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Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain Hardcover – 25 Jul 2013
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"Wonderfully written and full of unexpected facts. Higgins brings Roman Britain into the present." (Richard Sennett)
"Beautifully crafted… The beauty of this book is not just in the elegant prose and the precision with which she skewers her myths. It is in the sympathy that she shows for the myth-makers, the men and woman who so very much wanted their very own Roman Britain." (Peter Stothard The Times)
"Mesmerising… Sophisticated and passionate. She personalizes the story in a diaristic, almost poetic tone…her prose reminds me at times of W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn…similarly haunted by a sense of a past slipping away." (Tim Whitmarsh Guardian)
"Smart and up-to-date, sensitive but hard-headed, impeccably researched but gloriously poetic. The layering of themes, moods and topics is staggering. There's nothing like quite it." (Tom Holland, author of 'Rubicon' and 'Persian Fire')
"Under Another Sky should be on every shelf in the UK. Part travelogue, part handbook and part revisionist history, it is a personal and vivid encounter with landscapes, artefacts and people… Beautifully considered and written." (Ruth Padel New Statesman)
A journey around the archeological and cultural remains of Roman Britain by the award-winning author of It’s All Greek to Me.Shortlisted for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize and the Thwaites Wainwright Prize.See all Product description
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This sounds like a winning combination and clearly many readers have found it so. I found it less satisfying than I had anticipated. Perhaps there's just not quite enough left of Roman remains to make this really interesting (the black and white illustrations may not do them justice?); or not quite a vivid enough sense of Roman culture emergent - though the book did make me think - Romans, for instance, not being Italians from Rome, but free men from anywhere in the Empire and people who served in Britain came from all over, and the precise nature of Hadrian's Wall with fortified gatehouses every mile along the route, ie perhaps it wasn't really meant to keep out invasions.
I suspect the chapter at the back saying what there is to see and where, and how to see it (book B&B in advance for six nights if you are walking Hadrian's Wall) is a very helpful guide - but I haven't used it as such!
As a Classics graduate, she knows her stuff and is well infomred. But the journalist in her is able to distil the infomration into a very readable account.
For those readers inspired to follow in her footsteps, there is plenty of information in the suffix of the book, providing her sources and also how to get to each of the sites she mentions.
Travelling around the UK to various Roman sites (London, Bath, Scotland, Norfolk etc.) this is an expansive narrative that dips in and out of being a travelogue, a history, an archaeological guide and more.
Higgins is a witty and interesting companion on this journey and writes well in a style which is easy to read without compromising on accuracy - fluent and fascinating, this is a book crying out for a TV series.
(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
Unstuffy, but packed with facts enough for anybody studying the field, this was a wonderful read. Whether she's camping in the (mostly) trusty VW, staying in farmhouses or B&Bs or simply picnicking and taking time to ponder, we see how deeply engaged the author is with the countryside she is driving and hiking through. She not only gives us the historical background, but shows huge sympathy for people who lived in those Roman places, whether native, colonists, posted military or visitors. I very much enjoyed the accounts of the history of exploration from the earliest observers through the antiquaries to modern archeologists.
But it's the places she visits, their riches, their ruins, their atmosphere that she conveys along with the facts. I have one niggle (if I had to scratch around for one); I would have liked a map of Roman Britain with the places visited marked on it. I have a very good map produced by the OS, but one in the book would have been an handy and valuable reference for readers.
In summary, this book should be on every Roman writer’s reference shelf. Actually, no, on every Roman enthusiast's bookshelf.
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