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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 27 August 2013
There are a lot of books and TV programmmes at the moment about the ancient world, and so any new book needs to bring something new to the mix. Charlotte Higgins provides a very personal account of her visits to different corners of Britain, and with a journalist's eye captures the experience of seeing them for the first time and talking to experts about how they came about.

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.
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on 31 December 2013
The author uses her travels around Roman remains in Britain to bring together a historical account of the years the Romans were here (starting in Deal with Julius Caesar's inconclusive invasions) and ending with the last Roman remains (Mildenhall hoard and so on) before the end of Roman Britain in 408AD. As she goes she bring together the stories of scholars who have played a critical role in unearthing and interpreting the historical record (Mortimer Wheeler, RG Collingwood, and living scholars of today who interpret Vindolanda tablets) and a more general account of what it is like in the places where there are Roman remains (so Bath through the ages, briefly, and so on - it hasn't always flourished as it does today). She also covers the place that Roman remains have had in cultural life, commissioning new music for a theme written by Benjamin Britten to verses of WH Auden pre-war, a blues about the Romans in Britain, Roman Wall Blues. And talks to, for example, freelance Roman centurions...

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!
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This is a good popular study of what Roman Britain has - and does - mean to various people across time. Higgins has a Classics BA and is a journalist so this is intelligent without being academic or scholarly. Setting out her stall upfront, Higgins sets out to show how `Britain' has always been a constructed idea for the Romans (e.g. Catullus' ultimosque Brittanos, `the most remote Britons', c.11), just as `Roman Britain' is for us, as well as being both a chronological and physical location.

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)
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on 20 August 2013
Charlotte Higgins writes from the heart, with superb, scholarly insight and confidence. Her book was such a pleasure to read, exciting, funny, awe-inspiring and humbling.
As a young man, I had the great good fortune to spend a long summer in Britain and was encouraged by my host family in Marlborough to explore. I was working full-time but, with the audacity of the young, I hitchhiked all over. I saw the standing stones at Avebury and Stonehenge and explored Bath and the highlands of Scotland. How moving it was to read of some of these same places in Ms. Higgins' book.
"Oh, to be in England ... " indeed! Alas, air fares are not what they were then! Still, with books like "Under Another Sky" it is almost, _almost_ as extraordinary as being there.
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on 28 October 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive gazetteer of the sites to be found all over the country, or an in-depth history of Roman Britain, which some of the more negative reviewers seem to have been expecting. But it casts a bright spotlight on some more obscure places, some of which I'd never heard of, and some of which - Vindolanda, Bath, Silchester - have become famous. I found the story of how each era has interpreted Roman Britain in its own image, to bolster its own prejudices, as fascinating as the details of how the sites were originally discovered and excavated, with some interesting sidelights on well-known archaeologists. Finally, the losses over the years, particularly in the eighteenth and even the nineteenth centuries, of mosaics casually broken up, buildings demolished for their stone, treasure hidden, is both tragic and an appalling indictment of greed, thoughtlessness and ignorance. My one complaint is the lack of good photographs - the ones embedded in the text are dark and unclear. It would have benefited from some clear colour images, particularly of the mosaics, which are beautifully described but, apart from a couple, not illustrated.
And even if Ms Higgins hadn't produced a well-written, entertaining overview of Roman Britain and what it has meant to us down the ages, her obvious love for the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, particularly my own childhood favourite The Eagle of the Ninth, would make it worthy of an extra star.
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on 6 December 2013
Saw a good review on t.v. about the runners and riders for this year's Samuel Johnson Prize. This sounded potentially the most interesting to me so I ordered a copy.

The idea of traveling around the UK to visit the remains of Roman Britain had a lot of potential, but unfortunately thus book fell between two stools :~ it was neither sufficiently academic to serve as a guide to the remnants, nor sufficiently informal to record the author's somewhat idiosyncratic travels. But the biggest problem is the illustrations, at the very least I would have hoped for some interesting photographs of the surviving walls, forts, villas and pavements. But no - what pictures there are are small, indistinct and black and white. I think the photos I took of Fishbourne villa on a school trip when I was 10 were better, and yes I used b&w film in my Kodak Instamatic then - well it was the 60's.!

So if you want to follow the Romans' roads get hold of a copy of the out of print guidebook she recommends rather than this book.
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on 27 September 2014
This is a fascinating and heavily researched book. The style is very personal and full of little details about the author's working life and travels that make it much more than a history book. The one disappointment is the very low level of illustration, making the book appear unnecessarily dry, but the narrative is far from dry, even if the many pages of unbroken text appear intimidating.

It is often stated that the Romans were in Britain for four centuries, but left minimal evidence of their presence in that time. What this book shows is that the evidence is there, if you look for it carefully. She takes you by the hand through a series of places around the island of Britain, showing you where the evidence is and both how to find it and, what is just as important, how to see it. London (yes, the evidence of Londinium is there, just well hidden), Bath and an excellent chapter on Hadrian's Wall show you some of the better-known cases, but there is also a chapter on the Antonine Wall, which is far less known but, if you have the knowledge to identify it, still visible in the landscape. There is plenty of historical detail and context to go with the travelogues.

One of the results of reading this book is that you *DO* want to go out and see these things for yourself. Charlotte Higgins tells you were to go and what to look for and lets you play the detective and find the things that she describes. It's hard not to want to. I have always wanted to walk Hadrian's Wall - next summer I will be doing it! And Charlotte Higgins is the reason why.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 May 2014
This is a very enjoyable read which covers the most important Roman sites and archaelogical discoveries in Britain and which explains the history of Roman rule along the way. Part travelogue, part muse on the various interpretations made of the Roman Empire over time, part review of the part played and portrayed in witing, music and art, this is an unusual, thoroughly entertaining and infomative book.

Well worth reading
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on 4 April 2014
A modern journey through the best remains of Roman Britain told with great feeling for the history of the landscape and the generations of people who have shaped it. We meet modern experts, antiquarians from the past and ordinary folk...and behind them all glimpses of the life of Roman Britain. Written with a light touch but with plenty of scholarship, this is the best book I've read on this topic for a long while.
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on 31 January 2014
Charlotte Higgins writes beautifully about our Roman heritage and what we have thought of it through the intervening centuries. Living close to Hadrian's Wall all of my life, I have found that reading this has greatly enriched my view of the remains still to be seen. It has made me want to visit all the other sites where there are Roman remains. I will be taking Under Another Sky with me, of course. Highly recommended!
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