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ROME: An Empire's Story 1st Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199775293
ISBN-10: 9780199775293
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Editorial Reviews


"This latest volume from Professor Greg Woolf is a marvelous synthesis of the scholarship of, primarily, the last four decades on Rome's imperial successes and failures, rendered in an approachable and affable style of writing that is imbued throughout with useful anecdotes, quotes from primary sources, and summaries of the major scholarly positions. Woolf draws together rather complex lines of inquiry from numerous fields (including ecological and socio-political disciplines) and pieces together a narrative that educates, and points the reader to new theoretical directions that can be used to further illuminate the study of the topic at hand. ... Woolf has produced a useful review of the positions on Roman imperialism, a tour-de-force summary of the evolution of Rome from city-state to center of imperial power, and a really good read." --New England Classical Journal

"In this passionately told exploration of the history of Rome, Woolf peers closely at what enabled Rome to resist defeats and capitalize on victories, and how it evolved to face new needs and new threats. With dazzling detail, Woolf retells the long story from Rome's birth in 753 B.C.E. to the republic, the empire, and the empire's fall" --Publishers Weekly

"Excellent...Understanding the history of Rome is not a simple task...for those already with such an interest, Woolf's book will be a joy to read. For those not yet intrigued by Rome, it may well set them on that path." --Adrian Goldsworthy, The National Interest

"Exceptionally interesting and provocative reading." --Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"Could [this] be the best single-volume introduction to the history of ancient Rome? It is conceptual yet avoids the pitfalls of overgeneralizing, a difficult balance to strike. It also has a superb (useful rather than exhaustive) bibliography. A good measure of books such as this is whether they induce you to read or order other books on the same topic and this one did. A sure thing to make my 'Best Books of 2012' list." --Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"This is a marvellous book. Woolf provides a sweeping history of Rome's rise and fall, and asks the big questions of why and how this happened. Better yet, he offers no simple or simplistic answers, but instead well considered discussion of the evidence and how we try to understand it." --Adrian Goldsworthy, author of How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower and Caesar: Life of a Colossus

"Explanations for how Rome came to bestride the Mediterranean world puzzled ancient no less than modern historians, and Woolf's attention to enduring preoccupations, as with the fall of the republic and its succession by the emperors, endows his treatment with debate-like liveliness...a fine foundation for further learning about the Roman Empire." --Booklist

"How a single-volume history of Rome could contain so much is beyond me. Ranging across time and space, and examining every facet of Roman civilization, it also places Rome's empire in the context of empires elsewhere, from China to Peru. Woolf has written what will surely establish itself as the definitive introduction to his subject." --Tom Holland, author of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic and Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Rome: An Empire's Story is a terrific piece of work. It covers a vast chronological sweep briskly, from a wide and revealing variety of perspectives, and with a dazzling intellectual verve. The reader repeatedly encounters shrewd and often unexpected insights all along the way. Greg Woolf has given us a real tour de force of a book." --Nathan Rosenstein, Professor of History at The Ohio State University and author of Rome and the Mediterranean, 290 to 146 BC

"How the Roman elite shaped an identity for itself and its many subjects is one theme of Greg Woolf's Rome: An Empire's Story, a remarkable work of synthesis that describes the rise, flourishing and decline of the Roman Empire...textbooks divide Roman history into the republican and imperial periods and fix the beginning of the empire proper to the age of Augustus. Not the least merit of Mr. Woolf's chronicle is its depiction of how misleading this division can be..." --Wall Street Journal

"Fifteen years ago, Greg Woolf published one of the best books ever written on the western Roman Empire (Becoming Roman). His new account of Rome's imperial history is hence something of an event....[a] grand new vision of the Roman empire." --Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Greg Woolf is Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews. He is the author of Et Tu, Brute?: A Short History of Political Murder and editor of The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Roman World.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780199775293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199775293
  • ASIN: 019977529X
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #754,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Rome: An Empire's Story is a thoughtful and engaging rumination on the longevity and durability of the Roman Empire. Guiding the reader on a whirlwind tour from the days of the mythical kings to the Republic and then the Empire, Woolf spends every other chapter examining in more depth some specific topics that might explain the historical events he covers - e.g. changes in culture, political institutions, and even the ecology of the Mediterranean basin. What emerges is less a specific thesis and more a variety of first steps towards an explanation of why Rome persisted as long as it did. With an excellent bibliography and a section at the end of each chapter presenting further reading, Woolf leaves it up to the reader to make his own inquiries into the matter. For that reason this makes for a great introduction to classical study.

