Customer Reviews


21 Reviews
5 star:
 (10)
4 star:
 (7)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An original and insightful account
As a "lettered academic", I would have to disagree with Mr Clarkson's review. I found this text to be readable and entertaining, as well as thoroughly and accurately researched. Adrian Murdoch has accepted the challenge to historians to do more than merely report history, but to offer some analysis and interpretation of events. I would recommend his study to those...
Published on January 20, 2005 by S. Atkinson

versus
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for beginners
I think that many reviewers have pointed out the strong sides to this book, while missing many of its weak spots. If I focus on these it's not that this is a bad book as such, but rather that there should be some balance in the reviews.

First it is a good book for beginners, in that it provides you with the basic information on the period as well as a good...
Published on July 10, 2011 by Norse Victorian


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An original and insightful account, January 20, 2005
As a "lettered academic", I would have to disagree with Mr Clarkson's review. I found this text to be readable and entertaining, as well as thoroughly and accurately researched. Adrian Murdoch has accepted the challenge to historians to do more than merely report history, but to offer some analysis and interpretation of events. I would recommend his study to those interested both in this specific historical period, and in the development of Western religious thought.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars for the Subject ..., April 17, 2010
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World (Paperback)
... but only three for the writing craft. Either Adrian Murdoch had no editorial support at all, or else he's dismally inattentive to the basics of English syntax. There are several points in his narrative where an attentive reader will have to conclude that he has written precisely the opposite of what he intended to say. Nevertheless, the book is well worth plodding through if you have more than a passing interest in the man Julian or the history of the Roman Empire.

"The Last Pagan" is a straight-forward old-fashioned modestly footnoted biography of the emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, CE 332-363, the grandson of Constantine and successor to Constantius, known for most of the last 1700 years as "Julian the Apostate". Few emperors of the Roman or any other empire have ever been as upright, decent, or well-intentioned as Julian -- at least as author Murdoch portrays him -- yet few have been so persistently execrated, particularly for such a brief and benign rule, just 18 months, scarcely long enough for news of his few edicts to spread from Syria at one edge of his empire to Britain at the other. The reforms in fiscal and administrative policies that Julian instituted in the few months of his reign, before his disastrous invasion of Persia, were of no lasting importance, though Murdoch evaluates their potential impact positively. What distinguished Julian from so many short-term emperors was his effort to disestablish the Christian religion and to revitalize the Greco-Roman 'state' religious cult usually labeled "paganism". Julian was not a persecutor of Christians;for many of them, he was something worse, a "philosopher" capable of dismissing their beliefs as vulgar superstitions.

The burning question, for Adrian Murdoch as well as for essayists from John Locke and Edward Gibbon to our times, is whether Julian's efforts to quell the spread of Christianity in favor of humanistic religious tolerance could possibly have succeeded but for his untimely death on the battlefield. In other words, could one man's will have changed history? I think it's obvious that a longer reign by Julian would indeed have changed matters in the short run, just as surely as American events would have differed, in the short run, if Kennedy had survived or Reagan perished from an assassin's bullet. Most historians over the ages have supposed that the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire and later through northern Europe was inevitable, a rolling tide that Julian could no more have halted than King Canute could stop the waves. Certainly no Christian believer would disagree; history must be, after all, conformable to God's Plan. Murdoch argues otherwise, and that argument is probably the most interesting portion of his book. "Paganism" had a chance, he says. Roman and Hellenistic cults were still widely revered throughout the Empire, despite Constantine's conversion. Christianity was still largely a religion of women and slaves, and it was splintered into violently contesting parties -- heresies to each other -- that might well have been 'encouraged' toward mutual destruction. There's a point to his argument, if one is not committed to a millenarian or Hegelian view of history. The long run of human events is, Murdoch implies, nothing but a succession of short runs -- one damn thing after another, if you will -- each utterly contingent on what happened last.

Now, if I had a 'time machine' and could travel back to Persia in 363 CE, to deflect the spear that pierced Julian's ribs and liver .....
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very humane insight into this mysterious historical figure, September 24, 2004
By 
Guillo (Danville, CA USA) - See all my reviews
An easy-to-read biography that presents Julian from a different perspective. Julian, the human being. A man trapped between 2 worlds. A man that dreams of bringing back the Old Roman glory and traditions. A man who perhaps would have succeeded if not for a twist of fate.

