Mary Beard SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Last updated: June 18, 2019

Mary Beard SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

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Product Details

In our analysis of 60 expert reviews, the Mary Beard SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome placed 9th when we looked at the top 9 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

From The Manufacturer

A professor of classics at Cambridge University, Mary Beard is the author of the best-selling SPQR and Women & Power and the National Book Critics Circle Award–nominated Confronting the Classics. A popular blogger and television personality, Beard is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.

Expert Reviews

What reviewers liked

In the best tradition of Roman prose, the author uses descriptive words to write more image in fewer but more potent ways. SPQR is also printed in a font easy on the reader's eyes. The extensive illustrations compliment this theme of finding meaning not just by reciting history but by exposing meaning by explaining method.
Yet by an astonishing coincidence two contemporary English authors who write often and well about ancient Rome, Mary Beard and Tom Holland, have simultaneously produced readable histories of Rome. Between them they have done more to promote classical studies than all the professors who try to reach thousands…
SPQR is a book about the warp and woof of Roman society, high and low, and about the roots and evolution of Roman culture. And, it seems to me, Beard chose the title exactly because it doesn’t suggest any of those sensational and scandalous facets that have defined popular ideas of Rome down the centuries.
To say that I loved this book would be an understatement. Mary Beard is a scholar with a common touch. She certainly set an ambitious goal for herself in writing this book to recount the history of Rome's first millennium but as it actually happened, not just as it is written.
Beard’s work is not intended as a straightforward chronicle; it is, rather, a triumph of interpretation. More than with any treatment since, perhaps, Edith Hamilton’s classic The Roman Way (1932), Beard’s readers will understand Rome, but how much they will know about Rome is another question.
Beard guides you on an enthralling journey through the Roman world. However well you think you know the country, she gives different views, new aspects. Even those who know a lot about Rome will learn more, and find themselves questioning much of which they were previously certain. SPQR does what history should do.
What’s impressive about this book though is even as Beard is calling into question everything we thought we knew about Roman history she still manages to tell a great story. She also draws as much as possible on the day to day life of Romans to tell the story. This is a great book for anyone into Roman history.
Mary Beard is exceptionally skilled at the ferreting-out-process. She has the rare ability to present a historical narrative with its ambiguities intact. She lets the reader see her mind at work as she analyzes the various sources concerning a particular event or person.

What reviewers didn't like

The problem with this subject, however, lies in that credible material exists only during certain periods that must somehow stretch to include centuries earlier. That scholarship and science provide too little credible information on this is important.
Beard does her best to bring to life the often invisible plebeians, women, and slaves of the empire. But the reader will come away with only a basic knowledge of how the Roman army evolved. At the end, a sympathetic reader may well feel what it was like to be Roman but he will have little understanding of how it all came to be.
Flying in the face of other reviews for this book, I can honestly say I lost precious hours reading this book that I will never get back. Possibly the worst book I’ve read on Roman history; certainly the most boring.
But beware! This book covers 1,000 years of Roman history and no matter howeconomically writtenn it is still substantial. At 800 pages SPQR is a hefty book even in electronic format.
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