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Rome: An Empire's Story

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  230 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
The idea of empire was created in ancient Rome and even today the Roman empire offers a powerful image for thinking about imperialism. Traces of its monuments and literature can be found across Europe, the Near East, and North Africa - and sometimes even further afield. This is the story of how this mammoth empire was created, how it was sustained in crisis, and how it sha ...more
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2012)
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Jeff Wilson
Sep 27, 2014 Jeff Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew almost nothing about history before 1000 AD. I have wanted to better my understanding of the Roman Empire for some time now and when I came across a one volume history of Rome, I thought I found a good way to do that. In the end, it turned out that I learned a great deal about Rome. This book, however, wasn't the sole source of my understanding. It is written (for some reason) for an audience that already knows Roman history. I was able to read the book because it's well written and easy ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Bonnie_blu rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient_rome
2.5 Stars.

Woolf sets himself a very ambitious goal. He states (please pardon the long quote, but it is necessary): "My subject, however, is empire itself. How did it grow? What enabled it to resist defeats and capitalize on victories? Why did Rome succeed when its rivals failed? How did empire survive crisis, dig itself in, and replace chaotic campaigns of conquest with stability? How did empire come to coordinate the great flows of wealth and populations on which it depended? How did it evolve
Aug 11, 2012 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a introduction to the Roman Empire, which I would describe as "friendly" in the best sense of the word. In less than 300 pages, it touches on aspects of economics, religion, culture, and government spanning over a thousand years of history. While there are certainly better treatments of any individual topic, Greg Woolf gets a lot of credit for putting together a stellar bibliography for anyone who wants to delve more deeply. Each chapter boasts about 3 or 4 paragraphs of highly recommend ...more
Vicki Cline
Dec 03, 2013 Vicki Cline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-history
This book tells the story of Rome from its founding in the 700s BC through the end of the Western empire in 476 AD and the shrinkage of the Eastern empire down to a small area around Constantinople in the late seventh century. The chapters dealing with historical events alternate with chapters about cultural and economic issues that have a bearing on the events. It's a very interesting way to read history - you get to absorb what happened and think about the overall impact of the events. Each hi ...more
Karl F.
Oct 05, 2013 Karl F. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To cover more than a thousand years of people's history in less than 300 pages is no easy task.
The author's argument in Rome An Empire's Story is that it is persistence and survival that needs to be explained, not the decline and fall. In this he is most successful.

Rome's genius lay in the ability to recover from crisis after crisis. Its' success rested on the synergies engineered between imperialism on the one hand and aristocracy, slavery, family, city, on the other. Rome's history ends with
Jan 23, 2016 Jerry-Book rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author compares Rome to a tidal wave or an avalanche that swept all before it until it finally burned out. One aspect of the book I especially liked was the bibliography at the end of each chapter. For example, at the end of the chapter called "The Generals" the author suggests further reading in this area should include Plutarch's lives of Sulla, Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, Crassus, and Lucullus. Then he suggests Arthur Keaveney's "Sulla: The Last Republicans", Robin Seager's "Pompey the Great: ...more
Zachary Taylor
There are so many books on the rise and so-called fall of Rome now available and accessible for general audiences. From popular historians like Tom Holland and Anthony Everett to more reputable classicists with a penchant for popular writing like Mary Beard and Paul Cartledge, a number of authors have tackled the Roman world, that “vast sandpit in which one can play, or else a huge historical laboratory in which all sorts of long-lived processes and entities can be studied.” While Rome: An Empir ...more
Nov 05, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like nearly every Tyler Cowen book rec, this book covers a ton of ground but assumes a lot. I was doing some heavy Third-Year-Latin-Junior-Year-of-HS lifting to recall exactly how the first/second triumvirates differed. If you've got a basic narrative already, this rips along basically covers all the "how they did this empire thing" points quickly and cleanly.
Douglass Gaking
Mar 08, 2015 Douglass Gaking rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Woolf covers over 1,000 years of history in only 300 pages. While it is indisputably erudite, the book carefully avoids trivial information and sticks to the essential details. For the most part, the odd-numbered chapters follow the history of Rome through time, while the even-numbered chapters discuss culture, economics, and other concepts about empire. This seems like a predictable and unoriginal format, but Woolf seamlessly transitions from one topic to another. The individual chapters could ...more
Jan 01, 2015 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent overview of the history of the Roman Empire, from inception to conclusion. Chapters provide several different vantage points of the empire but all are presented within a thoughtful context. Highly recommended as an introduction.
Apr 18, 2013 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book covering the entire roman history within one book. As someone relatively new to the topic I found many parts hard to follow, but still worth the read.

This is an excellent overview of how Rome built and sustained an Empire.

Woolf considers a range of factors in turn - such as geography, climate, culture/religion, the economy, and the institutions they established - and describes how they contributed to the success of the Empire. His comparisons to other empires of similar scale were informative.

