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The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel
DVD ~ Willem Dafoe
Price: $14.99
35 used & new from $9.88

3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but too heavily stylized, September 17, 2014
This review is from: The Grand Budapest Hotel (DVD)
This is a fun film about a vanished world, complete with a caper and Nazis. It is enjoyable, the characters are intriguing, and the visual spectacle is wonderfully vivid. Unfortunately, the film is so tightly directed that it feels like a puppet show, with over-choreographed action that appears absurd and, in the end, as silly caricature. It lost me by the end.


How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower
How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower
by Adrian Keith Goldsworthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.88
78 used & new from $6.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Rot from within: a grand narrative on institutional and cultural decline, September 12, 2014
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This book is up to the standard we expect from Goldsworthy: combining up-to-date scholarship with lucid analyses, it also tells a great story. Though this is historical territory that I know well, this is a fresh take that is simply fun to read.

Goldsworthy starts with Marcus Aurelius, the last great Emperor of the Roman Empire's golden age. This system, the Principate, was set up by Augustus 200 years before. It was essentially a military dictatorship that maintained the appearance of the Institutions of the Republic. While supreme power rested in a single individual, it relied on the Senate to debate and ratify his decisions as well as to supply leadership in both military and administrative functions. Based around Rome, this elite group was small and hence, everyone more or less knew and understood each other, with similar education, background, and upbringing. At times amateurish, they could be relied upon to more or less keep the good of the nation - the "res publica" - in mind as they pursued their own agendas. The great flaw in this arrangement, according to Goldsworthy, was the lack of a settled institutional mechanism for succession; the emperor "named" his successor, often a member of the imperial family by birth or adoption, though with the indispensable backing of the military.

With the accession of Marcus Aurelius' natural born son, the notorious Commodus, a period of terrible instability followed. Once Commodus was assassinated, the power shifted to the military as the ultimate arbiter of who would be anointed Emperor. For the next 80 years, only a few Emperors reigned for more than 5 years before being deposed by assassination or civil war and execution. Somewhere in the Empire, it seems, the army was always acclaiming a new Emperor, who would then fight for the right of supreme leadership. It was only with the emergence of Diocletion, a strong and brilliant general, that this perpetual civil warfare became once again a rare occurrence.

It is here that Goldsworthy develops an interesting thesis. Out of an effort to shore up their strength and access new talent, the Emperors widened the scope of their leadership appointments beyond the Senate, relying on Equestrians (originally those rich enough to equip themselves with horses for their military duty). This occurred when the bureaucracy was growing to unprecedented proportions; in addition, the Empire was spread so expansively that it was broken into smaller and smaller administrative units, multiplying the need for competent administrators. Unfortunately, these developments opened the floodgates to ambitious men who did not share the sense of common purpose that Senators supposedly did. As as result, the Emperor became more isolated, trusting no one and in constant fear of losing his power or, all too often, his life. Rather than delegate tasks, Emperors felt obligated to undertake them personally, flitting about the Empire on mission after mission. It was simply too much for one man to accomplish. As time went on, Goldsworthy argues, things only got worse in spite of experiments in joint rule and the like. What saved the Empire was in a sense sheer momentum: it was bigger than everyone else, enjoyed access to vast resources, and faced no single power that could seriously challenge it. Nonetheless, the Empire's institutions were deteriorating from within.

In my opinion, this is a convincing argument. Many other issues are covered in the narrative, such as the rise of Christianity, the nature of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires, and the evolution of the barbarian challengers. Goldsworthy sees none of these as fundamentally different than anything that threatened Rome from its early days.

It is important to contrast this interpretation with the other great recent Fall book by Peter Heather. That book argues that the fall occurred due to converging geopolitical pressures. As the Vandals took over the wheat fields of N Africa, depriving Rome of food imports and tax revenues, Gothic barbarians (newly re-organized to resemble the Roman military) attacked an Empire weakened by a long fight with Attila the Hun. In my opinion, Goldsworthy takes these as contributing factors to the fall, but in themselves not sufficient - the weakened institutions were the principal factor, hence these simultaneous calamities were the conjunction that finally threw everything into a downward spiral. Goldsworthy does not believe they could have toppled a more functional state. For anyone seeking further intellectual adventure in this area, I would recommend Heather's masterpiece as both complementary and necessary adjunct to Goldsworthy's.

