The premise of "The Murder of King Tut" is very alluring, particularly with the power of two strong names in writing: James Patterson who's written ma...moreThe premise of "The Murder of King Tut" is very alluring, particularly with the power of two strong names in writing: James Patterson who's written many popular books and Martin Dugard who's written a couple of wonderful epic biographies.
The delivery on this promise, however, was a terrible disappointment. I give this 2 stars instead of 1 only because I was able to finish it; mostly due to its 250 pages which are broken up by a very consumable 99 chapterettes. Yes...99 chapters in 250 pages.
Mr. Patterson and Mr. Dugard didn't have much to say.
The book bounces back and forth between the early 20th century focusing on Howard Carter and his early career and eventual discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen - and the early 1300s B.C. focusing on the Boy King's birth and demise.
The flashbacks to King Tut's era are filled with trite dialogue that I can only guess were drawn 100% from Patterson's imagination. Having read two other Dugard books, I would expect his involvement dealt exclusively with the non-fiction research. Much of Carter's chapterettes were taken from various diaries of his. Without any notes or bibliography, however, it was impossible to tell what was made up and what had at least some foundation in fact. These chapters were, though, interesting.
Patterson would have us believe that King Tut was murdered, a common analysis that's not at all unique (just search for books on King Tut). Within the last couple of years, scientists have performed and analyzed a CT scan on Tut's body and concluded that he probably died from an infection caused by a broken leg. While I understand that this recent analysis is open to interpretation, Patterson dismissed it out of hand. I would've liked a little deeper rationale here.
Patterson resolves this ancient whodunnit with the most simplistic of conclusions based on a painting within the room that contained the body of the Boy King. After reading about 220 pages and 90+ chapters, I'd come to realize that the masterstroke conclusion of who killed Tut would be as disappointing as the rest of the book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and Readable History, January 14, 2010
Historians love to identify "notably rare moments" in history - symbolic dates th...more 5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and Readable History, January 14, 2010
Historians love to identify "notably rare moments" in history - symbolic dates that mark the end of one era and the beginning of another, states author Alessandro Barbero. World War II had its D-Day. Napoleon had his Waterloo. Was the Battle of Adrianople that notably rare moment in Roman history? "The Day of the Barbarians - The Battle that Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire" is a tightly written, 146-page review of a key moment in ancient Roman history, but Barbero argues that it's not that "rare moment" that lends itself to such dramatic interpretations.
The Romans were soundly beaten by a barbarian army on August 9, 378. It was a turning point in Roman history, but according to Barbero much less of an earth-shattering, all-or-nothing moment in time as other key battles in history. Barbero's emphasis is that the Battle at Adrianople was a key point in time for the Empire more due to the context surrounding the event, rather than the event itself.
What ultimately became an invasion, started slowly and steadily over time as immigration. Barbero writes, "Before the battle of Adrianople, the barbarian invasions had already begun." Barbero reminds us that the "Roman Empire already was a multiethnic crucible of languages, races, and religions, and it was perfectly capable of absorbing massive immigration without becoming destabilized."
In autumn of 376, barbarians massed along the northern shores of the Danube. They wanted to cross into the Empire because a new threat was looming in the West - the Huns were moving closer and their violent and deadly reputation preceded them.
As citizens of the empire grew increasingly resistant to military enlistment, the Empire looked to fill out its ranks from the outside. Barbero writes that "the barbarians were increasingly seen as...abundant, low-cost manpower...a potential resource that should not be wasted"
So Valens ordered his troops to help the barbarians across the Danube. Except there were too many of them, and despite a reputation for superlative logistics, the Roman army wasn't prepared. Ultimately, the starving and horribly uncomfortable barbarians revolted.
In the face of these challenges, Fritigern, a Gothic tribal chief, had been able to centralize enough cross-tribal power to lead thousands of barbarians on a two year war within the Empire's own boundaries.
Near the walls of Adrianople on the morning of August 9, 378 Valens' armies had finally rallied and moved to face the barbarians whose own armies were positioned on a nearby hilltop. As the battle began, numerous barbarian cavalry, who had been foraging away from their camps, emerged amid the hills near the battle. This became a key moment, in a key battle, at a key point in Roman history. The Roman army was overwhelmed and surrounded by too many riders. Their fate was sealed.
