Top positive review
Pleasant and grammatically thorough; recommending supplementing it with simple Latin excerpts
on September 4, 2017
This book is something of an enlightened compromise between an old-school rote approach and a buffet of tasty samples with explanations. Its roots lie firmly in the rote, grammar-based approach: explain a grammatical concept, give paradigms, follow with examples and exercises. Yet the care in the explanations and the choice of original excerpts make this unexpectedly pleasant given its grammar backbone. It covers more than enough grammar and forms found in classical writings while giving some exposure to Latin in the wild.
This is a lot of material for one volume. Students weak in English grammar concepts, or attempting their first foreign language, will bear a heavier burden. Several other textbooks of readings and exercises exist which follow Wheelock chapter by chapter, including even a textbook intended as a guide to this textbook. The sheer number of ancillary publications tied to Wheelock's Latin attest to its popularity and to the fundamental impossibility of grounding students in this much Latin grammar using only one 500-page text. There isn't room for enough paradigms, exercises, and readings in one place.
The vocabulary sections are excellent. A gathering of only a few hundred words deftly samples common quirks and idioms while providing high-frequency examples of every sort of verb. The classical excerpts are lively, with Martial and Catullus in particular jumping off the page.
I wish there were 3-4 pages of the most common adverbs, particles and conjunctions, broken down into categories: the common, non-derived ones - denique, istuc, unde, vel and so on - in one place. That objection notwithstanding, I wish this book were less of a grammar and more of a reader. Do every translation exercise (especially the thankfully-included English-to-Latin sentences), and read every selection, and you'll still "know" Latin more in the sense of a list of memorized facts than a language you've read and felt. This book will help you, and anyone hoping to progress will need to know all the material eventually, but the experience of using this book won't be as motivating, or provide as much vital reading mileage, as an anthology of simple stories accompanied by half the grammar content.
Wheelock felt, as most classics teachers do, that classical Latin was the high point of Latin and the whole point of learning it. Even if one accepts this, it's still true that Latin was the core language of the intellectual world for 1500 years - most of which were decidedly non-classical - and was rarely spoken or written, even in the classical period, as Cicero used it. The real Latin excerpts in this text are generally too hard. Those few first-year students able to translate them, lacking background exposure to less exalted writings for contrast, will fail to appreciate the exquisite command of the language shown in these admitted jewels of composition. It's fine to include classical excerpts as candy, but longer, less challenging Medieval or contemporary Latin passages are a better use of student effort.
I still give this book 5 stars for high value in a single book; it's thorough and carefully executed. I have no regrets using it, but I recommend supplementing or following it with a variety of excerpts of all kinds of Latin writing, skewed toward the most simple examples. Readings are a lot more motivating and provide a firmer grounding than a grammatical background alone.
After committed study of this book you won't "know" Latin, but will nonetheless be well equipped to reach that point through further study.