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The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine Hardcover – February 17, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Price and Thonemann, both historians of ancient Greece and Rome (Price is currently at Oxford University, Thonemann taught there previously), have created a multidisciplinary study with emphasis on three themes: memory (including the ancient Greeks' and Romans' memory of their own past); communal identity as defined by the ancients; and changing definitions of what constitutes "Classical." The book is saved from excessive, and specialized, detail in its first half by the frequent use of well-placed vignettes that enliven the text with fascinating anecdotal background. Covering two millennia, the book begins with the myth of Europa, and the authors traverse the distance from the mysterious Minoans to the Greeks, with appropriate attention to Hellenism and on to the Romans of the early Latin kingdom, the republic, and the establishment of the empire. Maps, diagrams, building plans, and illustrations are used effectively, and the narrative becomes truly enjoyable in the book's second half, especially regarding the Roman settlement of Britain. A coda describing the later history of the Roman Empire wisely details the competition among religions and the extraordinary impact of militant belief on politics, culture, and civilization in the West. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Both Price and Thonemann have taught classical history at Oxford. Their relatively compact examination of ancient Greek and Roman development covers a millennium and a half. But the book is not an introductory survey aimed at general readers. Rather, the authors have written an engrossing, original, frequently provocative reinterpretation of the Western heritage. Relying heavily on archaeological evidence, Price and Thonemann consider the Minoans as essential rather than peripheral to the development of Hellenic civilization. They eloquently illustrate that the “miracle” of the achievements of that civilization owed much to earlier Mediterranean civilizations, especially those of Egypt and Phoenicia. They skillfully illustrate the extent and limitations of “Romanization” under the imperium. A recurrent theme is the powerful influence of memory. Despite the paucity of evidence, both Greeks and Romans often sought to identify with the legacy of the Trojan War. For both scholars and amateur historians, this work will have great value. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (February 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022470
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022472
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #597,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How do we know what we know about the Ancient World? The authors of this terrific history are willing to reveal the translation process from findings to speculations. Archeological evidence is interpreted and at times reinterpreted to explain what we think we know about what happened between two and four thousand years ago in Europe. The data used is current and findings from just the past few years are referenced to support various hypotheses.

Nonetheless this book isn't an archeological dig but a full scale history. Finding a history that covers both Greece and Rome (with side trips to the Near East and Africa) can be difficult, but finding one that does a good job in under 400 pages is an accomplishment indeed. Although much is covered, the writing never feels like a skim. In fact, if a caveat can be made, it's that the writing at times can be too dense. Saying that, it is always clear and jargon-free.

Another strength is the wealth of maps and charts that clarify the text, and the aptly chosen color plates, the latter used more sparingly.

Many ideas are controversial which has lead some reviewers to direct this book to the specialists. Controversial ideas are presented as such and the data for and against are easily followed (the African influence on Ancient Greece, whether flipping the evidence supports either Greek or Phoenician presence in the colony of Al Mina in the Levant, for example).

This volume continues the outstanding precedence of the Penguin History of Europe series that have previously produced excellent single author volumes to satisfy the academic as well as the general reader. This is probably the best and most up-to-date single volume text covering both Greek and Roman history currently in print.
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Format: Hardcover
This entertaining book is a collection of original insights, anecdotes, and asides about different periods in history, from the murky past of the second millenium B.C. to the well-documented period of the Roman Empire, with even a few interesting fast-forwards to the present age. The book has no apparent continuity (although the chapters do), and that is its strength. It appears to be about things that interest the authors, and those things should interest the reader as well (I found just about every page fascinating). Sure, the authors pay lip service to a Theme, because we are all taught at some point that everything must have one (in this case, it is something about cultural memory), but the Theme seems thin and imposed.

This is a perfect book for a layperson, very readable and well-written. After spending more than a year slogging through Gibbon's superlative "Decline and Fall", "The Birth of Classical Europe" is a refreshing overview of the same period, with an extra 1500 years thrown in as a bonus. I would bet that scholars also would find this book to be interesting and insightful, although they may not admit to it because it is so much fun to read. I wanted to send emails to the authors thanking them for writing it, but this review will do instead (and hopefully get more people to read it). I hope they will not be offended because I found that the book offers hundreds of excellent little insights, but not one big point.

One note of caution: the reader should come to this book armed with some (perhaps even a lot of) pre-knowledge of classical history because there might be too much in the book to absorb otherwise.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before reviewing the book I'd like to discuss the series which it is a part of. The problem with the Penguin History of Europe series is that they are terribly inconsistent. This book is designed as a basic introduction for beginners while others attempt a serious overview of the era in question. The book immediately following this one (even though it was written before it) was The Inheritance of Rome. It covered the Dark Ages, or more precisely the period from 400-1000 AD. This book covers 1750 BC-425 AD. That's 600 years vs. 2175! Admittedly most of the Bronze Age material is dismissed in a chapter, but the section on Classical Greece doesn't even start until page 113. So after covering over 1200 years of history in 100 pages they have 200 pages in which to cover 900 years. The later ones cover even less time than Inheritance. Europe in the High Middle Ages covers about 300 years while The Pursuit of Glory covers about half that. I know it makes sense to spend more time on fewer years as we get closer to the present since the quality and number of the sources increase, but they have seriously limited the value of the Classical era and relegated it to little more than an introductory volume to their series. In my opinion, if you're going to do something then do it properly. If you don't want to cover the Classical Era then you don't have to.

This brings us to the question of intent. What is the purpose of these books?
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