Harris, Robert. Conclave.

NY: Knopf, 2016.

I’m not Catholic — I’m not really a believer of any kind, in fact — but I am interested in the anthropology of power, and I know from experience that Harris always tells a good story, so I was willing to give this one a try and I’m glad I did. Set just a couple of years from now, it’s about the struggle for succession following the death of a pope who is obviously meant to be Francis.


Published in: on 11 September 2017 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.


Hickman, Jonathan. Pax Romana.

Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2013.

This is an alternate history story in graphic novel form, and it’s quite inventive. Suppose a couple of physicists fifty years from now discover a method of time travel — actual physical transport back to the past. But these physicists work for the Vatican Observatory, so they keep their work quiet and take it directly to the pope.


Graves, Ralph. The Lost Eagles.

NY: Knopf, 1955.

Graves was primarily a print journalist — eventually editorial director and managing editor of both Life and Time magazines — but he also wrote a few novels along the way, most of them now forgotten. This was his second book and his only historical, set in the Rome of Augustus and Tiberius, and featuring Severus Varus, cousin of the unfortunate Quinctilius Varus, who lost three entire legions at Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD.


Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Casson was a professor of classics at NYU but he was known to aficionados of naval history as the leading expositor of maritime archaeology. He also wrote several books on the subject for young readers, which was how I discovered him long ago, in my junior high library, but this volume is his most important work.


Published in: on 2 July 2015 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grahame-Smith, Seth. Unholy Night.

NY: Grand Central, 2012.

This author is also responsible for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I frankly wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up the book. But the flap copy got my attention. It’s sort of a “what if” story. What if the Three Magi weren’t the “wise men” we know from the Christmas pageants?


Johnson, Stephen. Hadrian’s Wall.

London: Batsford, 1989.

Hadrian’s Wall, spanning seventy-three miles from coast to coast across the north of Britain, isn’t the largest or longest such construction (that would be China’s Great Wall), nor is it the oldest known (that’s the Greek wall across the Peloponnese to keep out the Dorians), but it is probably the most carefully thought-out strategic design in the ancient world.


Published in: on 13 March 2014 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fields, Nic. Carthaginian Warrior, 264-146 BC. (Warrior series, 150)

Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2010.

Osprey has published a great many books of military history in a large number of series, none of which runs more than 96 pages (many are half that length), and they’ve been mostly successful in providing generally well-written overviews of individual battles or campaigns, or military units.


Published in: on 18 December 2013 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grant, Michael. Dawn of the Middle Ages.

NY: Bonanza Books, 1981.

The late Michael Grant had a long and widely varied academic career and was a noted author of popular histories of the ancient and medieval world. This one, unfortunately, is not one of his more successful efforts.


Published in: on 17 November 2013 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Fields, Nic. The Roman Army of the Principate, 27 BC-AD 117. (Battle Orders series, 37).

Botley, Oxford: Osprey, 2009.

I did a lot of work in classical studies many years ago, and I have a longtime interest in early military history, so a book like this is bound to catch my attention. And Osprey’s many historical series are (generally) above average.


Published in: on 25 October 2013 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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