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on August 26, 2012
This is a pretty good account of the decline and fall of Nero; unfortunately, it is NOT really about the Great Fire of Rome. I think the fire is covered in only about two chapters before the author moves on to Nero's stunted singing (!) career and the assassination plots against him. One might call this a revisionist biography, as Dando-Collins argues that Nero wasn't that bad a guy, or at least no worse than any of the other Roman emperors.

Dando-Collins makes the argument that Nero did NOT persecute Christians after the Great Fire. He believes some chronicler substituted "Christians" for "followers of Isis." I am intrigued by this idea, but I don't like it how Dando-Collins just took his theory and ran with it, treating it as fact for the rest of the book.

I don't mean to sound overly critical. I did enjoy the book. I just think there are some aspects of it that are wide open to debate.
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on February 2, 2014
Dando-Collins is always an amusing read. He tells an entertaining story and I have occasionally recommended his books for airplane reading. That said, of all of D-C's works, The Great Fire Of Rome has some of the worst, most dishonest citation I have ever seen. Using his depiction of Nero's last words is a small, nitpicking example:

"Too late!" Nero gasped, looking up at the centurion with bulging eyes. "Is this your duty?" he asked. [11]

This doesn't sound right to me, so let us take a look at [11] and see where Dando-Collins got this quotation. Notes 8-11 are sourced as Suetonius 6.47. Okay, let's find what translation D-C has used. Hmm. The Bibliography doesn't even list Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, in my copy. That seems like an impossible mistake. I suppose we could blame the editor. Fine, we will check his quotation against both Robert Graves (Penguin Classics), J. C. Rolfe (Loeb Classical Library) and, heck, we'll even check it against the Latin.

Graves translates the final lines:

Nero muttered, 'Too late! But, ah, what fidelity!'

Rolfe's translation is:

He was all but dead when a centurion rushed in, and as he placed a cloak to the wound, pretending that he had come to aid him, Nero merely gasped: "Too late!" and "This is fidelity!"

The Latin:

"Sero," et: "Haec est fides."

Even for a beginner in Latin, this phrase is simple and its meaning clear - and the translations both get it right - Nero is speaking of the Centurion's futile attempt to save his life as fidelity, he is mistaken that this is a demonstration of loyalty. He is contrasting this "fidelity" against the "infidelity" of the Guardsmen, bodyguards, and everyone else that has recently abandoned him. What he isn't doing, is asking the Centurion any rhetorical questions about duty or purpose. D-C removes Suetonius' final example of Nero's confusion and replaces it with perception.

There are a plethora of quotes that D-C provides citation for that the source cited doesn't feature at all. As with the example I've provided, if the quote is even "sort of" there, D-C often reverses its meaning or takes it completely out of context. This is unacceptable. Ironically, several of the "positive" editorial reviews that are quoted in Amazon's product description of the book, are taken completely out of context, too.

For example:

Bookviews.com, October 2010
"Heavily researched"

What the review by Alan Caruba, a blogger on science with casual interest in history, actually says, is:

It is not that the book isn't heavily researched. It is that every single bit of research finds its way into what would otherwise be expected to be a fairly riveting story of a major historical event. The result is a story bogged down in minutia.

Dishonesty aside, if D-C's books were in the historical fiction or alternate history category, where they belong, I would gladly rate most of his books four and five stars. But I cannot get behind a "history book" that has worse scholarship than Wikipedia.

I highly recommend anyone interested in The Great Fire and Nero's reign to read the contemporaries, keeping in mind that they are uniformly hostile (whereas D-C seems to think he's a decent guy). The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) by Suetonius is a sensational, gossip-filled biography that discusses the fire and is all we have on Nero's death (Tacitus' version is lost to us). Annals (Penguin Classics) by Tacitus gives a more fair and reserved biography, and slightly different view of the fire and Nero's response. On the city of Rome, and the ease with which an accidental fire could (and on occasion did) consume it completely, see The Ancient Roman City (Ancient Society and History) by Stambaugh.
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on October 1, 2010
This book reflects on the how the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD led to the fall of Emperor Nero four years later. Much of the book is filled with background material prior to the fire. However, from the author's point of view, it did appears that Nero initially tried to fight the fires although later on, he took advantages of what the end result of the fire provided him. Interestingly, the book didn't write much about the Christians being tormented as we see in some Hollywood movies. Perhaps the author realized (as many of us already knew) that there wasn't enough Christians in Rome during that time to create a scapegoat complex. So Nero went after the followers of Egyptian Goddess Iris who were more numerous in number. Nero seek a scapegoat because the growing rumours even back then, that he had a hand in the fire. Despite of Nero's best efforts, this wasn't going away so he needed a fall guy to take the blame. The book covered the fact that even afterward, many Roman historians still blame Nero for the fire. Whether this was a calculated effort at misinformation, it hard to tell. The book does say that most of Nero's contemporary historians does NOT blame Nero for the fire. But the negative press that Nero suffered from the fire during his life time, plus his frivolous lifestyle and his murderous tendencies, led to his downfall which was universally hailed in great rejoicing. The book does a very good job in describing all that in a very readable material. The author does take certain "liberties" with drama within the historical context but overall, I found the book highly entertaining and somewhat educational.
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on March 14, 2014
The other reviews, from 1 star to 5 are correct. D-C does try to rehabilitate Nero; there is only one chapter on the actual fire; it is told in a novelistic style (the first half at least); and he does claim that the followers of Isis were blamed for the crime--not Christians.

