Friday, July 21, 2006

Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire

James McCormick has read and reviewed Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History.

Heather offers a newly refreshed summary of the events, balancing the cultural relativism and cynicism of post-WW2 historians with the practical insights of industrious archaeologists. Romans come off a lot less decadent and inept than Edward Gibbon would have them. Christianity gets less of a "ding."

The great benefit of this book, to my mind, is that it is geared to the educated but non-academic reader, and it appears to cover most of the basic facts and puzzles of the time period. The arguments are outlined, and the author maintains his own point of view without trampling those of others. The entire sweep of the century between the first Goths crossing the Danube (376) and the final imperial reign in the western empire is laid out methodically and readers can reach their own conclusions if they wish.

Where did bad luck or Roman political stagnation or barbarian political evolution play a role? What circumstances distinguished the western empire from the eastern? And how did the lack of military and demographic advantage work against the Romans in tackling first the Persians, then the Goths, and finally the Huns? The book gives readers all the information they need to ponder these questions for themselves.

I intend to order it soon!

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