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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics) Paperback – Abridged, January 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0140437645 ISBN-10: 0140437649 Edition: Abridged

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Abridged edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140437649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140437645
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Edward Gibbon was born in 1737 in Putney, England, and was the only child of his parents to survive infancy. Although his education was frequently interrupted by ill health, his knowledge was far-reaching. His brief career as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, ended when he joined the Catholic Church. His father sent him to Lausanne, in Switzerland, where, while studying Greek and French for the next five years, he re-joined the Protestant Church. In 1761 he published his Essai sur l'étude de la Littérature; the English version appeared in 1764. Meanwhile, Gibbon served as a captain in the Hampshire Militia until 1763, when he returned to the Continent. It was while he was in Rome in 1764 that he first conceived the work that was eventually to become The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

In 1774, after the death of his father, Gibbon settled in London and was elected to Parliament where he sat for the next eight years, although he never once spoke in the Commons. He also took his place among the literary circles of London. The first volume of his famous History was published in 1776; it was highly praised for its learning and style but incurred some censure for its treatment of the early Christians. The second and third volumes appeared in 1781 and the final three, which were written in Lausanne, in 1788. He died while on a visit to his friend, Lord Sheffield, who posthumously edited Gibbon's autobiographical papers and published them in 1796.


David Womersley teaches at Jesus College, Oxford, and edited Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for Penguin Classics.


David Womersley teaches at Jesus College, Oxford, and edited Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for Penguin Classics.


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Customer Reviews

If you're REALLY interested in the subject and Gibbon's point of view, you may want to get this.
Andruma Mor
This Kindle version of Gibbon is fine - the table of contents are active, the formatting looks good to me at all of the font sizes.
John Ogden
This book, my first long reading in the Kindle, is probably the one I would prefer to have read in paper.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

231 of 237 people found the following review helpful By Center Man on July 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Historians love revision. It's why so few histories of the 19th century endure; new evidence and interpretations render them useless. Even Carl Sandburg's superb biography of Abraham Lincoln sags under the weight of new research.
Why, then, is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire timeless? The author wasn't a post-modernist man trapped in an Enlightenment body; Gibbon had no conception of social history or archeology, his 18th century idea that climate affects morality is long out of date, and his analyses of the Middle East are hampered by his reliance on second-hand sources. But in 200 years no one has seriously challenged the framework Gibbon used to explain the fall of the empire. In fact, contemporary histories of Rome still owe a great deal to him.
Why? One reason is his careful use of documents. Decline and Fall relies mostly on writers like Ammianus and Sidonius, who tried to be impartial. Another is Gibbon's almost superhuman objectivity; while individual characters are berated for this and that, the author is usually sympathetic to human foibles, and always tells his tales with as much complexity as the sources will allow. Which is one reason the work's alleged hostility to Christianity is overstated; Gibbon said the religion played a role (not "the" role) in the fall of Rome, and even praises the new faith for breaking "the violence of the fall, and mollify(ing) the ferocious temper of the conquerors." There's one stumble, and that's the section on the various heresies and religious controversies of the 300s.
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164 of 169 people found the following review helpful By John Ogden on May 17, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an enormous amount of content and value for just 99 cents. Regarding this Kindle edition: I have purchased a number of inexpensive books on the Kindle, and as I have posted elsewhere, I feel that getting great works at cheap prices is one of the great things the Kindle enables. This Kindle version of Gibbon is fine - the table of contents are active, the formatting looks good to me at all of the font sizes. In reading the comments to the prior review, it sounds like the publisher made these changes in response to comments.
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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful By bixodoido on August 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This work has often been called, and rightly I believe, the most significant historical text ever written in the English language. Even in abridged form this work is spectacular, but as a whole this treatise on the fall of Rome is nothing short of monumental. In fact, the whole work covers a period of history not only concerning the fall of the Roman Empire, but also some ten centuries after the barbarian invasion of Rome, encompassing not only the events which led to the ruin of the empire but also every significant occurrence concerning the land, people, or allies of the fallen kingdom. Gibbon easily could have ended his history with the fall of the western empire, but instead he chose to continue a work to which he dedicated a great portion of his life, and for which the world will be forever in his debt.

Because the work spans such a large portion of civilized European history, it is fairly easy to abridge. The most important information concerning the decline of the center of civilization can be condensed into one rather large volume, and the rest (concerning Huns, Saracens, and the like) can be summed up in a matter of pages.
The abridgement is concise in many ways, yet severely wanting in others. As is always the case with an abridgement of a great work, much that is valuable has been spliced and omitted. Despite the problems with this abridgement, however, this work is a great joy to read. More importantly, it is packed with pertinent information about the fall of the Roman empire. If one of the ultimate goals of history is to learn from the past, there is much we can learn from Gibbon's work.
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Stephen D. Geller on July 22, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
For those with as much interest in the English language as in Roman history, Gibbon is one of the greatest stylists who ever lived. Moreover, his dramatic sense is manifest not only in the events he describes,but also in the very sentences he uses to describe them.

I wonder what he would think of the language of the internet.

Bless the internet for making Gibbon available for everybody; and Gibbon for making great language available on the internet!
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89 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
This work was merely the abridged version (the actual version is 3000 pages long), but Gibbon's command and use of the English language is so rich and varied that one must take the time necessary to savor and fully digest his arguments. Besides, at nearly 800 pages, this isn't light reading.
Editor David Womersley did a masterful job with the editing. In situations where chapters of the abridged version were truncated, Womersley still favored the reader with a description of Gibbon's arguments, as well as with commentary on why/how Gibbon's observations were of consequence. Additionally, Womersley's introduction is well worth one's time--he is able to give us an accurate and fascinating portrait of Gibbon, which enables us to better understand and appreciate the nature of Gibbon's arguments.
Of course, the best part about the book is Gibbon's own observations regarding the history of Rome. Gibbon was a masterful and witty commentator--oftentimes issuing backhanded insults and wryly discussing certain historical personages. Even the footnotes are filled with such commentary. Consider one footnote where Gibbon said "The Dissertation of M. Biet seems to have been justly preferred to the discourse of his more celebrated competitor, the Abbé le Boeuf, an antiquarian, whose name was happily expressive of his talents." Of the emperor Gordian, Gibbon remarked that both his gigantic collection of books, and his impressive collection of concubines were "for use rather than ostentation." Who could help but be charmed by this cheeky and mildly scandalous commentary?
But beyond dry wit and well-placed insults, Gibbon's work stands out because it is so relevant to our world today.
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