If I have a criticism of the book, it is that the argument occasionally gets lost in the narrative. However, as he doesn't state his thesis up front, it was clear to me that the institutions were what he chose to focus upon. I also find the assertion weak that Senators were better attuned to the "res publica" than the Equestrians ever could be. Finally, Goldsworthy has a serious bias towards moderation and skepticism - he rarely makes provocative assertions or goes out on a limb. While this stems in part from his mastery of scholarly arguments, it sometimes drains the narrative of spicy flavor.

Highest recommendation. This book is a must for any lover of history and any student of Rome. The narrative is also written with exceptional clarity, in luminous prose.


Margaret: Theatrical and Extended Cut (Blu-ray/ DVD Combo)
Margaret: Theatrical and Extended Cut (Blu-ray/ DVD Combo)
DVD ~ Anna Paquin
Price: $16.18
29 used & new from $9.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, but powerful arthouse portrait of an adolescent in moral crisis, September 4, 2014
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This is a heavily promoted indie film that never made it. It is the story of a struggling young lady in NYC. Her parents are divorced and self-absorbed, if loving and occasionally there for her. She is beautiful, intelligent, and questioning, appropriate to her age. Then, a trivial incident leads to a tragedy for which she feels responsible. The rest of the movie - nearly 3 hours in the extended version, which is what I am reviewing here - is how she deals with it, thinking in turn and then acting out. At turns, it is moving, brutal, sad, funny, uplifting, pathetic, and promising; the other characters emerge and form a portrait of the Manhattan middle class.

I wish I could say I found it as masterful and brilliant as many critics have done, but I thought it disjointed, abrupt, full of trivia and incidents that appear meaningless or ill-fitting. In most cases, it distracted rather than added to some vision or whole. The film technique - to include random conversations or expressions - felt intrusive to me, irritating.

Nonetheless, the acting is truly wonderful. Paquin creates a realistic, indeed brilliant, portrait of the girl - I completely believed how she grew and evolved as the crisis unfolded. And she does transform herself, to a degree, though in so many ways, she is still a girl. Most of the other actors appear in cameos, often to make some point, which works about half of the time, but also often fails.

I would recommend this film. The ambiguities and lack of simple clarity are truly artful. But it is flawed.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2014 10:07 AM PDT


My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Shavit, Ari (2013) Hardcover
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Shavit, Ari (2013) Hardcover
32 used & new from $16.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very personal, yet a solid overview; inspired while extremely pessimistic, September 3, 2014
This is a history of the major issues facing Israel, told through anecdote, family stories, and interviews with the top players. Though not comprehensive, which left many gaps of incident and detail, it is truly excellent for its clarity of vision, impartiality, and frank acknowledgment of the irreconcilable contradictions and paradoxes at the heart of Israel. I was completely absorbed through the entire book and learned an immense amount from it.

The book begins with a description of the original Zionist vision, coming out of 19C nationalism and directed to the reunification of a long-abused people. Shavit's great-grandfather, a successful businessman in England, was among the founding fathers who first came to visit Palestine, when less than 10% of the population was Jewish. They and others bought up land and began to set up farms and eventually, quasi-communistic kibbutzes. It was to save Jews who faced violent pogroms in E Europe, or at least discrimination elsewhere, as well as to empower them. At the start, most Zionists believed that the Jews could live side by side with the Arabs. These chapters almost put me off the book, as they are written with a kind of wistful sentimentality and pride in the way the settlers began to re-shape the desert into productive farms. Fortunately, the pace picks up once they face conflict with the Arabs and, following WWII, set up the state of Israel.

It was the coverage of 1948 that most impressed me. Shavit is absolutely clear about the ambiguity and hypocrisy at the heart of the founding of the Israeli nation-state. On the one hand, he reveals that Ben Gurion and others had explicit plans to ethnically cleanse the areas designated for the Jews by the UN Mandate, which Arab leaders rejected as a colonial imposition by outside powers, providing the Zionists with pretext for action. Shavit then describes the tragedy that this entailed, essentially ejecting almost all Arabs - even friendlies - into refugee camps with murderous brutality and callous disregard for their rights. There are unbelievably frightening passages in which Shavit finds Jewish warriors who shed their humanity and indulged in the most righteous of hatred as their friends died, leading to massacres and the wholesale plundering of entire Arab cities. In a way, this is the oldest story in the world: in order to found a state, someone else (an "other") must pay the ultimate price of total expropriation. Shavit despises the way that many Israelis live in a chronic state of denial regarding these basic injustices.

