Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations” as Want to Read:
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,638 ratings  ·  197 reviews
Mary Beard, drawing on thirty years of teaching and writing about Greek and Roman history, provides a panoramic portrait of the classical world, a book in which we encounter not only Cleopatra and Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Hannibal, but also the common people--the millions of inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the slaves, soldiers, and women. How did they live? ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 9th 2013 by Liveright (first published March 1st 2013)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Confronting the Classics, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Confronting the Classics

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.72  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,638 ratings  ·  197 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations
This is the perfect Goodreads book - a collection of old book reviews. Taken from the Times literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, slightly reworked,starting from the 1990s but mostly from this century.

They are lively and witty pieces, all of the books reviewed are from the field of Classics, Mary Beard being Mary Beard only three (if my count be true) get an unambiguous thumbs up, this is possibly a spoiler, so if you don't want to know look away now
"I do not want to belong to any club that would have me as a member," said Groucho Marx in his most frequently quoted line - one that I thought of several times while reading Confronting the Classics. Good grief, Mary Beard is doing just what I've done! She's taken a bunch of reviews, tidied them up a bit, stuck on some linking text, and called it a book! I mean, come on. I've tried her formula, and I know all the drawbacks. No doubt the individual reviews are quite good, but the construction is ...more
Myke Cole
Apr 28, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I always feel like there's something wrong with me when I have an allergic reaction to a book that is so popular and successful, written by an author as universally loved and respected as Beard.

But this book gave me a rash, for two reasons:

1.) It's a collection of wonderful essays that are fascinating and illuminating explorations of a range of aspects of the classical world, including underserved areas like laughter, and the lives of freed slaves.


Every single chapter is 50% what I've just d
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classical-era
Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics is an uneven jumble of essays and book reviews previously published in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. It has generated many favorable reviews in various media and been roundly praised by dozens of GR members. It struck me as lackluster and uninteresting. The back flap mentions a New York Times description of Beard as “the closest thing, if it exists, to a celebrity classics professor.” That, in fac ...more
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology
The thing about a good bookshop is that it encourages speculation. This was another book I picked up in Daunt Books on Marylebone High St. Mary Beard will be familiar in particular to the British, but I'm guessing to a lot of other English speakers, as a high profile academic, with a public presence I imagine is unusual for somebody in this discipline. She is the Classics editor of the TLS and it is a hodge podge collection of book reviews she has written over quite a long period of time, linked ...more
I enjoyed Mary Beard’s book on Pompeii, and I think I’ve read a couple of others, or at least seen her work cited. She’s always struck me as pretty level headed, unlikely to get carried away with conjectures, so I wasn’t really surprised by the fairly sceptical tone of most of these reviews (though I did begin to wonder if anyone, anywhere, could produce work she’d give the green light). It’s a little odd reading a book of essays that are adapted (I’m not sure how much they’ve been changed) from ...more
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition



If I had a central criticism of Confronting the Classics, it would be that I've written "Historiography" already about as many times as it appears in the book. So what is Beard is deliberately and unambiguously writing about?


History is a set of stories told to us. Historiography is a study of how those stories came about.

Enjoying that tidbit of Thucydidean thought in some sonorously written contemporary political opinion? Well, interjec
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Mary Beard’s writing is accessible, but not condescending to the general reader. She keeps academic score settling to a minimum. You may be already well versed in the classics or a person trying to figure the people, customs and events both great and small from 20 centuries ago out for the first time or, more likely, between those poles. Maybe you have been to Italy, marveled at the Coliseum, the aqueducts and the Pantheon, made a trip to the foot of Mount Vesuvius and wondered about the people ...more
Karen Wellsbury
Not my favourite MB.
Part explanation/ discussion and part dissection of other books/ media regrading ancient Rome/ Greece.
Gerald Sinstadt
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book for the layman, nor does it pretend to be. Therefore the views of this layman - who acquired it partly by chance and partly from having enjoyed the lighter side of Professor Beard's writing -should be taken for what they are worth.