"Day of the Barbarians" is a very readable, enjoyable and engaging book. I'm not an academic and I felt that it had the right mix of historical background, research and most importantly to me, narrative. The book also has its requisite descriptions and analysis of strategic army movements and lively battle scenes. It may not be academic enough for the hardcore scholar, however this is a terrific book for insights into an instrumental period in Roman history. (less)
In "Roman Conquests: Italy" ancient Roman military historian Ross Cowan provides a detailed accounting of pre-Republican Roman expansion across the It...moreIn "Roman Conquests: Italy" ancient Roman military historian Ross Cowan provides a detailed accounting of pre-Republican Roman expansion across the Italian peninsula. Emphasizing the importance of this era, Cowan points out that "the famous Caesar would have accomplished nothing if the groundwork in Italy and the creation of a solid base for overseas expansion had not been achieved by the likes of the lesser-known Torquatus, Corvus, Cursor, Rullianus and Dentatus in the fourth and third centuries BC."
The book covers about two hundred years of early Roman history. While Cowan acknowledges his principal source is Livy's books I-X, he references numerous other ancient sources as well as revised historical insights based on modern archaeological research. He utilizes his mix of ancient and modern sources to counterbalance Livy's often overly Roman-centric perspective.
In 396 BC, Rome conquered the rocky citadel of Veii, just ten miles north of the city, and incorporated it into her territories. Rome was the main hub of trade and communications in west-central Italy. "The city dominated the main crossing point of the Tiber...Rome was nearest to the coast, and the famous seven hills on which the city was built provided excellent points from which to guard the crossing and filter traffic." Furthermore, "she was also agriculturally rich...some of the most fertile land in the peninsula and (able to) support a large population."
One of the key military themes throughout this period is based on honor and revenge, which were extremely important to Romans and their enemies and allies. "Nothing motivated the Romans more than the need to avenge a defeat," writes Cowan. In addition to the wholesale slaughter or slavery of defeated enemies, Cowan references prisoners (both Roman and Samnite) who were put under the yoke - "a humiliation worse than death...indicating that a warrior was utterly defeated, little more than a beast, to be used and abused by his conqueror."
One of the more fun aspects of "Roman Conquests" is Cowan's cognomen translations. Cognomens started off as nicknames, but after a time became hereditary. Aulus Cornelius Cossus, the "Worm", was only the second Roman, after the legendary Romulus, to kill an enemy king in single combat. Appius Claudius Crassus was "Fat" or "Uncouth". Calvinus was "Bald". Curvus was "Stooped". More noble Corvus was the "Raven", Venox the "Hunter", and Cursor the "Swift Runner" who should not be confused with Lentulus the "Slow".
Some of the more colorful characters gained their equally colorful names from their brave actions. One military tribune accepted a challenge of single combat from an enemy Gaul. He defeated the challenger and promptly cut off his head, "tore off his torque and put it, covered as it was with blood, around his own neck." Not surprisingly, he and his ancestors adopted the cognomen of Torquatus. Quintus Servilius Ahala "achieved" his cognomen, "Armpit", when, in 439 BC, an ancestor concealed a dagger under his arm and used it to assassinate an aspiring plebian tyrant.
Cowan acknowledges that the relative dearth of detailed sources from this period lends to rather one-dimensional characterizations of key players. Fortunately, Pyrrhus of Epirus, king of the Molossians, descendant of Achilles, wrote his memoirs which help flesh out this charismatic figure. Cowan maximizes his opportunity to build out this enemy of Rome and dedicates almost 50 pages to his story.
The book includes seven detailed maps and eight pages of photos and drawings, including 4 beautifully rendered paintings from well-known ancient military artist Graham Sumner. One frustration, though, is the lack of a timeline and, perhaps, dramatis personae - both of which would have helped limit confusion when Cowan bounces back and forth between dates and the large cast of historical characters.
Excluding the notes, bibliography and index, "Roman Conquests: Italy" is a tight 147 pages. The book is a solid mix of high quality academic research with enough narrative to please those with a more passing interest in this key period of Roman history. (less)
You're at a dinner party, and you overhear your neighbor discussing gladiatorial games in ancient Rome. You sidle over and slip into the conversation,...moreYou're at a dinner party, and you overhear your neighbor discussing gladiatorial games in ancient Rome. You sidle over and slip into the conversation, "Did you know that an ape was once trained to drive a chariot pulled by camels?"
Later, you check in on the teenagers in the basement watching the newly released Blu-Ray version of Russell Crowe's "Gladiator". After Maximus slices through the last of his latest foes, you pipe in with, "Did you know that condemned criminals (and sometimes Christians) were, in fact, thrown to lions, but they were also thrown to crocodiles, wolves, dogs and bears?"
Rupert Matthews' "Age of the Gladiators: Savagery & Spectacle in Ancient Rome" is filled with anecdotes and examples of gladiator styles, equipment, and modes of murder and mayhem throughout the Roman Empire. After reading "Age", you'll have plenty of conversational pocket change to unload on unwitting neighbors, disinterested kids, and half-listening spouses.
