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127 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Study for Graeco-Romans
Those who study classical history know how rare it is that a scholar can take us in a consistent line from the development of classical and Hellenistic Greece to the conquering might of Rome, and illuminate both worlds.

Robin Lane Fox has pulled off this unusual achievement in his The Classical World. Taking three very ancient-world concepts - Liberty, Justice...
Published on October 3, 2006 by Suzanne Cross

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87 of 104 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So, is it "good" history?
Seeking to cogently summarise an incredible period of development & change - from the emergence of Greek city-states to the peaking of the Roman Empire - in just 600 pages is some challenge, but it's one that Robin Lane Fox rises to through his mastery of the subject and his ability to distil his knowledge into a manageable and highly readable format. And, as an example...
Published on December 23, 2006 by nicjaytee


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127 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Study for Graeco-Romans, October 3, 2006
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Suzanne Cross "Bibliophilos" (Santa Fe, New Mexico United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
Those who study classical history know how rare it is that a scholar can take us in a consistent line from the development of classical and Hellenistic Greece to the conquering might of Rome, and illuminate both worlds.

Robin Lane Fox has pulled off this unusual achievement in his The Classical World. Taking three very ancient-world concepts - Liberty, Justice and Luxury (in its sense of extravagance, decadence) - Fox manages to walk confidently from Archaic Athens to the mid-point in the Roman Empire (the Emperor Hadrian, perhaps the most Greek-influenced of Roman Emperors, second century A.D.) and brilliantly evoke both the changes within the Greek and Roman cultures as they rose to empire and then fell from that high point, and to `compare and contrast' the two great cultures in a way that makes sense to the reader. Perhaps more importantly, this is a deeply satisfying book both for the expert scholar and the interested reader who doesn't have his M.A. in classical studies. It's amazing to see how these three `civilized' needs or qualities are dealt with in differing ways by the various cultures of Greece and Rome, and how complaints of decadence always seem to follow the cultural richness of a developing civilization.

At heart, the question is - what constitutes a civilization? How do you reconcile the needs of Liberty and Justice, and what happens to both when the rich become richer and the poor become poorer? Is wealth in and of itself a clue that a civilization that has lost its earlier energy? How did the Greeks and Romans deal with wealth and poverty, and how did they view them as influencing both liberty and justice? How did the great warrior ideals Homer exemplified influence the cultures after them, for good - or ill? Did Athens fall, in part, because of its increasing wealth drawn from its increasingly-resentful allies? Did the largesse of the Caesars do more harm than good to the average Roman citizen? These and other questions are discussed (but not intrusively) as the reader time-travels through the rise and decline of the Athenian Greeks; Fox takes his leave with the Emperor Hadrian. In his time, Rome was still the greatest, most civilized nation on earth - but the hints of the decline to come were already visible with those who had eyes to see.

Fox is best known, perhaps, for his marvelous biography of Alexander the Great (and his consulting participation in Oliver Stone's movie Alexander). Similarly, Fox was able to make Alexander both comprehensible and accessible, wading through a multitude of conflicting sources and eons of contradictory scholarship.

The Classical World feels, simply, like a labor of love from a man who finds much to love, to deprecate, and to honor in both the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome.
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87 of 104 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So, is it "good" history?, December 23, 2006
This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
Seeking to cogently summarise an incredible period of development & change - from the emergence of Greek city-states to the peaking of the Roman Empire - in just 600 pages is some challenge, but it's one that Robin Lane Fox rises to through his mastery of the subject and his ability to distil his knowledge into a manageable and highly readable format. And, as an example of making the "key facts" of complex history understandable and sufficiently succinct to capture and hold the attention of non-academic readers, it's an excellent book.

But, is it "good" history? Well that, of course, depends on how you view the subject. If it's a summary of major political & military events then you won't be disappointed for it's a fascinating period and, by the end of it all, you'll know what happened: who, where & when. But good history should be more than a mere distillation of "facts": it should explore why things happened. And, given the period being addressed - one in which the exploration of philosophy, science, politics and history itself was paramount in making it so important - Lane Fox's failure to do this is a major weakness.

