- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 848 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Abridged edition (January 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140437649
- ISBN-13: 978-0140437645
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (258 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics) Abridged Edition
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About the Author
Edward Gibbon was born in 1737 in Putney, England, and was the only child of his parents to survive infancy. Although his education was frequently interrupted by ill health, his knowledge was far-reaching. His brief career as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, ended when he joined the Catholic Church. His father sent him to Lausanne, in Switzerland, where, while studying Greek and French for the next five years, he re-joined the Protestant Church. In 1761 he published his Essai sur l'étude de la Littérature; the English version appeared in 1764. Meanwhile, Gibbon served as a captain in the Hampshire Militia until 1763, when he returned to the Continent. It was while he was in Rome in 1764 that he first conceived the work that was eventually to become The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
In 1774, after the death of his father, Gibbon settled in London and was elected to Parliament where he sat for the next eight years, although he never once spoke in the Commons. He also took his place among the literary circles of London. The first volume of his famous History was published in 1776; it was highly praised for its learning and style but incurred some censure for its treatment of the early Christians. The second and third volumes appeared in 1781 and the final three, which were written in Lausanne, in 1788. He died while on a visit to his friend, Lord Sheffield, who posthumously edited Gibbon's autobiographical papers and published them in 1796.
David Womersley teaches at Jesus College, Oxford, and edited Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for Penguin Classics.
Top Customer Reviews
If, faced with the extinction of the human race and the loss of all things we've learned throughout our history, the lone survivors were bequeathed a top ten list of written works aimed at condensing human thought and evolution into the most valuable lessons and wisdom of the ages in the interest of providing the surest and most beneficial foundation for starting anew, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire should be in it. Yes, its that important and that good.
Aptly titled, Gibbon explains not only the historical nuts and bolts of what happened when but more importantly why. As incredibly ambitious as it is valuable, Gibbon traces the history of Rome's demise from its height (around the 1st century) to/through the dark/middle ages (to around 1500A.D.), giving a sweeping and astonishing view of a period of our history that still has no equal.
Gibbon not only shows us Rome; for those willing to look he holds a mirror before humanity...shows us who we are, largely where we came from, emboldens our virtues and warns us of our vices, and shows that while the context and names may change, the essential core of issues human beings face remains the same.
If no other evidence existed for why you should read this work, consider that despite being written over 200 years ago, Gibbon is still considered the gold standard when it comes to Rome, and while some additional historical facts have since came to light that invalidate minor details of Gibbon's narrative, the essence of the work remains untarnished.
I won't mislead you, however, weighing in at six volumes and approximately 2000 pages, combined with Gibbon's amazing vocabulary (make sure you have a dictionary handy), gift of beautiful but initially intimidating denseness of narration and prose, and somewhat dry (but fiercely insightful, very witty, and at times even humorous) style, if you're not a history teacher or letters major the work is an ambitious read for most, but I would encourage you in the purest sense to conquer it. I promise you, "there's gold in them there hills."
I once met a 95 year old history and philosophy professor with whom I developed a brief but memorable friendship. A very intelligent, lucid, gentle, wise, and amiable man, during one of our conversations, knowing him a voracious reader and very educated person, I asked him to give me a list of his favorite books - ones he would recommend without hesitation. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was the first book(s) he mentioned. I never forgot, and in fact made an inward commitment that I would read it someday. Years later I did, and my only regret is that I didn't read it sooner, and that I'll never get to discuss it with him. I'll be forever grateful for the advice.
Why, then, is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire timeless? The author wasn't a post-modernist man trapped in an Enlightenment body; Gibbon had no conception of social history or archeology, his 18th century idea that climate affects morality is long out of date, and his analyses of the Middle East are hampered by his reliance on second-hand sources. But in 200 years no one has seriously challenged the framework Gibbon used to explain the fall of the empire. In fact, contemporary histories of Rome still owe a great deal to him.
Why? One reason is his careful use of documents. Decline and Fall relies mostly on writers like Ammianus and Sidonius, who tried to be impartial. Another is Gibbon's almost superhuman objectivity; while individual characters are berated for this and that, the author is usually sympathetic to human foibles, and always tells his tales with as much complexity as the sources will allow. Which is one reason the work's alleged hostility to Christianity is overstated; Gibbon said the religion played a role (not "the" role) in the fall of Rome, and even praises the new faith for breaking "the violence of the fall, and mollify(ing) the ferocious temper of the conquerors." There's one stumble, and that's the section on the various heresies and religious controversies of the 300s. Duty required Gibbon to analyze the niggling and sometimes incomprehensible arguments over Christ's nature (and he confessed he didn't understand the passions behind them), but the historian gets bogged down in theological jargon and never makes it clear what role those heresies played in the fall until the end of Volume III. By then you've forgotten the details.
That's a small scratch in the masterpiece. In two centuries no one has challenged his famous conclusion: "The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long." Today we have more details, but the trajectory Gibbon plotted has never been recalculated.
Decline and Fall is also a great read, and one of the best narratives in the English language. War, idealism, corruption, droll asides and the clash of civilizations fly along a brisk stream of prose. If you've got the time, try the unabridged version -- it's 3,000 pages, but the work moves faster than books a tenth its size.
The work reflects the best concertos of its time, where a supporting background built themes, and a soloist expanded those ideas in clear, simple notes. So it is with Decline and Fall; Gibbon weaved numerous histories into a harmonious whole, and his asides and analyses deepened our understanding of the whole epoch. Mozart would have applauded.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
of the physical book is very poor, being nothing more than scanned pages.Read more
On Kindle this classic is unreadable. Very disjointed and has no flow.Read more