>> Wednesday, February 10, 2016
TITLE: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
AUTHOR: Mary Beard
As the title indicates, this is a history of Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire. Beard starts with the clash between Cicero and Catiline in 63 BCE, and then goes back to the founding of Rome and proceeds from there.
But the fascinating thing here is not what she covers, but how she does so. Rather than simply go “This is what happened”, Beard really goes into what you might call the sausage-making process. She tells us what evidence there is that can give us information about a particular subject or time, she tells us the different ways in which it can be interpreted, and how sure she thinks we can be about each, and she tells us what she thinks is the most likely, sounding authoritative without dismissing the possibility that she might be wrong. It’s fantastic.
The writing style brings it all together. It’s very accessible and lively without doing that condescending thing of sounding faux-folksy. It’s clear that these are people to Beard, rather than simply puzzles, and that really comes through.
I loved this, highly recommended.
MY GRADE: An A.
TITLE: Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World
AUTHOR: Mark Haskell Smith
The title says it all here as well. In this book, Smith immerses himself in the world of nudists, also known as naturists. Through visits to resorts in the US and Europe, participating in a naked hike through the Austrian Alps and a Caribbean cruise, he tells us of the history of nudism from its start to today and explores related topics such as, as he calls it, “Trends in Genital Topiary” :)
I found the book interesting, but found it overstayed its welcome. By the time we got to the Caribbean cruise, I felt Smith wasn’t adding anything that we hadn’t explored to death in earlier chapters. Also, although I liked the writing well enough (and felt Smith has a nice sense of humour), there was an area that was really lacking, and that was the way he incorporated the interviews he did into the text. He basically just did a sort of verbatim dialogue, which really didn’t work. Weirdly, it made the whole thing feel really dead. Well, actually, first he needs to be a bit more choosy about which interviews he uses that way, because there were several which added nothing at all and felt completely pointless.
I’m glad enough I read this, but it really could have been better. It did make me want to go on a naked hike in the Alps, though!
MY GRADE: A C+.