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Category: Classical History

Book Review: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Mary Beard)

“SPQR” is proof that it’s possible to write something interesting where thousands of books have gone before. The author, Mary Beard, an English classicist, has managed to write a compelling book covering most of Roman history, with enough detail to give the reader, whether new to Roman history or already well-versed, a complete picture, and enough color to give the reader reason to remember that detail.

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Book Review: The Trojan War: A New History (Barry Strauss)

“The Trojan War” is an interesting contrast to some of Barry Strauss’s other works. As always, Strauss is extremely readable and offers fresh insight and analysis. In this book, however, he has to fill in historical gaps to a much greater degree. We know a lot more about Salamis, Caesar and Spartacus, some of the subjects of his other books, than we know about the Trojan War, which we know about from exactly two sources: mythic poetry, mostly Homer, and archaeology.

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Book Review: Politics in the Ancient World (M.I. Finley)

“Politics In The Ancient World” is a short work, a compilation and modification of a series of lectures given in 1980 by the Communist classicist M. I. Finley. Each lecture is a chapter, and while each chapter explores a different area of Greek and Roman politics, they are linked within an over-arching theme. The book’s audience is professional historians; you can be an amateur and appreciate it, but you will be immediately and totally lost if you are not already fairly well versed in classical history.

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Book Review: The Spirit of Early Christian Thought (Robert Louis Wilken)

This book is not a polemic or a book of apologetics; it is instead an exposition of what early Church theologians thought about important topics in Christian belief, and how those thoughts evolved and grew. If you think all theology is merely empty wind or arguments about angels dancing on the head of a pin, this is not the book for you. But if you want to know how early Christians developed their thought about the Trinity, or theological views on Christ being simultaneously fully human and fully divine, or how they viewed faith through the prism of reason, this is the book for you.

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Book Review: The Death of Caesar
(Barry Strauss)

“The Death of Caesar” is Barry Strauss’s latest work on the politics and warfare of the Classical World. Strauss is perhaps today’s most prominent author writing histories of this type—highly readable, not too lengthy, cogent analyses that are designed for the general modern reader. Among other topics, Strauss has covered the Trojan War, Salamis, Spartacus, and now Caesar. This is actually the second book in which Strauss has focused on Caesar—“Masters Of Command” includes the life Caesar as one of its three foci, and “The Death of Caesar” focuses on, unsurprisingly, his death.

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Book Review: Masters of Command (Barry Strauss)

This is a great introduction to three of the most important historical figures of the Classical Age. Since lack of historical knowledge is a plague upon the land in these latter days, Strauss does us a great service by providing a popular, concise history of these men. He compounds this service by drawing parallels and contrasts among them, making it easier to understand and remember each, and caps his effort by drawing permanent, generally applicable lessons from the lives of each.

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Book Review: Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire (James Romm)

Who knew how exciting the events of the fourth century BC could be? Most of us have a dim idea of Alexander the Great—conqueror of Greece and points East, all the way to India. But it’s a pretty dim idea. And most of us have very little idea of what happened in the classical world after Alexander and before Julius Caesar. Perhaps we’re vaguely aware that the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty was started by one of Alexander’s lieutenants, who took that part of Alexander’s empire, and that the famous Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian in the least. But mostly our awareness is a blank page. This book fills in a small part of that page.

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