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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book if you have the background
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...
Published 19 months ago by R. Reed

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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book marred by terrible editing
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...
Published on July 23, 2012 by P. Franklin


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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book marred by terrible editing, July 23, 2012
By 
P. Franklin (Suwanee, Georgia United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rome: An Empire's Story (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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two Books, Too Brisk, September 21, 2012
This review is from: Rome: An Empire's Story (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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informed but prolix, August 20, 2012
This review is from: Rome: An Empire's Story (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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book if you have the background, February 24, 2013
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but does not always deliver, December 22, 2012
By 
Robert H. Stine Jr. "Bob" (Arlington, VA United States) - See all my reviews
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a new way to view ancient Rome, September 22, 2012
This review is from: Rome: An Empire's Story (Hardcover)
Rome: An Empire's Story by Greg Woolf is a fascinating book. It looks at Roman history from many new perspectives, such as ecology and monetary practices, instead of the usual chronological progression of events. I found some of the chapters to be so interesting that I went back and read them again, as they made me think about history in a new way, and made me think of how previously undescribed processes or changes had profound effects upon the empire. I do recommend this book, both for people who like to read history and also for those who don't...everyone can learn a great deal about the world of ancient Rome, as well as the world of today, from this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and accessible, September 6, 2012
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Rose Scott "Rose" (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Though considering Rome through a conceptual prism ( not it's history, but the history of its influence over our conception of empire) might have resulted in something turgid and academic, Woolf is a great writer and an enthusiastic storyteller. He makes the approach work beautifully. I'm learning a lot and finding the reading effortless.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and Analytical, September 5, 2012
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This review is from: Rome: An Empire's Story (Hardcover)
This book tells the whole story of the Roman Empire from the beginning of the town of Rome until the fall of Constantinople (although it really doesn't go until 1453 AD but ends in the early 700s AD when it was in decline). The book does this at a very high level in terms of telling the story of Rome, the overthrow of the Etruscan kings, the republic, the civil wars (Caesar, Pompey, Octavian, etc.), the early empire and the late empire. What is excellent about this book is the analysis of each segment of Rome's history - why things occurred the way that they did. It accomplishes this using primary sources and excellent secondary sources that evaluate these primary sources.

Although it can be dry at times due to the analytical approach, I agree with the other evaluation that this book is a must have for any reader interested in the Roman Empire, its growth, the primary period and its decline. In my opinion, there is no book out there that covers the whole story of Rome with such detailed analysis and scholarly review. This book is highly recommended for individuals who are interested in the Roman Empire. However, for those readers who have a casual interest in the Roman Empire, beware because you may not be happy with this book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Even now the Roman World feels like a vast sandpit in which I can play...", August 31, 2012
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"Even now the Roman World feels like a vast sandpit in which I can play..." says the author in the preface to this work; it is a pleasure to join him.

Like ancient astrologers scanning the heavens for answers and warnings, contemporary man studies Rome's past for clues to the problems they face. Most of us look for warnings in the end of the Roman Republic, or the Empire's fall; but after reading this superb analysis, to me the closest parallel to our times is Rome in the 2nd century BC. Like Rome, we have seen the termination of older imperial states and with our withdrawal, their replacement with weaker, semi-chaotic successor states that often turn against us, even the rise of piracy as the navies of the world seem impotent to deal with the problem.

Other similarities are economic dislocation at home, with the decline in economic viability of "productive" small producers, and the inward migration of "subject peoples" which further displace these small producers. Internal politics seem to encourage bitterness and hostility among the ruling classes as domestic affairs become more chaotic and violent. Foreign policy is in disarray as client states openly try to manipulate policy makers thru thinly disguised bribes and gifts. Even an over-stretched citizen based military that was never designed for conflicts that seem to last for generations in distant lands is paralleled today.

This is a fascinating analysis, which you don't always have to agree with. I found one minor error on page 274 where Antiochus III is mentioned as a Persian emperor. His take on the current historical debate over the nature of the changes that took place with the fall of the Roman Empire makes a lot of sense; while there may have been "continuity and transformation" at the bottom of the social scale, the change was catastrophic at the top and "Measured in terms of territory, population, influence, and military power there is no doubt at all about the fact of collapse. Ancients recognized this, and so should we." He gives no reason for the Empire's fall, but believes the fact that no other empire rapidly arose to succeed would argue against the fall being due to systemic reasons or were the emperors to blame.

This is not a work for the novice, as it is truly speaking not a detailed history, but rather an analytical work. The book is at its best in its brief discussions of the latest theories of Roman history. This is buttressed by extensive footnotes and recommended reading selections for each chapter. Unfortunately, the academic presses that publish most of these works do not price them for the individual reader to purchase.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Save your money; buy a better book, January 19, 2014
Woolf has a great premise: tell the story of how Rome became and stayed great, and don't sweat all the details. That would be fine, since I've read other books on Rome, took a university course on Rome, etc, and I would have appreciated reading some fine commentary on why Rome succeeded where other empires failed. But the writing is amateurish and at times shamefully sloppy, and the book doesn't live up to its purpose. Woolf is a university professor, and this seems like something one of his weakest students would have written, claiming to be fresh and insightful, but rehashing cliche commentary and contributing nothing new. That's at the idea level. At the writing level, I was surprised to come across "paragraphs" that were sentences randomly thrown together with no connection. I only made it halfway through the book before giving up.

I'm not sure why other reviews praise the "Further Reading" sections. They're nothing special, and if you can use the internet, you can find books on Rome on your own.

Do I have anything good to say about it? Woolf clearly has his heart in the right place and is an admirer of Rome. Maybe with a good editor at the idea level and another at the writing level, this could have been a good book.
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Rome: An Empire's Story
Rome: An Empire's Story by Greg Woolf (Hardcover - July 10, 2012)
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