The first half of the book focuses on all things gladiator: origins, history, decline, the gladiator and their games, training, types of fighters, naval battles, wild animal hunts, executions as part of games, and then the Colosseum itself. There's also a chapter that provides a nice overview of the world's most famous non-fiction gladiator - Spartacus and his slave rebellion. The second half of the book covers a range of items like circuses, chariot and horse racing, Roman festivals, triumphs, bread doles and starvation, and a random assortment of other topics that generally fall under the heading of "Savagery & Spectacle."
This book, however, is neither erudite nor academic - probably not the best choice as a reference in a doctoral dissertation. It has no bibliography or notes of any kind, and only periodic and passing references to the origination of a quote or tidbit of information. In addition to some questionable analysis, Matthews is oddly repetitive. On the first page of the first chapter (following the introduction), Matthews explains that historically a gladiatorial fight was called munus (munera in the plural) which means obligation. Gladiatorial fights were staged during funeral celebrations and so the fight was an obligation to the dead. Munus and munera are referenced throughout, but inexplicably, in the chapter on Roman circuses midway through the book, Matthews felt it necessary to remind us "If a ... relative died ... a suitably impressive munus, a gladiatorial show, could be staged."
In another display of authorial forgetfulness, Matthews writes how Romulus, one half of the city-founding super-twins, organized a horse race in honor of the god Consus, patron of the harvest. He writes this on page 124...and page 130 - as if it was new information each time.
It doesn't help the books' credibility that he repeatedly refers to Julius Caesars' close friend Mark Anthony. Last I heard, Mark Anthony is married to J. Lo and the closest he's come to Julius is on the blackjack tables at Caesar's Palace. Antony is referenced correctly in a later chapter and in the index, but there's an editor at Arcturus Publishing in the UK who might consider a new line of work...
This book is best viewed as a series of independent essays compiled into a collection of writings on gladiators and spectacle in ancient Rome. If one can overcome the aforementioned foibles, there are some nice info nuggets. I wasn't aware that there was a sort of loose minor league structure within the world of chariot racers. Each factione (Chariot teams consisting of team Red, White, Blue and Green) had an informal relationship with its' counterpart in smaller cities near Rome. Also, riders would, at times, change factiones, not unlike the modern day charioteer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who recently switched NASCAR teams.
Most people are aware of the depths of Nero's depravity, but Matthews wrote on one incident which was new to me. While the Emperor was preparing to recite an epic poem he'd written about the life of Hercules, an unfortunate thief was caught stealing apples from Nero's gardens. Theft of an Emperor's property was considered treason and so he was condemned to death. Nero had a fantastically efficient idea of combining the recitation and execution. The thief appeared in the final scene in Nero's drama. He was clothed in a coat smeared in pitch and set alight and pushed on stage, emulating (or is that immolating) Hercules' mythological flaming death. Matthews writes, "His searing death agonies formed the triumphal end to Nero's play."
The book contains a map - ostensibly of the Roman Empire at AD 211, and illustrations roughly tied to each chapter. Frustratingly, other than the cover painting called Pollice Verso by Jean Leon Gerome, which I find quite powerful, there are no illustration credits.
If you're going to Italy for the first time and enjoyed the movie "Gladiator", then this is a good enough book to provide you context and background. If you're interest in roman history is relatively new and you're looking for a simple, easy-to-read overview of gladiators and excess, then this book will do. If you're serious about history or looking for detailed analysis, academic perspective, or erudite writing, then you're best bet is to look elsewhere.
And if you're interested in Mark Anthony, I'd recommend People Magazine. (less)
This book provides some terrific insights from an original source for anyone looking to enhance understandings of the Inca and their Conquest. A terri...moreThis book provides some terrific insights from an original source for anyone looking to enhance understandings of the Inca and their Conquest. A terrific complement to McQuarries' Last Days of the Incas and Hemmings' Conquest of the Incas.(less)
Before I discovered a passion for the history of the Roman Empire, I found myself drawn to Emperor Hadrian – what he accomplished, who he was, and the...moreBefore I discovered a passion for the history of the Roman Empire, I found myself drawn to Emperor Hadrian – what he accomplished, who he was, and the significant romantic notion of his worldy, artistic, monument-building approach to leading the Roman Empire.
Anthony Everitt’s “Hadrian – and the Triumph of Rome” blends a fairly limited set of contemporary and near-contemporary resources with wonderfully portrayed color commentary of the times in which Hadrian lived.
