“A Crisp and Merciless Clarity”: Mary Beard’s SPQR

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I haven’t read the latest book by Mary Beard yet, but this NY Times review is certainly enough to whet my readerly appetite:

How on earth did they do it? The Greek historian Polybius, writing in the second century B.C., was the first to ask the question: “Who could be so indifferent or so idle that they did not want to find out how, and under what kind of political organization, almost the whole of the inhabited world was conquered and fell under the sole power of the Romans in less than 53 years?” It was not as if Rome was a promising spot: a swampy piece of ground up a barely navigable river surrounded by scrubby hills, its few thousand inhabitants alternately flooded out and ravaged by malaria….

In “SPQR,” her wonderful concise history, Mary Beard unpacks the secrets of the city’s success with a crisp and merciless clarity that I have not seen equaled anywhere else.

For those of you not familiar with Mary Beard, she’s worth checking out. She’s one of my favorite guests on the In Our Time show (with Melvyn Bragg) and one of my favorite reviewers in the New York Review of Books. When it comes to the ancients, she’s as consistently excellent (and reliable) as we have.

You can find it here:

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