Top positive review
10 people found this helpful
on 23 February 2016
This is a beautiful box set. I have always been fascinated by Roman history and Gibbon is the book that everyone has heard of, but probably hardly anyone has ever seen and less read, although Isaac Asimov made no bones about the fact that "Decline and Fall" was his inspiration for the Foundation Trilogy and that his story and the quotes from the Encyclopedia Galactica imitated Gibbon's history. A colleague bought this boxed set and showed it off to me and I have to admit that I fell in love with it. Bottle green binding. Size convenient to read, this is a facsimile of an early 20th Century printing. Unlikely some reproductions, all Gibbon's extensive footnotes are there.
For anyone whose view of Roman history is a mixture of "I Claudius", "Gladiator" and "Spartacus", this is a real eye-opener. Gibbon wastes little time on the history of Rome up to the 3rd Century. Where he does stop and comment it is usually to poke an eye in a holy cow. Claudius is repeatedly described as "an idiot". Augustus is an implacable dictator. Caligula and Nero are passed over relatively quickly, although Gibbon does ask what Rome had done to deserve the run of emperors from Augustus through to Domitian, until Trajan finally broke the run of bad luck. We then jump most of a century until the good Marcus Aurelius (only referred to as Marcus and treated with enormous affection by Gibbon, although his death, which historians believe was from plague during a campaign in the east - rather than the depiction of being murdered by Commodus - is not mentioned at all by Gibbon) is replaced by Commodus. The film Gladiator probably paints a fair picture of Commodus's character as seen by Gibbon, but Gibbon wades in with spiked gloves and totally fillets him. And then he gets to start on what followed...
Certainly there is food for thought. Gibbon acknowledges that Claudius was the last male descendent in his family and readers may speculate how someone as stupid as Claudius is made out to be by him could survive the terror of Caligula, the plotting and not only become emperor, but have a long and very peaceful reign, with no attempts to revolt by the legions and no palace coup.
Although Gibbon's style is much-commented to be acerbic, wry and humorous, I admit that I was surprised by how dry it is and by how much text he gets out of a short quote from a contemporary historian (all lovingly referenced). It is not something that most people will sit and read from cover to cover, particularly as the volumes do not end with the fall of Rome itself, but with the fall of the eastern empire in Constantinople, centuries later. More it is a set of six volumes to dip in and out of and to treat with reverence.