On the other hand, Shavit is thankful that the ethnic cleansing occurred, because in his eyes, it was a necessary precondition to the founding of Israel and all that it built, including even his own birth. He is clear that he sees the legitimacy of the need of Jewish refugees first from Europe and later - in even larger numbers - from Moslem countries and then the USSR. They built a new society and an incredibly dynamic economy. However, as a result of 2 people wanting the same land and the immense concentration of Palestinian refugees, he acknowledges that peace was and will remain impossible for generations, perhaps beyond the lives of his children. This is as lucid an evocation of the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma as I have seen and is worth the price of admission.

The rest of the book is about the problems that Israel faces - and they are legion. First, after the laborite consensus fell apart in the late 1970s, Israel's political system has become dysfunctional and unable to address problems beyond security concerns. This resulted from the resentment of non-European Israelis, the rise of fundamentalist sects (the only issue that receives inadequate treatment, in my view), and the sheer fatigue and moral corruption that come from a near-constant state of war. THese are largely problems from within. Second, the outside threat is very real and exceedingly complex, something that many critics of Israel ignore. Shavit addresses security in great detail. Third, he covers Israeli actions that he sees are self-destructive, such as the settlements (which he believes grievously undermines the legitimacy of the state with their colonial/imperialist character, inevitably eroding international support), but there are also economic issues and Arab Israeli rights. It adds up to a most daunting catalogue that makes him deeply pessimistic regarding Israel's prospects for survival.

Nonetheless, Shavit remains proud of Israel. He believes in the Zionist project and does not or cannot question is legitimacy or whether it is becoming obsolete. Jews, he says, have created a home where they can be creative masters of their own destiny.

Many critics of Shavit accuse him of hypocrisy or excessive ambiguity. He is described as a "liberal Zionist", which some believe is an unsustainable contradiction of terms. On the contrary, I see him as accepting all of it as a brute fact of history - no one is completely right or wrong, so you just have to get on with it and negotiate what you can while maintaining the strength to survive; Israel is both legitimate and illegitimate, if I read him correctly.

I warmly recommend this book as one of the most thoughtful, sad, frightening, and somehow uplifting that I have read in years.


My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel
by Ari Shavit
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.71
98 used & new from $10.62

5.0 out of 5 stars Very personal, yet a brilliant overview; inspired while extremely pessimistic, September 3, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a history of the major issues facing Israel, told through anecdote, family stories, and interviews with the top players. Though not comprehensive, which left many gaps of incident and detail, it is truly excellent for its clarity of vision, impartiality, and frank acknowledgment of the irreconcilable contradictions and paradoxes at the heart of Israel. I was completely absorbed through the entire book and learned an immense amount from it.

The book begins with a description of the original Zionist vision, coming out of 19C nationalism and directed to the reunification of a long-abused people. Shavit's great-grandfather, a successful businessman in England, was among the founding fathers who first came to visit Palestine, when less than 10% of the population was Jewish. They and others bought up land and began to set up farms and eventually, quasi-communistic kibbutzes. It was to save Jews who faced violent pogroms in E Europe, or at least discrimination elsewhere, as well as to empower them. At the start, most Zionists believed that the Jews could live side by side with the Arabs. These chapters almost put me off the book, as they are written with a kind of wistful sentimentality and pride in the way the settlers began to re-shape the desert into productive farms. Fortunately, the pace picks up once they face conflict with the Arabs and, following WWII, set up the state of Israel.

It was the coverage of 1948 that most impressed me. Shavit is absolutely clear about the ambiguity and hypocrisy at the heart of the founding of the Israeli nation-state. On the one hand, he reveals that Ben Gurion and others had explicit plans to ethnically cleanse the areas designated for the Jews by the UN Mandate, which Arab leaders rejected as a colonial imposition by outside powers, providing the Zionists with pretext for action. Shavit then describes the tragedy that this entailed, essentially ejecting almost all Arabs - even friendlies - into refugee camps with murderous brutality and callous disregard for their rights. There are unbelievably frightening passages in which Shavit finds Jewish warriors who shed their humanity and indulged in the most righteous of hatred as their friends died, leading to massacres and the wholesale plundering of entire Arab cities. In a way, this is the oldest story in the world: in order to found a state, someone else (an "other") must pay the ultimate price of total expropriation. Shavit despises the way that many Israelis live in a chronic state of denial regarding these basic injustices.

