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Rome: The Biography of a City

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This beautifully written, informative study is a portrait, a history and a superb guide book, capturing fully the seductive beauty and the many layered past of the Eternal City. It covers 3,000 years of history from the city’s quasi-mythical origins, through the Etruscan kings, the opulent glory of classical Rome, the decadence and decay of the Middle Ages and the beauty a This beautifully written, informative study is a portrait, a history and a superb guide book, capturing fully the seductive beauty and the many layered past of the Eternal City. It covers 3,000 years of history from the city’s quasi-mythical origins, through the Etruscan kings, the opulent glory of classical Rome, the decadence and decay of the Middle Ages and the beauty and corruption of the Renaissance, to its time at the heart of Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Exploring the city’s streets and buildings, peopled with popes, gladiators, emperors, noblemen and peasants, this volume details the turbulent and dramatic history of Rome in all its depravity and grandeur.


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This beautifully written, informative study is a portrait, a history and a superb guide book, capturing fully the seductive beauty and the many layered past of the Eternal City. It covers 3,000 years of history from the city’s quasi-mythical origins, through the Etruscan kings, the opulent glory of classical Rome, the decadence and decay of the Middle Ages and the beauty a This beautifully written, informative study is a portrait, a history and a superb guide book, capturing fully the seductive beauty and the many layered past of the Eternal City. It covers 3,000 years of history from the city’s quasi-mythical origins, through the Etruscan kings, the opulent glory of classical Rome, the decadence and decay of the Middle Ages and the beauty and corruption of the Renaissance, to its time at the heart of Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Exploring the city’s streets and buildings, peopled with popes, gladiators, emperors, noblemen and peasants, this volume details the turbulent and dramatic history of Rome in all its depravity and grandeur.

30 review for Rome: The Biography of a City

  1. 5 out of 5

    Italo Italophiles

    This book attempts to cover 3000 years of history in 400 pages, so you can't blame this writer for suffering a sort-of history-whiplash. Hundreds of years are compressed into a single page, over and over again. Tidbits and trivia are sprinkled throughout to try to keep the reader's interest, and to differentiate the book from a Wikipedia entry on The History of Rome, Italy. I'm not sure the trivia actually works. The author works hard to focus his story on the city of Rome, but that is difficult This book attempts to cover 3000 years of history in 400 pages, so you can't blame this writer for suffering a sort-of history-whiplash. Hundreds of years are compressed into a single page, over and over again. Tidbits and trivia are sprinkled throughout to try to keep the reader's interest, and to differentiate the book from a Wikipedia entry on The History of Rome, Italy. I'm not sure the trivia actually works. The author works hard to focus his story on the city of Rome, but that is difficult since the city was once the capital of an empire, and is now the capital of a country, and it is the capital of a religious faith. Take any name, date or event mentioned in this compressed history book, and you will find dozens of books in print about it. The history of Rome and her citizens and invaders is so rich that this books sometimes feels more like an Index than a book. The book boasts a detailed Notes and Index section. In fact, the Notes section feels like a book in its own right. Perhaps the book that the author should have written? I don't know, but in the Preface the author states that the book is intended for those who may tour Rome. The book hopes to offer some historical background to what visitors to modern Rome may see. The Notes section points out just what bits and pieces are still to be seen, and includes some teasing information about them. Sadly, modern Rome is like ancient and medieval Rome after they have been put through a blender and mashed with a potato masher and then buried in your back garden. There is not much left where it originally stood, or in its original condition. Tourists to Rome have to deal with traffic, pollution, filth and graffiti, lines and crowding, to see collections and buildings that are like jigsaw-puzzles made up of bits and pieces, or missing bits and pieces. I cringed right at the beginning of this book when I read the author thank his wife solely for her Index-making skills. Ouch. Cold. The male-of-a-certain age feeling remained throughout the reading of the book, especially when mentions of women resorting to prostitution in order to survive were treated as moments of amusement or curiosity. Wouldn't the readers find it so amusing to hear Samuel Johnson's Boswell's precise words about how he abused Roman women resulting in his infamous venereal disease? No, this reader did not find it amusing, as I suspect no female readers found it amusing, and perhaps many men did not find it very nice either. The diary quotes were not uninteresting per se, but they seemed too many and too much of another era to be entertaining. Actually, some things about that other era provoked my envy: Rome was open, inexpensive and often free for well-educated tourists. The author has a fluid prose style and a command of his subject matter, although he his fond of historical gossip and probable invented innuendo. He also has an academic's studied disdain for religion, which will annoy if not offend those of faith. That was an odd thing to indulge when writing a book that would surely interest religious pilgrims to the home of Catholicism and the Christian faiths, and to the sites of so many religious martyrs, including two apostles of Jesus. The author keeps the 3000 years moving along at a quick pace. We retrace Rome's long history of bloodshed and sadism, ruinous ambition, rampant misogyny, aristocratic destructive narcissism, invasion by thugs, looting by everyone and anyone. It does become tiresome after a while. The overall feeling from reading the book, for me, was this is too much history in too short a book. 3000 years in 400 pages; do the math and that is an average of 7.5 years per page. That would be the history of Fascist Italy on one page. You see what I mean? Actually, the author allows a chapter to cover Royals and Fascists, but that means some pages cover hundreds of years of history. All of post WWII Rome is summed up in the Epilogue. Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews. http://italophilebookreviews.blogspot...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Almost complete overview of the history of the city. New to me was the information on the enormous expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a nice read, but a bit shallow, I'm afraid. (2.5 stars)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Phillip Bozarth-dreher

