How Rome Fell, by Adrian Goldsworthy

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This is not a book for everyone. It was barely a book for me, and I’m a bit of a nerd about Rome. The book starts at Marcus Aurelius and goes through 500 AD or so — a time of massive Roman influence in the world, but also a time that saw that influence dissipate over time.

It was such a giant empire, and such a time of flux, that the book often reads like a list of emperors and conflicts than like a narrative of the period — made even more complex by the tendency to have at least 2 and often 4 “legitimate” emperors at any given time, not to mention challengers and usurpers.

But there were a couple of interesting things that made the book worth it for me. First was a complete & overwhelming rejection of the analogies between the fall of Rome and the fall of the United States. (I don’t particularly have an opinion on whether US influence is fading, although I tend to agree with Zakaria that it’s really more about the “rise of the rest” — but I have long thought that the Roman Empire had essentially nothing in common with the “American Empire.”)

The second thing that I really liked is that the book helped me understand the split of the empire into a Western Empire (with a capital at Rome, later Milan, then Ravenna) and an Eastern Empire (with its capital of Constantinople), and how the East persisted long after the West fell. (It isn’t a history of the Holy Roman Empire, fwiw — it ends around 500 AD, so not that much of note had happened.)

Anyway, glad I read it; not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t particularly interested in this stuff.

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