For example, the reasons for the massive social & political differences in the parallel development of Athens and Sparta - two key city states only 100 miles apart - one of which pioneered philosophy & democracy, and the other of which pioneered the exact opposite, is virtually ignored other than in terms of their regular military conflicts. Or, why Athens made the most incredible intellectual advances during a period in which it was under constant military threat and in which half of its citizens were killed in wars... were they related issues? Or, the whole subject of slavery, in particular how the ever-present threat that "free" citizens in one state could rapidly find themselves slaves in another affected people's thinking. Or, how Rome controlled and administered, so effectively, such a huge empire for such a huge period of time - a subject that is not only fascinating but extremely relevant to any understanding of both the Romans and, the development of political & military science. Interesting, but largely ignored, as is the whole issue of blood sports in the Roman Empire, other than a short section summarising some of what happened without any real insights into the reasons why it was endorsed & accepted and how it was used to maintain power.

And so it goes, for as you pass through chapters filled with highly articulate and entertaining explanations of the key political & military events that shaped the "map" of the period you're left with nagging questions about what life for people outside of the often transiently dominant elite ruling class was really like: why their underlying societies developed in the way they did, what their social structures & needs were, and how these factors impacted on the seismic changes in politics, culture, the arts & science that make the period so interesting and important.

To be fair, Lane Fox has limited source material concerning the social history of the period to work off and, where this material is available (in particular in Cicero's & Pliny's letters), he does address some of these questions, but, given his exceptional knowledge of the subject and his willingness to provide his own interpretations of political & military events in other areas, he should also have allowed himself much more space to consider the wider, equally relevant issues at play here, bringing the book "alive" while adding to the reader's understanding of what was actually going on.

A tour de force in making traditional, academic level history available to the masses and a great "read" but, a lost opportunity in providing real insight into his subject matter.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweeping history of the Classical World, February 23, 2007
By 
Steven A. Peterson (Hershey, PA (Born in Kewanee, IL)) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
Robin Lane Fox has authored a sweeping history of what he calls "The Classical World," from Homer's Greece to Hadrian's Roman Empire. While a work of such scope means that there cannot be great depth in discussing any point in that era; on the other hand, it provides a bird's eye view of issues, themes, and change over time. The author himself notes that (page xv): "It is a challenge to be asked to write a history of some none hundred years, especially when the evidence is so scattered and diverse, but it is a challenge which I have enjoyed."

Some definitional issues. Lane defines "The Classical World" as (page 1) ". . .the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, some forty lifetimes before our own but still able to challenge us by a humanity shared with ours." Fox ceases his narrative with the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Why? Lane says (page 2): ". . .'classical literature' ends in his reign. . . ." Even more important Page 2), ". . .is that Hadrian himself was the emperor with the most evident classicizing tastes."

First, Fox focuses on three themes across this span of history--freedom, justice, and luxury. He believes that each of these--and the changes that occurred with time--can help explain the sweep of events.

Second, he divides the time span into several eras, and treats each separately, although noting how the themes of freedom, justice, and luxury play out in each. "The Archaic Greek World" begins with Homer's Greece and concludes with the great Persian Wars. The next time period is what Fox refers to As "The Classical Greek World." This period runs from the rise of democratic Athens, the Peloponnesian War, Socrates, the rise of Philip of Macedon. The next phase is what he terms "Hellenistic Worlds," beginning with Alexander the Great's incredible success and the development of one of the world's largest empires. This frame runs until the final struggles between Carthage and Rome. Fox then moves on to a discussion of "The Roman Republic." Here, he considers the increase in luxury in Rome, the intrigues among Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Caesar's death. He follows this with a discussion "From Republic to Empire." The chapters in this segment include the rise of Octavian (to Augustus), his conflicts with Mark Antony, the Civil War against the assassins of Caesar, and so on. The last portion of the book, "An Imperial World," traces the post-Augustan period, concluding with Hadrian's rule.

Under Hadrian, according to Fox (page 571): ". . .the two worlds of this book, the classical Greek and the Roman, came closely together. Hadrian's love of Greek culture is evident in his patronage, his favours for Greek cities (especially Athens) and his personal romantic life."

In a history as large as this, one sacrifices depth for breadth. It is interesting to note Fox's rather dismissive treatment of Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus, as compared with more sympathetic treatments of each in the recent biographies by Goldsworthy and Everitt. Also, Everitt's biography of Cicero provides greater depth on that key figure in the period of time when the Republic was moving toward Empire. All in all, this is a well written book and worth looking at by those interested in this slice of history.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Classical World is an excellent introduction to the ancient world for the general reader, May 21, 2007
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This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
Rome was not built in a day. Neither was Athens or Alexandria or your knowledge of the ancient world! "The Classcial World" is a long book with

small print which will give you a good working understanding of the classical world from Homer (8th century BC) to Hadrian the Roman ruler of the second century AD.