Some reviewers apparently took great offense at all this. As a Christian myself, I got an unsympathetic vibe from the book, but it wasn't egregiously offensive to me.

i found the book accessible, rich in detail, not pretentious, and the alternative history interesting and fun.
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on December 23, 2012
In the introduction, page 10, is the following: "The so-called First Triumvirate, Octavian, Antony and Lepidus..." This is a major error as Octavian, Antony and Lepidus were the Second Triumvirate. Otherwise the fun reading that Dando-Collins does well.
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on August 16, 2012
This is another superb book by Stephen Dando-Collins. I have enjoyed his series on famous Roman legions, and was anxious to read this when I saw that it was available. It did not disappoint. His narrative is based on ancient sources and speculation is well-controlled and useful. Dando-Collins is a fine stylist and a serious researcher. His portrait of Nero is the most well-balanced that I have tread in years. I strongly recommend this book.
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on April 23, 2011
Ultimately, this is a history of Nero from about A.D.64 to his suicide. The fire of Rome was just the crisis that pushed opinion against him. There has been allot of controversy to the extent which Nero persecuted Christians after the fire. The author claims that he persecuted the cult of Isis and not Christians. It's an interesting theory, but ultimately there are only a couple of things that back the argument. However, the evidence that he went after Christians is lacking as well. He makes a claim that biased Christian authors copied the histories and changed some things, but this is just speculation and impossible to prove definitively. The meat of the book successfully shows that Nero wasn't the mindless madman that he often is portrayed as, and the people who wrote about him were biased because of his acting and singing contests. While there was something definitely a little nutty about Nero, he acted surprisingly well and sensibly at times. We must not forget that most Roman's in power, especially the emperors, were a product of their time and look like monsters to modern eyes.
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on January 19, 2011
Despite this book's title, it really recounts the reign of Nero - the last Roman emperor in the Julian line. The author, a historian, does briefly discuss the fire itself, its devastating effects and its aftermath. He considers this disaster the turning point in Nero's popularity which declined from then on until the bloody end a couple of years later. Most of the Nero biographers that I am familiar with tend to paint Nero with the same brush: cruel, lascivious, crazy, etc. This author, on the other hand, suggests that the ancient sources, on which current biographies of Nero are based, are biased. He claims that Nero was well-liked before the fire and would have done well in the rough and cruel times in which he lived, had the tables not turned on him as they did.

The author writes well. In fact, all of the historical books of his that I have read thus far read almost like novels. As part of this friendly style, and as already pointed out by some prior reviewers, he takes a few liberties by adding information that cannot really be known, e.g., some facial expressions, some scenes, some minor events that "would" have happened, some likely conversations, etc. However, these don't detract from the main historical facts and make for spellbinding reading. Overall, the book is quite captivating, lively and accessible. It should be of interest to a wide readership, especially ancient history enthusiasts.
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on January 4, 2014
This book has almost 0 to do with the great fire of Rome. 2 chapters give or take a few fleeting mentions. The rest was OK but not exactly the subject I was looking for.
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on November 15, 2010
Rome, most powerful city of the ancient world has brought down by the most basic of nature's wrath - fire. "The Great Fire of Rome: The Fall of Emperor Nero and His City" looks at the history of Rome surrounding the fire that destroyed the city in the first century AD. With modern research on the great fire and its original causes, this study looks at the history of Rome's destruction and what it meant in the bigger picture of Roman history. "The Great Fire of Rome" is a fine addition to any history collection focusing on the time of antiquity.
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