However, this book is seriously hampered by a myriad of copy editing mistakes. I can't think of another book I have read recently that is more harmed by the obviousness and number of so many mistakes. It smacks of being rushed to print. Comma splicing and dropped articles are the most prevalent errors. I found one or more of these on almost every other page. There are also quite a few words that should be pluralized but for some reason are not. And while Woolf's style is very easy to read, at times he takes on long-winded sentences which are in themselves not an issue, save that they are very often poorly punctuated. I had to reread many, many sentences to grasp their meaning - and I'm a graduate student versed in continental philosophy! Other sentences were just half-finished phrases. Together all of these slips can make it seem as if portions of the book had been lifted directly from the author's notes without any revising. I considered putting it down because of the shoddy editing - a first for me.

By all means read the book if you are interested in the topic. But proceed with caution if mechanical errors make you cringe.
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Format: Hardcover
"Rome: An Empire's Story" is two books in one. The odd numbered chapters begin with a timeline and quickly present historical events in chronological fashion. The even numbered chapters drop the timeline and chronological structure in favor of a topical approach such as "Imperial Ecology", "Slavery and Empire", "Enjoyment of Empire", etc. By combining these two styles of history in one book, and attempting the cover the entire history of Rome from kings to collapse in 300 pages, Wolff probably set himself an impossible task. The book is just not thorough enough to satisfy most readers and the topical chapters can be uninteresting. I do not consider the book as grammatically unreadable as do the other 3-star reviewers, but the rapidity with which Wolff addresses each topic diminishes the story's quality.

Wolff does conclude each chapter with suggested further reading, and I expect most readers will discover books they may not have found otherwise. Although "Rome: An Empire's Story" was at times engaging, I could not help but skip some pages to get to hasten the end. My favorite books on Rome remain Tom Holland's "Rubicon" and Adrian Goldsworthy's "In the Name of Rome."
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I used this book this semseter in a class I taught on western history/religion. An understanding of the Roman Empire is essential for understanding the history of Christianity. This book is divided into different sections all of which deal with a different aspect of the empire in an accessible way. While for my purposes I would have preferred a little more emphasis on Rome and Christianity, it did a great job of giving a lot of information on intriguing topics about the empire. Also every chapter ends with suggestion of other readings for more in depth works on each topic.

One thing I would recommend however, is to make sure you have some background knowledge about the Roman Empire. You should know the basic content of the story because Woolf assumes it. If you don't know who Sulla or Marcius (to name just two) you will get lost. For my class, I told the students to read H.A. Grueber's "the story of the Romans (yesterday's classics)" which you can get from amazon as a $4 ebook. It's actually a children's book and a quick read but if your grasp of roman history is weak, it will give you the background to make woolfs book much more helpful.
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Format: Hardcover
This is not a history in the typical sense of being a chronological recitation of events. The book attempts to comment on topics within its chapters such as "Emperors," "War," "The Generals." etc. Woolf's writing style may bore some to distraction while wading through extended sentences, dropped verbs, lost subjects, and page-long paragraphs.

That being said, the book is informative in the sense of a more philosophical interpretation of events surrounding Rome's birth, growth, and demise. Nevertheless, there are better and more interesting histories and three stars is a stretch. Noticed one historical error (page 141) where Woolf has Crassus getting bumped off at Cannae rather than at Carrhae. There may be more burried in the rather congested prose.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed Greg Woolf's "Rome: An Empire's Story", and I feel that I learned quite a bit. Woolf's book is strongest in the questions it poses: primarily, what were the reasons for Rome's phenomenal success and long life? Also interesting are the questions of how Romans themselves answered this question, as well as outsiders, particularly Greeks.

I was disappointed, however, by chapter XIII, "War", which covers Rome's crisis in the 3rd century AD. Earlier chapters alluded to this critical juncture in Rome's history, and the concluding passages suggested that, although Rome largely recovered and the Western empire continued for another two centuries, things were never the same afterwards. But the chapter itself is frustratingly vague; apparently, there was an unprecedented number of barbarian invasions, and these invasions managed first to overrun the heavily defended frontiers and next to run amok in the soft inner territories. But the chapter fails to describe how these pressures were unique.

The lack of substance in chapter 13 was so noticeable that, after finishing the book, I went back and reread it, thinking I must have been inattentive during the first pass. But even with the rereading, there seemed to be "no there, there". I'll probably pursue this topic further with some of the sources that Woolf recommends.
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