Confronting the Classics is a collection of book reviews contributed to various publications over a number of years, together with an Introduction and an Afterword. The Introduction is the equivalent of an angler tossing bait into the water to entice

This is another one of those books where it is not at all what I thought it would be. I have enjoyed Mary Beard’s works in the past, and was looking forward to a humorous yet incisive popular overview of key classical authors and areas of interest in the field of classics. Well, the text is a nice easy read, marked by Beard’s characteristic witty style, but it’s really a series of her book reviews compiled into a book, and often doesn’t review the classics themselves (what I was hoping for), but
May 29, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's a book of book reviews. Which you only find out as you start reading it. Not on the back cover, or in the introduction or anywhere you would quite like that level of detail. Oh, sorry, my bad, this is stated clearly...during the epilogue. The reviews themselves are fine, but had I known it was a book of book reviews, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. ...more
Molly O'Neill
I felt it was more reviews on others scholars work than on the subject itself.
An interesting read about (recent) studies about the Classics. The chapters are in general a nice length and many of them are reviews of (recently) published books/articles about the classics (so be warned, if that's not for you, you might want to put this book down again!).

I thought it was quite ironic that Beard complains a few times about writers who don't publish pictures of things described in their book or accuses others of being difficult to understand if the reader wouldn't have a certa
Z. J. Pandolfino
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One would not expect a collection of book reviews by a Classics professor at a prominent university in Britain to make for a pleasurable read. Typically, book reviews—especially those written by classicists and published in heady academic journals—fail to capture a sense of wonder or excitement. Somehow, Mary Beard pulls this off with her brilliantly witty and subversive Confronting the Classics, a compendium of thirty-one reviews written by her for the London Review of Books, the New York Revie ...more
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book because it made me think. Mary Beard did a fantastic BBC television series called 'Meet the Romans' where she brought alive everyday life in Rome. She was passionate about the subject matter and that really came across strongly. This book is a collection of reviews of other people's books which have already been published elsewhere but for me it does work as a book in its own right. The topics are very wide ranging and Mary Beard is particularly good at pointing out what the ri ...more
May 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good bullshit antidote. Beard has a gift for taking the cherry from everyone's pie. My favorite part went something like "if you are reading a biography of an ancient individual and it is more than a couple hundred pages, you can be guaranteed it is mostly fiction." ...more
Jun 10, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don’t read it, it’s Mary beard.
Eustacia Tan
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I’ve heard of Mary Beard for quite a few years, and have always intended to read her books, but as you know, my TBR list is long and I haven’t quite gotten around to all of them. But when I saw a copy of Confronting the Classics at an extremely reasonable price, I decided that I had procrastinated long enough and promptly got myself a copy of read.

And wow, have I been missing out.

Confronting the Classics is a fun and engaging read that takes the reader through various issues in the study of clas
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I truly wanted to give this book a 5-star rate. But I simply cannot do that based on the reason that any author who thinks they ought to make a book consisting merely of their own book reviews, is missing the point of books in the first place. And that is coming from the perspective of an enthusiastic book reviewer.
I love reviews because people give so generously of their time to not only read but review a book for literally no payment at all. This book turns this around. It brings reviews repa
Jessica Jenkins
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The number one reason this book receives criticism is that it is a series of book reviews written by Mary Beard and then complied into a book. While this should have been made clearer on the covers, it also makes complete sense given the overall topic of the book. This is an analysis of the past, current and future study of Classics, and what better way to do that than reviewing such analyses by others? Other negative commenters state that the essays are mis-matched and the book is difficult to ...more
Apr 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fact
I love Mary Beard books - just the informative yet approachable way they're written. I'm not a complete ancient world geek but it is interesting. In this book, Mary looks at the 'evidence' about Ancient Rome from specific books/documents and then talks through whether things that we've always accepted as being fact actually are. Each chapter is very discrete looking at one particular author or evidence source and it was an interesting read. Not the best book I didn't think but worth a read all t ...more
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of book reviews by Mary Beard provides new insights on a thousand years of Antiquity (and two thousand years of Antiquity studies). Those with a keen interest in Greece and Rome will find this a great read.
Donald Schopflocher
A book of essays on wide-ranging topics in classics, most of which started as book reviews, and all of which characterized by Mary Beard's sage remarks and trademark skepticism. ...more
Dec 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I listened to this on Audible. A recycled collection of Beard's reviews and essays for a number of publications. If thinking about the classical world is your thing, and not totally ignorant of Roman history, you will find Beard's treatment to be refreshing and appropriately critical. For example, she repeatedly calls modern biographers of ancient figures to account for their unfounded speculations.

