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The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic Hardcover – October 24, 2017
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"The Storm Before the Storm is massively entertaining and relevant to our own time. All times, in fact. War, politics, money, power, corruption, and class warfare seem to overwhelm the republican Roman political system and the results are horrifying. Huge personalities like Marius and Sulla cast a large shadow, but forces beyond anyone's control seem to drive the narrative. A chilling reminder of what can happen in any republic. Masterfully told."―Dan Carlin, host of Hardcore History
"Written with the humor and storytelling instincts that made him such a popular podcaster, Duncan brilliantly answers a vital question that is rarely asked: What weakened the late Roman Republic enough that it collapsed under the ambitions of the Caesars? This is history as it should be-compelling, witty, and ultimately revealing."―Lars Brownworth, author of In Distant Lands: A Short History of the Crusades
"Never has a book about history that's two millennia old been so timely. Duncan, in the sort of narrative prose that caused his podcasts to electrify history lovers everywhere, tells the story of the decay of Republican Rome-and its contemporary relevance drips off every page. The Storm Before the Storm has everything from vividly portrayed populist demagogues exploiting economic and social inequality to the failure of calcified republican institutions to adapt to changing circumstances. You'll learn as much about the problems we face today from this book as from any newspaper."―Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
"Mike Duncan turns his talent for clear and engaging exposition to an underappreciated period of Roman history: the last days of the Republic, before the rise of Caesar and the agonizing civil wars that yielded the Roman Empire. Duncan's readable and witty style, and his eye for the telling detail and memorable anecdote, carry the reader through a gripping narrative."―Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy, LMU Munich, and host of History of Philosophy
"Excellent... Award-winning podcaster Duncan proves to be just as effective at working in a written medium, presenting historical personalities and complex situations with clarity and verve."―Library Journal
"If you're a fan of Roman history, you will dig this. And if you're just a fan of good storytelling, you will dig this."―Jonah Keri, host of CBS Sports' The Jonah Keri Podcast
"A lively, extremely well-informed chronicle of nearly seven decades of Roman political and social life... Drawing on ancient sources as well as modern histories, the author reveals chilling parallels to our own time... Crucial decades in the history of the ancient world vividly rendered."―Kirkus Reviews
"This companionable and sprightly book captures the political drama and human passion of that extraordinary story."―New Criterion
"Disentangles well some complex events others neglect."―Wall Street Journal
"Marvelous... A highly enjoyable historical narrative that reads almost like a modern political thriller."―New York Journal of Books
About the Author
Mike Duncan is one of the foremost history podcasters in the world. His award winning series The History of Rome chronologically narrated the entire history of the Roman Empire over 189 weekly episodes. Running from 2007-2012, The History of Rome has generated more than 56 million downloads and remains one of the most popular history podcasts on the internet. Duncan has continued this success with his ongoing series Revolutions--which so far has explored the English, American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. Since debuting in September 2013, Revolutions has generated more than 12 million downloads. Thanks to the worldwide popularity of his podcasts, Duncan has led fans on a number of sold-out guided tours of Italy, England, and France to visit historic sites from Ancient Rome to the French Revolution. Duncan also collaborates with illustrator Jason Novak on informative cartoons that humorously explain the historical context for current events. Their work has been featured in the New Yorker, Paris Review, Awl, and Morning News.
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Though it's easy to draw parallels to modern day shenanigans, to his credit author Mike Duncan for the most part lets the historical narrative speak for itself without opining much. He has a knack for inserting entertaining and insightful quotations at just the right moments. He manages to make things like the passing of an ancient law on land distribution genuinely suspenseful. And the time period itself hasn't been done to death (in fact he says that's why he picked it to write about). What I appreciated most, though, is that we aren't treated to graphic accounts of people being hacked to death in battles, a current literary trend. Duncan writes more about the workings of the Roman government and the people and circumstances that shaped laws and traditions that still resonate in consequence right down to our day. This book would be perfectly appropriate for a teen, or even preteen (it will have to be a smart preteen. Which of course your own is, naturally. Dumb people don't research books on Ancient Rome!).
Flaws? Not many. It is as mentioned a little dry, which to me is not really a downside. If I'm reading right before bed I don't want anything too electrifying because then I can't sleep. More of a problem (and what keeps this from being five stars) is that the figures in this book have long Latin names that sometimes sound alike and Duncan doesn't always do the best job differentiating them from one another. I also would have appreciated a graph in the beginning outlining the differences between the quaestors, praetors, consuls, etc. in both the scope and power of the various jobs. He does go over it, but you basically have to memorize the order and job details to understand the subsequent goings-on. A easy-to-refer-to chart would have been nice.
Other than that, not a bad job at all and a fun read, for the right mind. A strong fours stars and rating overall:
Thus, for someone who isn’t familiar with this era, or only know the capsule version, I would unreservedly recommend this work. For someone who has already read Plutarch and the like, I’d also recommend it as a reframing and reintegration of the material from multiple sources.
Mike may have written the book but he was missing from the narrative. I was left feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps I have overly studied the period. I could have used more of his humor, more of his analysis, more 'flavor' quotes, more 'Mike'.
Keep writing. Buff out some of the multiple editing errors (Kindle Edition) and don't forget who your audience actually is.