On the other hand, Shavit is thankful that the ethnic cleansing occurred, because in his eyes, it was a necessary precondition to the founding of Israel and all that it built, including even his own birth. He is clear that he sees the legitimacy of the need of Jewish refugees first from Europe and later - in even larger numbers - from Moslem countries and then the USSR. They built a new society and an incredibly dynamic economy. However, as a result of 2 people wanting the same land and the immense concentration of Palestinian refugees, he acknowledges that peace was and will remain impossible for generations, perhaps beyond the lives of his children. This is as lucid an evocation of the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma as I have seen and is worth the price of admission.

The rest of the book is about the problems that Israel faces - and they are legion. First, after the laborite consensus fell apart in the late 1970s, Israel's political system has become dysfunctional and unable to address problems beyond security concerns. This resulted from the resentment of non-European Israelis, the rise of fundamentalist sects (the only issue that receives inadequate treatment, in my view), and the sheer fatigue and moral corruption that come from a near-constant state of war. THese are largely problems from within. Second, the outside threat is very real and exceedingly complex, something that many critics of Israel ignore. Shavit addresses security in great detail. Third, he covers Israeli actions that he sees are self-destructive, such as the settlements (which he believes grievously undermines the legitimacy of the state with their colonial/imperialist character, inevitably eroding international support), but there are also economic issues and Arab Israeli rights. It adds up to a most daunting catalogue that makes him deeply pessimistic regarding Israel's prospects for survival.

Nonetheless, Shavit remains proud of Israel. He believes in the Zionist project and does not or cannot question is legitimacy or whether it is becoming obsolete. Jews, he says, have created a home where they can be creative masters of their own destiny.

Many critics of Shavit accuse him of hypocrisy or excessive ambiguity. He is described as a "liberal Zionist", which some believe is an unsustainable contradiction of terms. On the contrary, I see him as accepting all of it as a brute fact of history - no one is completely right or wrong, so you just have to get on with it and negotiate what you can while maintaining the strength to survive; Israel is both legitimate and illegitimate, if I read him correctly.

I warmly recommend this book as one of the most thoughtful, sad, frightening, and somehow uplifting that I have read in years.


Velodyne - vPulse Pink In-Ear Headphones
Velodyne - vPulse Pink In-Ear Headphones
Offered by Silicon Valley Deals
Price: $27.95
10 used & new from $27.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for sport mobility, less so for listening quality, September 1, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
These headphones were perfect for my purpose: to get good, reliable sound while riding my mountain bike. They are rugged, easy to handle and store with their flat cables, and in no way feel fragile. Unlike what many have said, I had no problem with the buds fitting my ears, indeed they fit better than more expensive models have, like the super-fancy Shure ones I used for years. Yet they cost much less than Shure models. The one thing these can't do is deliver extremely high quality sound - for that, Shure is definitely better.

Recommended.


The Messengers
The Messengers
DVD ~ Dylan McDermott
Offered by Stare Media
Price: $6.49
257 used & new from $0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars incoherent junk, August 9, 2014
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This review is from: The Messengers (DVD)
I love a good supernatural yarn, especially when it has some thought and mystery behind it. Alas, this film is just slapdash, throwing elements together that make little sense, so lazy in conception that it doesn't bother to strive for minimal coherence. There is not a jot of originality to it, but instead it just borrows from other films. Even worse, in spite of an excellent cast, the acting comes off as wooden and dialogue is stilted. I simply never believed any of it while watching.

A troubled girl arrives with her family to start a new life on a remote farm. Strange things start to happen that the parents don't see - until they do see them. A stranger is hired to help with the work and he is nice - until suddenly he isn't. Monstrous crows attack the males at odd times, then don't. The girl is scared of the apparitions, then wants to help them, then is attacked by them, then they help her. The actions of the apparitions appear to be illusions of the mind, then they are real. The ending, of course, is happy, everything resolved miraculously, and the cops (there is a body to deal with) just nod and go.

Not recommended. I thought this was a complete bore. If you have a minimum of expectation that a film should be thought through, don't get this. If all you want to spookhouse jolts, you might find it OK.


