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Natural History: A Selection (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 3, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0140444131 ISBN-10: 0140444130 Edition: Reprint

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Natural History: A Selection (Penguin Classics) + The Letters of the Younger Pliny (Penguin Classics)
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 3, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140444130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140444131
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Greek

About the Author

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 - 79AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, studied botany and philosophy in Rome before serving in the military. He was later Porcurator in Gallia, whilst continuing to accumulate knowledge on everything from grammar to the history of the German wars. He created the first known encyclopedia.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 17 customer reviews
He has some strong opinions as well as a sense of humor.
I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a first exposure to Roman literature!
Jon Shemitz
Maybe in a thousand years all this will be just the mythology of our time.
Martin Monreal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 90 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
For those of you who wish to get acquainted with Pliny, learn more of ancient customs and practices, or if you just look for something different and enlightening to read for a change this book is highly recommended.
As the title rightly suggests this Penguin Classic consists of eclectic samples taken from the 37 books that comprise the Natural History. It is based on an updated, accurate and easy to read translation by John Healy and includes a 32 page introduction, the official section numbering, a key to ancient places mentioned in the text and an index. At 400 pages it is substantial enough to offer many pleasurable hours of thought provoking reading, although, to be honest, I had expected considerably more material to be included. This selection also reflects the translators interest in mineralogy and metallurgy (22 pages are for example devoted to a treatise on gold and silver while no selections have been made from book XIX on vegetable gardening). A curiosity which deserves a note here is book XIV (pp. 182-193 in this edition) in which Pliny gives an eminent account of the art of wine and viticulture. It is an absolute must read for all connoisseurs of good drink.
Considering that the complete works are both very expensive and bulky this is a good introductory option. But this is only an appetiser. Those who wish to indulge in more serious reading, or look to read Pliny in a more scholarly manner for the possibility of making good and well informed quotes, will undoubtedly do better by consulting the separate volumes which contain the whole unabridged text (eg. H. Rackham's authoritative translation with parallel Latin-English text published in 10 volumes by Harvard University Press). Had this Penguin edition covered more material I would have rated it at 5 stars.
// J. Silvennoinen
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Martin Monreal on March 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
It is ridiculous to dismiss Pliny on account of his many mistakes and factual errors and so on.

The way to read this book is the way in which you read that kind of fantastic literature that gives the "illusion" of fact; Borges and Italo Calvino come to mind - the first one had plans for making an edition of Pliny in Spanish, with his prologue, but died before finishing the project (you can check the notes of Borges' Selected Non-Fictions for that); Calvino in fact wrote a wonderful essay on Pliny, included in "Why Read the Classics?", a book everyone giving "Natural History" less than four stars should read urgently.

Let's say it: if Pliny had got everything "right", he would still be used to teach natural science in high-school... and, for that reason, nobody would care about him.

There are people who think that the only documents that tell us something about the past are those written with a clinical, cold eye: the look of an outsider. This book is fun PRECISELY because Pliny wrote down everything that reached his ears without checking the facts -Zeus bless his heart-, and because of his welcoming disposition, a geography of the common imagination of that time has been preserved; something that otherwise would be lost.

Not long ago some people around this parts believed the Russians ate their own children. A good number among us are certain that paying someone to listen to your problems for fifty minutes every week, allows you to confront your unearthed traumas and clean up your life. Maybe in a thousand years all this will be just the mythology of our time. A few days ago scientists started to suspect Pluto is not a planet after all, so all those books written about it in the past century... they are mutating already into vintage science fiction.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jon Shemitz on May 27, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You can discount this review by the way that I bought this seeking to read the famous account of Vesuvius' eruption. I couldn't remember which Pliny wrote it - and since I have free shipping through Amazon Prime, I just went ahead and impulse-bought the Natural History, without even Googling the Plinys.


These selections from the Natural History are fascinating. Pliny was an energetic man, hugely desirous of literary immortality, who wrote his books in the interstices of a full career as a soldier and an administrator. Pliny worked when others were asleep; Pliny read and dictated in a sedan chair as he moved about urban areas.

The book is rambling and discursive, full of vignettes, asides, and diatribes. Parts are straightforward precises of other authors (for example, I recently read Vitrivius, and Pliny's section on water and pipes reads almost like a New Yorker review of Vitrivius' coverage of water detection and pipe construction) while other parts are based on Pliny's personal observations. The whole is laced with Pliny's rants about the evils of luxury and greed and the decline of the desire for fame; anyone who wonders about the sustainability of contemporary society will find his complaints about the frivolity and vanity of "modern" men to be nearly as appropriate today as they were almost 2000 years ago.

Healy's translation is clear and easy to read. However, Healy's selections are occasionally jarring, and some of the section titles are annoying and condescending. The footnotes can be repetitive, and are often rather ill-chosen; Healy footnotes Latin terms that are pretty obvious from cognates, while leaving some more mysterious terms completely unexplained.
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