Top critical review
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interesting, but not (for me) gripping
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!