1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History)
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History)
by Eric H. Cline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.98
62 used & new from $18.10

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An ambitious enquiry into the unexplained end of the Bronze Age, August 5, 2014
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This is an academic book that strives for, but never quite reaches, a popular and relevant history that would please a wider audience. It is about the system that collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age, an unprecedented network of trade and common (elite) civilization of extraordinarily fertile cultures and prosperity. As the title implies, this is supposed to be relevant to the current age, which may also be in danger of collapse, but instead, it gets bogged down in academic proofs and tedious detail. Only occasionally does it bring that world to life or provoke a sense of wonder.

Beginning some centuries before the 1177 date of near-simultaneous catastrophe, a spectrum of mediterranean civilization were flourishing, from various Greek kingdoms to Egypt and several others in the Near East (e.g. Hittites and Babylonians). They traded with each other, had developed a written lingua franca, and had highly developed systems of central administration. Seemingly all at once, and without any satisfactory explanation, they disappeared and ushered in a dark ages that lasted several centuries, when the Iron Age cultures emerged. Though some survived, like Egypt, they had decisively lost their energy and were set for a slow decline.

According to Cline, there are several possible explanations. First, earthquakes clearly destroyed some cities. Second, this is contradicted by evidence that warfare destroyed others, though not everyone. It has been argued, for example, that the "sea peoples" destroyed the empires or that chariot warfare became obsolete, but again, not everywhere. Third, there is evidence of climate change, which caused drought and then famine, but again only in some place. Fourth, there may have been internal rebellions, a kind of rise of populism against the elites that used them as slave labor, though there is almost no evidence - archaeological or written - to prove this. Finally, perhaps the end was a chaotic phenomenon, a systemic collapse that was both a perfect storm of all these factors but also the proverbial unprovable causality of a single factor spinning out of control and causing a cascade of failures throughout the entire system, i.e. a butterfly in Brazil might have beaten its wings at the wrong time.

That is about it for the ideas, though there are many interesting asides, such as correlating events in the Bible (the liberation from Egypt of the Jews around that time or the Trojan War). There are also many individuals discussed, like Ramses and Agamemnon. This is very fun and interesting, but they are haphazardly thrown in.

This is a good academic book and worth a serious read, but it is not for lay readers. Its level is high undergraduate, for majors in Classics or Archaeology, and it is only obliquely relevant to the concerns of today. Recommended.


From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776
From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776
by Pauline Maier
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.63
86 used & new from $3.17

3.0 out of 5 stars reads like, and is, a disseration-turned-book, July 19, 2014
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This is a very academic book intended for a limited audience and was relevant for a certain time, in the beginning of the 1970s. The writer was a young academic out to smash a "paradigm", the "progressive version" of how Americans became revolutionaries. The idea is very simple (and is expressed with perfect clarity in a new introduction): the old interpretation was that poor upstarts opposed the conservative rich, who supported the British Crown; the upstarts mobilized the "mob" with whatever means they could, including republican rhetoric (which was ill-defined), which was ignited by the stamp protests. Maier argues that protest was a long and accepted tradition and that the process of radicalization was gradual, beginning with the success of getting the Stamp Act revoked and then getting sharper with repeated failures and ham-handed rebuff by George III. That is it for the ideas. The rest of the book is one long academic proof of this, in unbelievably turgid detail.

I am sure this is a worthy academic book, but it is not fun to read and would be barely of interest for for non-academic lovers of popular history. I skimmed it, and wondered why, since I am not an undergraduate, I was doing so. OK, it is a good review of the events, the interpretation is definitely of merit, and I feel like turning to other sources for a better narrative account (i.e. it did not kill my interest). But it conveys little feeling and it certainly never fascinated me. If I had know it was so academic, I would never have bought it.


Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age
Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age
by Peter Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: $56.27
59 used & new from $9.87

5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent Kulturgeschichte of the Hellenistic Empires, July 10, 2014
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This is a massive, endlessly fascinating, 360-degree view of the empires that sprung up in the wake of Alexander the Great's premature death. As the foundational period of Greco-Roman culture, not only is it essential to know, but Green writes with a literary elegance and subtlety that are a constant pleasure. That being said, it is not a book for beginners: the reader should be well versed in Roman and Greek Classical history, e.g., if you know who Sulla and Mithridates are, you will be able to revel in Green's interpretations and references to them and many others. The book is also peppered with foreign words, from French to Latin and ancient Greek, which annoys many American readers but is pretty mainstream in Europe.