It is obvious that there was a substantial amount of research on the author's part. In my opinion, this book makes for great reading even if biographies or history are not the reader's cup of tea. "Talle lege!"
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Julian the Apostate, September 18, 2011
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World (Paperback)
This is a biography of the Emperor Julian, nephew of Constantine who ruled Rome for a short period from 361 to 363 ACE. Perhaps best know for his attempt to hold back Christianity and bring back to the centre the old religion of the Graeco-Roman world, there was, however, a lot more to Julian than just his religious policy. Murdoch's biography brings back to life Julian in his many facets through his easy to read and sometimes racy prose. Though not an academic text and perhaps not really adding substantially to the scholarship on Julian, this is nevertheless an enjoyable read.

Briefly, Julian was born into the family of Constantine and though brought up as a Christian, grew attached to the old religion though his study of the Greek and Roman classics. His entire family was murdered by Constantine's successor Constantius in a bid to eliminate rivals. Julian threw himself into scholarly pursuits perhaps to escape the attention of Constantius and to avoid being seen as a threat. He became an accomplished scholar but eventually was selected by Constantius to take up an administrative post in Gaul. Here he proved himself an able ruler, reforming the tax system. Though not having had military training, he showed that he was an effective military commander, defeating German invaders in 357ACE. Eventually, a revolt propelled him to challenge Constantius as Emperor but before the two could fight it out, Constantius died and Julian becomes Emperor. He attempts in the end unsuccessfully to restore to primacy the old religion. His reforms include the emulation of Christian organisational skills (where Christians excelled) and charitable giving, but in the end his attempt to hold back Christianity fails. He died on a disastrous (for the Romans) campaign against Persia.

Murdoch deals with his subject sympathetically. Julian was one of those rare rulers who though deeply immersed in scholarship, was able to turn his intellectual training into success in the practical affairs of government. Even in our own times, such leaders are rare. Apart from Churchill and Nehru, few twentieth century leaders (not counting Marxist theoreticians such as Lenin, Stalin and Mao) have joined to their political successes, scholarly or literary achievements.

Julian, as depicted by Murdoch, also stands out as an able ruler of Rome in very difficult times. It is indeed noteworthy that the era produced some of the most capable rulers of Rome, such as Constantine, Julian, Valentinian and Theodosius. By contrast, some of the rulers of Rome during the Golden Age of the First Century ACE were at best mediocre and in the case of Caligula, Nero and Domitian, plain crazy. Perhaps, sub par rulers can stay in power in good times and when the state is stable without doing much damage, but difficult times require able rulers.

Biography as a genre is easily criticised as placing too much emphasis on the works of individuals rather than the broader processes and trends that shape and change societies. Good biography however will be more than the story of an individual and will be a canvass on which to study the bigger things at play. In this, Murdoch's biography is not wanting, capturing the essence of Julian and his times. The big picture story was the rise of Christianity againt a backdrop of Roman decline. However, this not an academic book and some of the other reviews criticise the author's journalistic style. GW Bowersock's "Julian the Apostate" is an excellent academic biography for those who are interested - but taking a more traditional (and hostile) view of Julian. One may both admire the courage of an individual who swims against the tide - or condemn the same individual for lack of wisdom in doing so. Murdoch does the former if Bowerstock takes the latter position.

Christian writers not unnaturally are hostile to Julian. However, in their writings and condemnations, one can sometimes sense a secret admiration. Such feelings for an enemy such as Julian are perhaps not that suprising, given his undoubted intelligence and ability. Indeed, the legacy of Julian despite being an enemy of Christianity has come down to us through Christian monks over the centuries carefully preserving, copying and handing down the record, including many of Julian's own letters. This perhaps might be the the most telling tribute to Julian.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for beginners, July 10, 2011
This review is from: The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World (Paperback)
I think that many reviewers have pointed out the strong sides to this book, while missing many of its weak spots. If I focus on these it's not that this is a bad book as such, but rather that there should be some balance in the reviews.

