- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 3, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140444130
- ISBN-13: 978-0140444131
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.2 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Natural History: A Selection (Penguin Classics) Reprint Edition
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Greek
About the Author
Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 - 79AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, studied botany and philosophy in Rome before serving in the military. He was later Porcurator in Gallia, whilst continuing to accumulate knowledge on everything from grammar to the history of the German wars. He created the first known encyclopedia.
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Top Customer Reviews
Did you know that Saturn is the farthest planet away from the Earth (no telescopes), that it is a frozen and barren world, and that its orbit takes 30 years to complete? Did you know that the Moon is 230,000 miles above the earth? Did you know that the Earth is a rocky sphere much like the Moon? Pliny knew. Did you know that Cleopatra once ate a pearl earring just to win a bet? Pliny knew. I thought the excerpts were fun from beginning to end.
The man died rescuing victims from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that buried Pompeii. That takes style.
My only criticism of the book is that it’s an abridgement. The editor-translator John Healy claims to have excluded mostly those sections that are highly technical and specialized, but I’d still like to read the whole thing. That said, there were a couple of pages when he got into metallurgy and mining where I was getting antsy, so perhaps Healy made the right choice.
I found this a very enjoyable reading experience that gave me a lot of insight into how educated Romans perceived the world. (Pliny knew it was round.) It’s also an important book that I believe I’ll be using as a reference as I read more about ancient Rome. Five stars, despite the abridgement.
These selections from the Natural History are fascinating. Pliny was an energetic man, hugely desirous of literary immortality, who wrote his books in the interstices of a full career as a soldier and an administrator. Pliny worked when others were asleep; Pliny read and dictated in a sedan chair as he moved about urban areas.
The book is rambling and discursive, full of vignettes, asides, and diatribes. Parts are straightforward precises of other authors (for example, I recently read Vitrivius, and Pliny's section on water and pipes reads almost like a New Yorker review of Vitrivius' coverage of water detection and pipe construction) while other parts are based on Pliny's personal observations. The whole is laced with Pliny's rants about the evils of luxury and greed and the decline of the desire for fame; anyone who wonders about the sustainability of contemporary society will find his complaints about the frivolity and vanity of "modern" men to be nearly as appropriate today as they were almost 2000 years ago.
Healy's translation is clear and easy to read. However, Healy's selections are occasionally jarring, and some of the section titles are annoying and condescending. The footnotes can be repetitive, and are often rather ill-chosen; Healy footnotes Latin terms that are pretty obvious from cognates, while leaving some more mysterious terms completely unexplained. (It's almost as if he were aiming at a particularly incurious high-school audience.) The index is rather poor, but the Key To Place Names struck me as quite good; it's interesting to see how some names have survived (with modification) while others have been swept away by conquering tides, and it's nice to be able to put a location to places that I've seen in other works and just sort of filed under "exotic locations".
Overall, Pliny is not for everyone. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a first exposure to Roman literature! However, I think any omnivorous reader with even a passing interest in the classics will think their time with Pliny was time well spent. Pliny ranges; Pliny amuses; Pliny will be nice to have on your shelf if industrial civilization does collapse.
This is a delightful book to dip into by opening a page at random--in fact, it might be the best bathroom-reading matter ever published. And it has stood the test of time for more than 19 centuries.
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