The book begins with the sudden absence of a truly over-powering personality, Alexander. At the moment of his death, he had smashed the remnants of the autonomous Greek city states (polis) and carved out the largest empire that had then been known. Unfortunately, he had left neither a clear idea of what direction his empire should go nor named a successor in any provable way. As a result, about 6 of his top Macedonian generals began to compete in the "funeral games" to take over from him. Ptolemy, the only one shrewd enough to see that it was better to retreat to a defensible and self-sufficient chunk of the empire - he chose Egypt - was to establish the most lasting dynasty of these men. Nonetheless, Antigonous wound up with the old Greek mainland and Macedonia and Seleucis took the ill-defined, amorphous Asian Minor expanses; for the next centuries, their heirs would fight a desperate, defensive battle to keep their territories intact from encroachments by barbarians. Only the Ptolemies would operate in near safety (which led them to epically nasty intriguing against each other, but that is a long story).

In political science terms, all three of the new empires were run as the privately owned fiefs of their kings, simple despotic autocracies for their pleasures. This marked the end of a fabulous period of experimentation in modes of government as well as culture, i.e. the brief, beautiful flourishing of classical Greek culture was gone forever. As the polis died, so did many of the communal ideals of their citizens. Rather than contribute to the glory of the city, they withdrew under the authority of far away kings into their own private worlds, seeking to amass wealth and keep their privileges but fearing Tyche, or the unpredictable God of Fortune. As a result, much artistic culture became stultified into copies of past masterpieces or took on a more personal, realist cast of identifiable individuals rather than the ideal types and Gods of the past. This was true, too, for the philosophies (e.g. stoicism, cynicism, epicurianism) that emerged: they concentrated on finding freedom from anxiety and pain rather than contribute to the betterment of society. Interestingly, the 3 dynasties maintained a relative isolation from the local cultures, absorbing aspects of them only very, very slowly.

One of the most interesting topics covered is the failure of the Greeks to develop experimental science. First, the Greeks (and later the Romans) scorned "lower" professions that involved physical exertion, so get-your-hands-dirty experimentation was out; they also lacked precision instruments, any idea of statistical variance in observations, and failed to record the observations they did make in verifiable and communicable records. Anything practical, such as the military devices that Archimedes invented to protect Syracuse from the Romans, were products of necessity and otherwise little valued. Second, they preferred to speculate on and build over-arching theoretical systems, which were largely sterile without independent experimental verification by peers. It was not until the Enlightenment that all of these strands came together as the modern scientific method. Third, in this period the elites became deeply interested in astrology, divination, and mystery cults at the expense of the schools of rationality associated with Plato and Aristotle. Fourth, with a static, slave-based economy, innovations that saved labor - liberating people to have more time and energy to think - were viewed as disruptive and hence, under-valued. Nonetheless, there were many advances in this period, such as the founding of the libraries of Alexandria and certain medical innovations that the Arabs would discover and develop. Though also rather sterile, they are signs that Hellenistic culture was not completely decadent. That being said, there are many, many more topics like this that are covered in the book, including philosophy, the slave economy, and autocratic governance - anyone can find absorbing historical detail on what interests them here.

The concentration on this cultural period filled a significant gap in my perception of classical civilization. It was at this time that the uncultured Romans - they were too busy perfecting a military machine that would enable them to conquer and manage the known world for over 400 years - became impressed with Greek culture and sought to adopt it. With the Romans on the book's periphery, rising as they were, I got a very different (and highly detailed) view on the decline and absorption of this incredible civilization into a more brutish empire. The book is chock full of amazing characters and cultures, from the Jews to Cleopatra. Though this is not a narrative history and it is better to know the traditional stories, Green alludes to these people with vivid images and many wonderful illustrations (and excellent maps).

A word of warning to the general reader. This is an advanced text, at the high undergraduate level or beyond, and solidly academic. While it is not a thesis-turned-book that seeks to argue dull academic proofs and the like, it strives to present a comprehensive picture in a scholarly manner - over 1/4 of the book is footnotes and references. This will put many people off, as will the foreign words that frequently pop up. However, for those familiar with this world, this book is an indispenable masterpiece that will define scholarship on this period for many generations to come.

This is personal, but I found the book to be an utterly spell-binding intellectual adventure, putting it in a class by itself. Green often makes observations that are profound, even beautiful. For example, on an extended discussion of the slave economy, he mentions that we were unable to finally eliminate it until industrialization liberated us from menial tasks. There are many instances of this kind of philosophical observation that will speak to each reader personally. I also loved Green's writing style. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. This is a great book, a classic.


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