In my art post “View of a Ripetta,” I mentioned I was inspired by Edward Gibbon‘s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” It’s a massive work and I’m nowhere close to being done. That said, I feel comfortable recommending it because for anyone interested in Roman history, this is it. Look no further.
Unlike most contemporary explorations of history that attempt to view history through a modern lens and prove the contemporary author’s thesis, Gibbon’s book seems much more objective. Though contemporary historians argue that books of old tend to be more biased and lack contemporary scholarship — I should say that seems to hold true and to a much worse extent for contemporary non-fiction writers. Whereas many contemporary non-fiction books are written by professors whom need to publish eccentric histories in order to advance their careers… the older books seem to be written more for posterity than with the hope/intent of academic celebrity. In other words, the older books seem more truthful.
I don’t mean to sound down on contemporary non-fiction writers, but for someone that’s sincerely interested in understanding history (or in this case Roman history), Gibbon presents a picture that’s simultaneously broad and specific. It’s specific because of the sharp details he uses to describe what’s going on and where. He uses a vast array of texts written in the time of Rome so you feel as if you’re there. It’s broad because the vast specifics Gibbon uses are well pointed and unique, thus providing massive context for the time period by shedding light on the heroes and villains that shaped it.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series was admittedly inspired by Edward Gibbon’s history. Long story short, it’s a big recommend.