In a recent visit to Rome and Italy, you couldn’t swing the proverbial Roman stray cat without hitting an architectural ghost of one of Rome’s most heard of, yet least-known Emperors. My wife is a U.S. history buff and teaches it to gifted students in 6th grade. She and her students are immersed in American history’s greatest characters, but while poking fun at all of the Hadrian-ness we bumped into, she couldn’t get her arms around his breadth of character. The only comparisons I could make were to early American Reneissance men like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
Everitt points at Hadrian’s two most lasting contributions to history. First, he stopped the expansion of the Empire that his adopted father, Emperor Trajan had pushed to the greatest limits the Empire had known. Not only did he halt expansion, he actually contracted the Empire. To demarcate that which was governed by Hadrian, he built walls. He built miles and miles of walls, of stone, of dirt, and of wood; creating physical barriers between the Empire’s governed, and the ungoverned barbarian frontiers. Of course, the most lasting barrier is Hadrian’s Wall in northern UK.
The second major theme of his 21-year term was a very sincere devotion to the arts – specifically anything relating to ancient Hellenist culture. In laying the groundwork for the society in which Hadrian grew up, Everitt points to Emperor Nero. While generally reviled as a murderer, who decimated the Senate, and had been widely accused of burning down his own city, Nero was a great philhellene, who opened a gateway in ancient Rome, into Greece. Within the creative and artistic communities, Nero was actually celebrated as he aspired to be a poet, musician and performer. And so Hadrian followed suit, although he was a much more grounded and savvy politician as well as a more genuine (and realistic) artiste.
Hadrian was born in southern Spain. Not much detail is known about Hadrian’s youth, but his family was connected to the family of Trajan. When Hadrian’s father died, Trajan took him along his own meteoric rise to the top of the Roman political structure. Hadrian’s adoption is not clear cut. There’s some evidence (or rather lack of evidence) to indicate with any assuredness that Trajan had specifically pronounced Hadrian as his heir.
Everitt’s biggest success in “Hadrian” is his portrayal of life in the 2nd century AD. His writing is crisp, and his subject is thoroughly researched. The book’s strength lies not in its narrative (which, to be fair, is difficult considering the dearth of resources on Hadrian), but on its breadth and scope that paints Hadrian very colorfully in his cultural context.
The Last Days of the Incas is a terrifically readable history of the Spanish conquest of the Incas and Peru. Whereas John Hemming's Conquest of the In...moreThe Last Days of the Incas is a terrifically readable history of the Spanish conquest of the Incas and Peru. Whereas John Hemming's Conquest of the Incas is the definitive modern history, MacQuarrie brings to bear a more narrative and engaging approach.
Last Days is historically thorough, but MacQuarrie writes many of the incidents of the conquest in a more fictional style. Often scenes are are qualified with comments like "Undoubtedly, Pizarro felt such-and-such," or "No doubt Manco looked out over the valley, etc." Once one accepts the speculative commentary for what it is, it shouldn't be bothersome, and is more than made up for by the narrative flow.
The story of the conquest is well-known: Pizarro & co. swoop into Peru with only a handful of fully armed conquistadors looking for fame and fortune. This small band (aided unknowingly by a smallpox plague ravaging North, Central and South America) kidnap and kill their way to riches and domination. The Incas are able to consolidate their many tribes, but the rebellions all flame out.
Ultimately, the Spanish prevail despite their own internecine battles that ends in the death of Francisco Pizarro by Spanish hands.
John Hemming is for the hardest core academic reading of the Incan conquest. MacQuarrie is faster and more fiction-like read. Both are highly recommended.(less)
The Incas is a very detailed and enlightening view into the world of the Incas. The book is well researched and and appropriate for anyone looking to...moreThe Incas is a very detailed and enlightening view into the world of the Incas. The book is well researched and and appropriate for anyone looking to go beyond the tales of Machu Picchu and the Spanish Conquest.
D'Altroy uses a wealth of resources to detail the lives and existence of the Incas - day-to-day living, military and family structures, economy, etc.
The writing is comfortable enough for even the non-academic.
This was the book that really ignited my passion and interest in New World exploration. Woods combines contemporary quotes and descriptions with his o...moreThis was the book that really ignited my passion and interest in New World exploration. Woods combines contemporary quotes and descriptions with his own modern-day journeys in detailing the adventures of four seminal Spanish explorers - Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizzaro, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and Francisco Orellana.
This book was written as a companion piece to Woods' PBS documentary, but it stands alone fine without the video. While recounting the adventurers and their adventures, Woods (and his crew) follow parts of their routes and finds connections with each journey.
While this device isn't all that unique, it provides a very modern connection with these distant stories. It's a reminder that these events didn't actually occur very far away in either time or place. He blends the historical with the modern and all of the stories read very smoothly. Accompanying each tale are a series of color images - historical artwork, as well as photos from the trips that followed in the footsteps of these conquerers.
The book isn't intended to dive deeply into each adventure. But the detail is more than adequate and certainly whetted my desire to learn more.