My favorite essays concerned the I, Claudius TV show and the Classicist R.G. Collingwood.

Note: the
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A frequent reader of Mary Beard’s blog, I was very interested in this collection of her popular criticism. Bundled together in one volume, Beard’s reviews of her peers’ popular publications are both insightful and interesting. In particular, the criticism of Donald Kagan’s book on the Peloponnesian War is particularly interesting. I love Kagan’s book, but Beard’s criticism has given me pause. She talks about how, like Kagan, others have drawn upon Cleon as a source of support for their arguments ...more
okay, I admit it: I thought the book looked interesting in general, but I really bought it for the one essay/chapter on Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. I read from the beginning of this book through that particular essay, and then a bit further... and then I kind of lost motivation. It's still sitting on my bedroom bookshelf, which implies it being on deck for being picked up again, and I did find it interesting, but it also felt highly focused on the small details that are importa ...more
Collections of book reviews can be great, but if an author has certain habits of thought or writing, they tend to become painfully obvious. In this collection - mostly reviews from the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books - Mary Beard maintains a style of easy erudition. Yet, while reviewing book after book, Beard tends to fault authors for drawing too many conclusions from too little data. If they all took her criticism seriously, one imagines ...more
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary Beard really is a gem. This is a collection of her essays (or reviews) of literature around topics such as Cicero and Nero. In each piece she takes the role of Professor attending a viva and, in good humour, agrees, disagrees and takes to task top writers in their classical field.

Throughout, Beard - and this is where the effortlessness comes in - shows off her own scholarship and academic style. She makes me regret not reading Classics under her. As a result of the broad range of topics cov
Sophie (RedheadReading)
I wanted to like this so much more than I did! I wish the blurb had mentioned that this was a collection of book reviews that had been previously published and gathered together. Although there were many interesting topics throughout this book, I grew tired of reading reviews of books I haven't read, rather than original content exploring the topics. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World
  • Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths
  • The Ancient Guide to Modern Life
  • Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths
  • Red Doc>
  • In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made
  • 24 Hours in Ancient Egypt: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There
  • The World of Odysseus
  • Vita and Virginia: Love Letters
  • The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat
  • The Decay of Lying: And Other Essays
  • China: A History
  • Life and Death in the Roman Suburb
  • A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths
  • The Peloponnesian War
  • UnPresidented: Politics, Pandemics and the Race that Trumped all Others
  • Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction
  • Shame and Necessity
See similar books…
Winifred Mary Beard (born 1 January 1955) is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Newnham College. She is the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and author of the blog "A Don's Life", which appears on The Times as a regular column. Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements have led to her being described as "Brita ...more

News & Interviews

“I'm in a weird place because the book is about to come out. So I'm basically just walking around like a raw nerve and I'm not sure that I...
41 likes · 8 comments
“La verità è che i Classici sono in declino per definizione [...] La sensazione di una perdita imminente, il perenne timore che gli studi classici stiano per scomparire per sempre è ciò che [...] conferisce a queste discipline l'energia e la tensione di cui ritengo siano ancora intrise.” 5 likes
“Yet historians still start their books with a ritual lament about 'the sources' and their inadequacy. The lament is not entirely insincere (though it is something of a self-constructed problem): the sources often are inadequate for the particular questions that historians choose to pose. But that is part of the ancient-historical game: first pick your question, then demonstrate the appalling difficulty of finding an answer given the paucity of the evidence, finally triumph over that difficulty by scholarly 'skill'. Prestige in this business goes to those who outwit their sources, prising unexpected answers from unexpected places, and who play the clever (sometimes too clever) detective against an apparent conspiracy of ancient silence.” 2 likes
More quotes…