Fox is an Oxford Scholar best known for his book on Alexander the Great used by Oliver Stone in his making of the movie "Alexander." In being forced to cover over 900 years of history it is impossible for Fox to cover, in detail, all the political, social, literary and scientific advances made in that near millenium. Rather, Fox gives us a political survey of the times with some social history included. The chapters are short and digestable. We learn of what is what like to live in the Athens of Pericles or the Rome of Julius Caesar. Fox teaches us about blood sports, sexual morality, literature and the complicated politics of the distant past over 40 generations ago. We meet such seminal figures in Western culture as Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Latin authors such as Tacitus, Virgil, Suetonius as well as Greek historians Herodotus & Thucydides. The philosophy of Plato and Aristotle is explored. We see empires rise and fall. We meet early Christians such as Paul and see the impact of Christianity on the Roman Empire.

This book is written in a plain easy to comprehend style. The book is well illustrated containing good maps. The most interesting section, to this reviewer, was the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of emperors in the first century BC. Emperors from the Julian-Claudian dynasty are fascinating. Caesar, Augusutus; Tiberius; Caligula; Claudius; Nero are well drawn.

Fox says three major themes are apparent in the way ancients looked at the world" Freedom-from Athenian republicanism to the tyranny of Roman emperors; justice issues were important to the ancients as were the role of luxury in life. The Spartan Greeks would have been appalled at the wanton luxury and sybratic lifestyle of the Roman aristocracy.

This book would do well as a basic textbook for Ancient History 101.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but not compelling, February 20, 2007
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This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
Overall, TCW is an adequate survey of over-arching trends in Greco-Roman history. I found the writing style strange, however. Perhaps I'm just more accustomed to linear narratives but TCW seems to lack focus (not to mention depth, but that's to be expected in a general survey).

What is interesting is the theme that runs through the entire work: the correlation between "luxury" (i.e. concentration of wealth and conspicuous consumption) and tyranny/corruption (including sexual mores). I'm not sure if this theme is deliberate or if the author is simply reflecting the values of his sources. Either way, this theme colors the history presented.

What I did like, however, was that relatively little ink was spent on Alexander and Caesar. IMHO it's too easy to get wrapped up in these individuals at the expense of their greater historical context. (Sure, they're interesting but there are plenty of books dealing with them). I was also pleased with the chapters dealing with the Diadochi (the Successors to Alexander the Great).

Another interesting aspect of the book was the (to a significant degree) common culture shared between the Greeks and the Romans. More traditional histories seem to treat the Romans as having emerged independent of and isolated from the larger Greek world that was really the dominate culture in much of the Mediterranean (and the Black Sea, for that matter). That was, perhaps, the most enlightening contribution of the book (for me, at least).

Overall, TCW is an adequate general survey of the subject but not exactly a compelling read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fill-in the gaps in your knowledge of history and have fun doing it, May 30, 2007
This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
I enjoy reading history and decided on this book to give me information about an era I know little about, ancient Greece and Rome. This work is an excellent introduction to this topic and is quite enjoyable to read. The chapters are generally twelve pages or less, so it is convenient to sample the material in small doses. And those doses prove to be fascinating enough to tempt the reader to push on through succeeding chapters even as the eyelids grow heavy at night.

This is a narrative history which chronologically traces the developments of both societies. It is heavy on political events, but provides enough social history to make the period come alive. Fox's work can serve as a fine springboard for later reading in more concentrated areas that the reader may wish to explore. For the person with an interest in history, Professor Fox lays a basic foundation and provides a strong sense of understanding what made Grecian and Roman societies work. In an engaging style, he helps us understand how many traditions, practices, and values evolved in western civilization.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Book -- but WOE Be Unto All Kindle Users, May 27, 2014
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I think this is a very well-written history of the ancient world, but it is, sadly, a very lame and slipshod port to the kindle format. How else can one account for the lack of an interactively linked Table of Contents? In fact, my Kindle version of this book does not include a Table of Contents at all, though the printed version of the book clearly has one.

The maps are poor in quality and cannot be enlarged adequately to actually read the city and place names.

