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.
One Reply to “How Rome Fell, by Adrian Goldsworthy”
For those who don’t want to invest in the book right away, you can invest an hour to hear this great interview http://newbooksinhistory.com/?p=840 and then figure out if you want to buy the book. My bet is that most will say yes.