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Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us Hardcover – 27 May 2010
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'In characteristically wide-ranging style, Ferdinand Mount's Full Circle tackles the question of the legacy of the classical world' --New Statesman
`Mount mounts a compelling and amusing case' --Evening Standard
'A readable, stylish, expansive, occasionally sharp and stimulating series of reflections ranging widely over the modern world' --Literary Review
'In Mount's book . . . there is a feeling of growth and regeneration . . . Mount is at the peak of his career, and one feels there is a great deal more to come' --Philip Womack, Daily Telegraph
'Think we're addicted to fame? You should've seen us 2,000 years ago'
--Mail on Sunday
`An author of obvious erudition, with a great flair for anecdote' --Guardian
'A delightful excursion along the cultural loop line . . . conducted by a witty and knowledgeable guide . . . Take him with you on holiday: you won't regret it'
`Elegant, interesting and funny . . . go out and buy it at once'
`A delightful book: rumbustious, eclectic, erudite and stimulating, the vade mecum of a fine mind . . . its brilliance is something sui generic: quite its own' --Ross Leckie, Country Life
'Mount charms the reader ... is an entertaining guide to ancient Rome' --Sunday Times
'Full Circle is imbued with the same wit as its predecessor and is both entertaining and thought-provoking' --The Economist
'characteristically witty prose' --The Oldie
'It is a world which he makes, in his good-humoured and elegant style, seem amazingly contemporary.' --Daily Mail
'Aldous Huxley referred to himself as an "home de letters". If anyone could lay claim to that title, then it is surely Mount' --Daily Telegraph
'These parallels between the ancient world and ours are intriguing...[he] takes us with wit and charm through many absurdities of the remote past' --The Spectator
'...the triumph of the generalist, whose intellectual vigour trumps academic rigour. Take him with you on holiday: you won't regret it' --The Financial Times
'Mount's thesis... is lightly and humorously expressed...' --The Times
About the Author
Ferdinand Mount was born in 1939. For many years he was a columnist at the Spectator and then the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times. In between, he was head of the Downing Street Policy Unit and then editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He is now a prize-winning novelist, author of the bestselling memoir Cold Cream, the controversial The New Few and the bestselling The Tears of the Rajas. He lives in London.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.