Strangely, there *is* a list of maps and illustrations at the beginning of the book, but it also -- and unforgivably -- lacks hyperlinks. Hopefully, the publisher will amend these Kindle-Port crimes (and if they ever do I promise to amend my review), but in the meantime these flaws are extraordinarily irritating, especially in an academic history, wherein one might want to move back and forth easily through the volume by means of an interactive Table of Contents.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If You Were To Buy Just One Classical History...Well..., January 9, 2011
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This review is from: The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian (Hardcover)
Robin Lane Fox has gathered the ancient world, from Homer to Hadrian, and parlayed it into 600 pages of perfection. It is the story of ancient Greece and beyond forward to about 200 AD, the time of the greatest expansion of the Roman Empire. Within that timeframe are perfectly lucid, commonsense, descriptions of the wars of Alexander, the eruption of Vesuvius, gladiatorial games, the rise of Christianity, the fall of the Judio-Claudians and their mad emperors, and...well you get the picture.

What sets this book apart from the rest (aside from the most fantastic bibliography) is the completely accessible writing style which allows the reader to view the development of Western Civilization as a story that actually can be grasped as a whole. Each topic of each chapter can, and has, spawned a thousand books but the good professor never seems in a hurry when writing and never seems out to impress, but rather seems to want to make sure that he has patiently explained some rather convoluted ideas. If you have been a fan of Greek or Roman history or just like to real historical novels of this time period, you will find this book essential.

What could easily have been a book too complicated to enjoy becomes a dependable reference into the lives of the ancients. Refreshingly, Mr. Fox seems rather dispassionate about the subject matter. He leaves the joy of discovery to the reader and does not seem to insist on any particular interpretation of the historical facts. He lets the history speak for itself. Great read...couldn't put it down...and I'm much more educated for encountering it. Three thumbs up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent single volume survey, September 19, 2013
Lane Fox's book is probably the best one volume history in English of the nine centuries centered on the Mediterranean that stretch from the "pre-classical classical" world of the blind poet to the satirist Juvenal when Rome ruled the world from Britain to the Red Sea. Knowing a bit of the Greeks--Homer (of course) lots of Plato, not much Aristotle; Thucydides but not Herodotus; Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides; some of Alexander's campaigns and much less of the Romans, based on mostly on spottily recalled high school Latin class translations of "The Conquest of Gaul", I was looking for a reference that covered or at least mentioned what little I knew and the great deal that I did not.

Lane Fox traces Greco-Roman history through three themes that have long interested classicists: freedom, justice and luxury. For the Greeks the Romans were barbarians and it is difficult to argue with the view from first century BC Athens: Rome's first emperors made it a point to restrict freedom and Augustus' successors spent much of their time engaged in fratricide, incest, intrigue and conquest.

Lane Fox makes some oddly anachronistic points when describing Athenian political life; while fourth century BC Athens is the earliest known functioning democracy, with the vote of citizens the ultimate and only stamp of sovereignty, he still makes the point that Athens was a slave owning society and that slaves, women and foreigners, however long resident, didn't have the vote. This situation in, for example, the United States of America 2400 years later wasn't a great deal different. Actually Athens was more "democratic" and inclusive than the later republics since there was no class or property owning qualification for voting and citizenship. All adult males born of Athenian parents had the autonomy of the franchise no matter what the source and amount of his wealth. Equal votes for all male citizens and a popular rotating council and assembly with power to accept or reject proposals were unprecedented in the ancient world.

A singular aspect of Attic civic life was ostracism by which a prominent citizen who threatened the stability of the state could be banished without bringing any charge against him. It was done very sparingly, openly and by popular vote--an annual meeting of all citizens would decide whether to hold a vote on ostracism that year. If so, any citizen entitled to vote in the assembly could write another citizen's name down, and, when a sufficiently large number wrote the same name, the ostracized man had to leave Attica within 10 days and stay away for 10 years. He didn't lose ownership of his property (unlike the later Roman exile, which involved forfeiture of property and banishment for an indefinite period, essentially for life.

Themistocles, conqueror of the Persian fleet at the key battle of Salamis, was one of the most notable Athenians ostracized when he was seen as too eager in creating even more open and responsible government based on the citizens' assembly. He spent his time away from Athens in the south--Spartan territory--to provoke political dissent among the allies of Sparta.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and exiting!, November 5, 2012
Really well written, reads very fluently. Relative to other historic books that sometimes can be really hard and tiresome to read, this book reads like a novel. Many historians write books that summarize information, without making it enjoyable to read. In my opinion, Robin lane fox succeeds in writing history very thrillingly and keeps the reader enchanted during the course of this great ancient story.
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The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian
The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian by Robin Lane Fox (Hardcover - October 9, 2006)
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