The 'further reading' sections at the end of each chapter are particularly helpful for those who want to explore a particular aspect of Roman history i
Aug 21, 2012 Zach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very impressive and approachable history of Rome. The narrative history is broken up by alternating chapters that deal with various aspects of Rome on a more thematic basis - ecology, identity, slavery, religion, entertainment, etc. Each one is essentially a 10-12 page essay that presents some varying viewpoints, summarizes current scholarship, and offers some brief analysis. They are insightful and add a lot of depth to the narrative.

The narrative chapters are well-written and never b
Mariana Huben
Jun 24, 2015 Mariana Huben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Wow. This book was an incredibly comprehensive overview of Roman history, which is exactly what I wanted. As beginner to the time period, I was hoping for a more simplified approach that would give me a good foundation for further reading on the topic. Woolf's book did a great job of helping me understand the chronology of the Roman Empire's development and was well-organized in that each chapter focused on a specific theme or topic. I was intrigued and I got precisely the information I was seek ...more
Ethan Cramer
A fairly standard Roman overview, focusing on the aspects of empire rather than specific events. Some of the more "Guns, Germs, and Steel"-esque parts which explained Rome's empire from a geographical, economic, and agricultural sense were the more interesting ones.
Jan 01, 2013 A rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very well written, approachable, and fun overview of the history of the Roman Empire. I particularly liked how it included a focus on more recent scholarship (it seems to be giving a very up to date presentation of scholarship on the topic, though I wouldn't be qualified to say for sure), and the thematic structure. Woolf did an excellent job of presenting chapters around different themes such is ecology of the empire, slavery, economics, identities, etc. By ordering the more thematic ...more
Len Toomey
As much as I want it to work, it’s just not a good idea to condense a millenia of history into a single concise volume. It may be impossible to execute. Half of the book is dedicated to the great flows of history, the other half to analysis of growth, plateau and decline. The analysis is fine and relates the many competing academic theories on empire as well as culture, religion and economy. Though this book enriches my interest in the ancient world, it’s a murky slog through page after page of ...more
Apr 11, 2013 Tripp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a thematic review of Roman history. It manages to move along chronologically while addressing major ideas including the growth of the idea of Empire, the impact of topography, religion, economy, military reform and others. It is concise, in part because it eschews a narrative approach and has an academic tone. Because of the topical nature of chapters, I found myself reading some closely while skipping others entirely. This is not your one stop single volume of Roman history, in fact you ...more
Tim Byron
A good overview of the Roman Empire, from go to woe. In high school, I learned about a particular period of Roman time, and it was good to flesh it out. This was fairly up-to-date, mentioning the efforts of recent research and it avoided the trap of focusing just on military history and the history of the emperors, instead putting what happened with them in context of what we know about life around the empire and the differences between Roman thought and ours. (Would have had more stars, but I f ...more
Sherwood Belangia
This book gives a 10,000 ft view of the Roman Empire, specifically from an interest in Rome AS an empire. The bibliographical suggestions at the end of each chapter have been particularly helpful. I have gone on to read the recommended biographies of Caesar, Pompey and Cicero, while also reading relevant passages in Plutarch, Livy and Suetonius. Highly recommended.
Doug Solter
Sep 18, 2012 Doug Solter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book! Mr. Woolf focuses more on why the Roman Empire had such longevity compared to other empires and avoids discussing the sordid lives of the Emperors. Rome: An Empire's Story is a fascinating study on what made Roman such an institution that shaped Europe forever. The European history geek in your family should enjoy it. :)
Kathy  Petersen
A thousand or more years of history in 300 pages is quite a feat, and for the most part Woolf pulls it off beautifully. I must admit that I got rather bogged down in the penultimate section -- too much information! but his final pages, concerning the "future" of Rome, were most interesting.
Mar 17, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good overview, thought a bit encyclopedic as all overviews are doomed to be. This one, however, is redeemed by its clarity and breadth. It covers the heroes and the wars, but also the economy, the ecology, the climate, the mindset, and life at street level. A very good read.
Apr 30, 2013 Rhett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice, concisely written glance at the history of Rome. Woolf didn't just run through a list of events but he explored the impact they had and what Rome meant. Great book for a beginner on Roman history and good read for the more astute fan of Roman history.
Jul 03, 2013 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary study of why the Roman Empire lasted so long. Much interdisciplinary analysis combining the political developments and the cultural evolution. Well worth reading if you are interested in ancient history.
Jan 27, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An excellent introduction to Rome as both a republic and an empire. Not a history, but a survey of the institutions required for Rome to endure, and how they changed and then slowly came undone from the fourth century onward.
Nov 25, 2012 Riet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Een geschiedenis van het Romeinse Rijk, die nu eens niet de geijkte standpunten laat zien. Ik vond het erg interessant, maar af en toe wat moeizaam. Ik zou het niet aanraden als het eerste boek over dit onderwerp.
Nov 02, 2012 Narmin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Excellent book by an excellent Historian. Greg Woolf manages to make ancient History as if it was an very exciting novel and if you haven't dealt with the Roman Empire before, this book might somehow be useful.
Oct 27, 2013 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good overview of the field of Roman history, including more recent scholarship. Would be a great first book about Rome, but still sophisticated enough for someone with a little background.
After three years intensively reading everything I could about China, I feel I know more about Asian history than my own Western culture, so it was time to take a break.

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