First it is a good book for beginners, in that it provides you with the basic information on the period as well as a good bibliography. That said there is no new information here if you're at all read on the period. Certainly if you've read any other biography of Julian you're highly unlikely to find anything new. I doubt it set out to be more than this, but you should be aware of it.

As for the prose style I personally found it a tad sparse. The author is a journalist and it shows in his writing, which to me reads a bit like an extended article or opinion piece. Not that this is necessarily bad, many modern readers seem to like that sort of thing. If however you prefer descriptive and evocative language you won't find that here.

Finally there is an annoying tendency to draw conclusions from limited facts. Certainly they are educated guesses, well founded too for that matter. Indeed I am inclined to agree with the author as to the nature of Julian's death. Yet there were times when it interrupted the rhythm of my reading, so take note.

So for these reasons I make it 3 star rather than 4.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Popular History, June 18, 2004
At first, I did not like the popular approach to this history of Julian the Apostate; however, by the time I finished, I realized that the popular style is really what the author brings to the discussion of Julian, especially in the last chapter. For example, we are given a modern travelogue to Julian's life and military campaigns. I can now retrace Julian's routes through Europe to Asia Minor (should I ever get the itch). The last chapter gives a short account of historical, artistic, and literary work on the subject of Julian, many of which I was not familiar with. However, he strangely omits recent historical accounts by G.W. Bowerstock, Athanassiadi Polymnia, or Roland Smith.
The author offers a balanced historical account of Julian's life, discussing his strengths and weaknesses; however, there is not much new in the way of analysis or historical facts. Regardless, I enjoyed the read, although some of the modern analogies were a bit stretched.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating parallels with modern events in Iraq, July 5, 2004
By A Customer
loved this - a great and human insight into a period of classical history that normally gets ignored. I remember bits of classical Greece or Caesar's times, but hadn't ever looked at the later years of the Romans - the fourth century AD.
The research has been well done, but condensed into a story about a single man - real insight into the society and structure of the late Roman times.
And of course the whole episode of his invading Mesopotamia (Iraq now) was fascinating - from his mistakes and over-reaching to his eventual death. (The detective work round his cause of death was particularly interesting).
Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography of Emperor Julian, February 18, 2009
By 
G. Poirier (Orleans, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World (Paperback)
Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the Emperor Julian. Consequently, I was surprised to see, through this superb biography, what a remarkable man he was. The author is very successful in bringing Julian to life. He discusses the man from his birth to his death, as well as the times just prior to and after this period. The religious climate of the times is particularly well developed - especially in view of Julian's religious beliefs. The author is very careful in identifying his sources and in pointing out certain details that may be less certain and occasionally controversial. Julian's influence on the literature of the medieval period and thereafter is also discussed near the end of the book. Overall, Julian is portrayed as a remarkable man who, had he lived longer, may have been classified as one of the Roman Empire's better emperors. The writing style is authoritative, accessible, friendly and quite engaging. This book can be enjoyed by anyone, but it will likely be of particular interest to ancient history buffs.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific read, June 11, 2007
Adrian Murdoch's book on Julian was a pure pleasure to read. The story of how Julian came to wear the purple and his fight against the growing wave of Christianity is fascinating, and this book reads more like a novel than a book of history. The only complaint I had was not about the book itself, but was that I had to go to amazon.co.uk to purchase an affordable copy. This was a great book, but it is not worth $75-100, and can be purchased for E10-15 at the other site.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opening alternate history that uses over 700 pages of Julian's original writings, July 10, 2008
This review is from: The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World (Paperback)
Adrian Murdoch's THE LAST PAGAN: JULIAN THE APOSTATE AND THE DEATH OF THE ANCIENT WORLD tells of the violent death of the emperor Julian and his journey from his Christian childhood to his involvement in pagan cults and his mission to establish paganism as the dominant faith of the Roman world. An eye-opening alternate history that uses over 700 pages of Julian's original writings to provide some eye-opening new revelations on his beliefs.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World
The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World by Adrian Murdoch (Paperback - April 18, 2008)
$18.95 $15.13
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.