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Category: Roman Empire


“The Histories” by Tacitus. Read by James Adams.

It is presumptive and ridiculous to comment on the text, since there is no way to validate its truth. True or not, however, this work is a vital component for knowing what we know about the fall of Nero and what came after in the Roman Empire.

Still, the production here left much to be desired. The reader was okay but had some weird pronunciations of commonly known names and words. If forced to describe it in one word, ‘workmanlike’ would be the best one. Still, it’s essential listening for anyone wanting to understand the Rise of the Roman Empire. Grade: A.

Hannibal, Scipio and the battle that could have changed history, but didn’t.

THE GHOSTS OF CANNAE Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O’Connell, read by Alan Sklar. Unabridged.

When Hannibal Barca led his small army of Carthaginians over the Alps and into Italy at the beginning of the Second Punic War, nobody on either side foresaw that he would rampage through Roman territory for nearly a generation. And, if such knowledge had been known beforehand, the seers would have considered it even less likely that the Roman Republic could withstand having an enemy army tearing up its hinterland for almost twenty years. And yet, this is precisely what happened.

This incredibly fine audiobook centers around the pivotal battle of Cannae, where Hannibal dealt Roman a crushing defeat, a defeat so complete, so total and so demoralizing, that it should have won the war for Carthage. Had that happened, history would forever have been changed and the rise of the Roman Empire would have been unlikely. That would have made the ascendancy of the Catholic Church impossible, since it was formed around and then built upon the skeleton of the Empire, and had the Church not been spread throughout the west by the Romans, then the modern western world would not have happened.

But Cannae did not force Rome to the bargaining table, as it should have, and that is the most fascinating part of this narrative. Sweeping and informative, of necessity the author has to use conjecture to figure out many details of the period that are now lost to history, but he does so in a fascinating, entertaining and scholarly manner. This was a terrific book that was very well read. If you have a history buff on this year’s gift list, you could do much worse than buying them this audiobook.

Junk, an Owl and the end of an Empire

Good morning bookies! Stand by for news and comment.

*** You never know what you’ll find when scooping around in junk piles. A number of years ago a shopper perusing the stuff at the Memphis Flea Market found a very small, very old photo of a stern looking man and bought it for one dollar. It turns out that man was Jefferson Davis, US Senator and President of the Confederate States of America, and became only the third known photo of the man. As I recall, it sold at auction for $100k. Some time after that a guy rummaging through the piles at a Nashville thrift store bought a framed print. Inside was a copy of the Declaration of Independence. I forget exactly what it sold for now, lots. Need another example? Okay, again here in Memphis, a man went to an estate sale one day and, while waiting for the door to open, went through the discarded stuff heaped on the curb, and found boxes of old slave documents, a few of which were signed by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Or, at least, that’s the story still told to this day.

So what does any of that have to do with books? A bookseller in the UK recently found a neat old poster, framed it, hung it in his shop and found out it’s an extremely rare poster from early in world War II. After dozens of requests to buy it he made a reproduction and has sold 40,000 of them. You just never know, do you?

UK bookseller hits the jackpot

*** I’m a Roman history buff, newly ordained, as it were. I haven’t always been such, but during a visit to England in 2005 we visited a particularly bleak site along Hadrian’s Wall and I was forever changed. At that site, where the Roman Army Museum is located, I bought a book on said army written by noted Roman historian Adrian Goldsworthy. And now he has a new book out on the fall of the Empire, The Fall of the West: The Slow Death of the Roman Empire. Adding to the synchronicity here, my current audiobook is Volume II of Gibbons The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, currently in the reign of Constantius, not too far from that final end in the late 5th century. All of which makes for a great reason to add a link to a review of Goldsworthy’s new book.

The end of Rome

*** Philip K. Dick has long been regarded as one of SFF’s brightest lights. His death in 1982 was way too soon. Now, his last wife has written/finished the novel he was writing/planning at the time of his death, The Owl in Daylight. It’s hard to tell whether it will be good, bad or indifferent, but what’s to lose in having it published?

One final Philip K. Dick

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