fully understand the Western World with all its achievements, weaknesses and cruelties.
I don't mean by this that the book is "dumbed-down", far from it; Lane Fox has written a gripping, accessible account of the great Greek and Roman civilisations upon which Western society still stands. He is an absolute master of sources and stories, and weaves them together into a cogent whole. This is a book not just about the princes, philosophers and Emperors but about the entire classical societies of Greece and Rome. It feels like you're there yourself.
The early sections on the Archaic Greek World are a bit of struggle. Most of our evidence for this period comes from the archaeological record, leaving a lot of speculation about the events of the age, which only comes down to us in fragments from later Greek writers. These chapters help set the scene, but they are not as exciting as the later sections simply because they lack the human dimension. Lane Fox is at his finest when he describes the struggles and achievements of the individual, and not the physical remains of the Classical World.
It is in when the book reaches the period of the 5th century BC that the book really starts to shine. Lane Fox gives us a vivid view of men like Socrates and Pericles, and also the everyday lives of the classical Athenians, including a look at the lives of the Greek women and children.
He also provides brilliant chapters on the Julio-Claudians, the Punic Wars, and the Hellenistic World. Yet he also covers subjects as diverse as the Roman Army, diplomacy, Greek philosophy, technology, sports and a dozen other subjects.
One of the strengths of this book is Robin Lane Fox's text, which is lucid and very readable. He is a great writer who is able to impart a lot of information in short chunks. Most chapters only run for a few pages ( on average 13 pages) which makes them readable and accessible, and especially good if you want to read a few chapters at a time. I found this book both good to read from cover to cover, and also good to just pick up and select a random chapter.
Some have argued that Lane Fox's book is rather old fashioned in that it does not cover the Persians, Celts, or other classical peoples. I personally don't find this much of a problem, as I only expected to read about the Greeks and Romans when I picked this book up, but others might be disappointed by these omissions. What I did find odd was Lane Fox's rather politically incorrect asides, for instance he mentions that the Emperor Claudius was a 'susceptible spastic'.
With a number of excellent and well selected photographs of busts, coins and paintings, as well as a few good maps, this book is definately worth getting. This book should give you a broad, although not detailed overview of the greatest achievements and failures of the Classical World. It might be heavy going at first, but the deeper you get into it the more readable and rewarding it gets. One of the finest books on the Classical World that I have ever read. Highly Recommended!
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