    I thought this book is very engaging and historically informative, but it moves too quickly to be a really good source of information about different periods of the city's history. Because the history of Rome spans so many centuries, entire emperors or popes pass in a few pages, so I started to have trouble keeping track of who was who. I felt like I needed a big timeline posted on the wall while I read. But, this is not much of a criticism I suppose, because the book is still a long one. The pr I thought this book is very engaging and historically informative, but it moves too quickly to be a really good source of information about different periods of the city's history. Because the history of Rome spans so many centuries, entire emperors or popes pass in a few pages, so I started to have trouble keeping track of who was who. I felt like I needed a big timeline posted on the wall while I read. But, this is not much of a criticism I suppose, because the book is still a long one. The problem is simply that you would need many volumes to properly write a biography of Rome.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    This is a well researched and readable account of the history of Rome from antiquity to the fall of Fascism. As the title suggests, it does concentrate on the development of the city - the buildings, statues and fountains - with a smaller amount of quite superficial historical context. Some Popes and Kings feature strongly, others are brushed over, but there are plenty of other books which could fill the gaps for readers who want more social and political background. The book gives a good impress This is a well researched and readable account of the history of Rome from antiquity to the fall of Fascism. As the title suggests, it does concentrate on the development of the city - the buildings, statues and fountains - with a smaller amount of quite superficial historical context. Some Popes and Kings feature strongly, others are brushed over, but there are plenty of other books which could fill the gaps for readers who want more social and political background. The book gives a good impression of the changing face of the city, and its reception by both visitors and Romans, and there are extensive notes in the index about the buildings that feature in the text. The illustrations are also excellent and support the text. This is definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in Italian art, architecture or history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Martin Ridgway

    This is fairly unsatisfying as a history book - too many physical descriptions of protagonists (and where are these coming from?) and bitty details rather overwhelm any 'big picture' stuff. Still, well illustrated and the building guide at the back is nice and detailed - but a map would have helped!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    This overview of Roman history, from its founding through the end of WWII is well written. It's full of interesting characters and follows the developments and upheavals in Rome's political, cultural and social history. The book is also meant to be a guide for travelers with an extensive section on topography, buildings and art.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    This book covers 2700 years of Roman history in 300 pages with pictures. It's a good book to get the timeline and major movements in Rome from Repubilc, Empire, Medieval times, Renaissance. It's not dry but not super exciting read. Good intro to Rome over all.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Dijstelberge

    A little bit dated and superficial, but still eminently readable

  9. 4 out of 5

    Liam J

    Interesting and readable, but necessarily brief while covering 3000 years of history. Good overview, could dip into different chapters.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Kaufmann

    Excellent history - particularly of the post-Empire era. Sordid history of the popes.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Redsteve

    I felt that I ought to read a general history of Rome, as my knowledge of the City is fairly deficient outside of the Classical (mostly Late Republic and Early Imperial) and Renaissance periods. The book is fairly readable but does tend to skip around a bit - which is understandable (considering the vast period of time it covers), unless you want a multi-volume set. It also pretty much leaves off at the end of World War II, dealing only briefly with the transition back to post-war democracy. It I felt that I ought to read a general history of Rome, as my knowledge of the City is fairly deficient outside of the Classical (mostly Late Republic and Early Imperial) and Renaissance periods. The book is fairly readable but does tend to skip around a bit - which is understandable (considering the vast period of time it covers), unless you want a multi-volume set. It also pretty much leaves off at the end of World War II, dealing only briefly with the transition back to post-war democracy. It seemed like a good general read, but if you're interested in detailed information on a specific period, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Dit boek van Christopher Hibbert is een bewonderenswaardige prestatie. De auteur is erin geslaagd een geschiedenis van de stad Rome te vertellen in een vrij beknopt werk. Hij geeft veel informatie en citeert daarnaast ook regelmatig primaire bronnen, die hij op een plezierige manier verwerkt in zijn verhaal. Hij vertelt de geschiedenis van de bestuurders van de stad en de belangrijkste gebeurtenissen die plaats vonden toen zij de macht bezaten/veel invloed hadden, maar geeft daarnaast informatie Dit boek van Christopher Hibbert is een bewonderenswaardige prestatie. De auteur is erin geslaagd een geschiedenis van de stad Rome te vertellen in een vrij beknopt werk. Hij geeft veel informatie en citeert daarnaast ook regelmatig primaire bronnen, die hij op een plezierige manier verwerkt in zijn verhaal. Hij vertelt de geschiedenis van de bestuurders van de stad en de belangrijkste gebeurtenissen die plaats vonden toen zij de macht bezaten/veel invloed hadden, maar geeft daarnaast informatie over het leven van alledag in de stad.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Interesting, highly readable and beautifully illustrated, but suffers at time from a lack of a wider perspective. For example, the discussion of the 11th century Church is entertaining on the intrigues, corruption and backstabbing, but makes no mention of the 1st Crusade, which was successfully preached at the end of that century, and leaves you wondering how such an apparently weak and dysfunctional institution could organize this undertaking.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jason Minick

    A very detailed history. I didn't complete the book as I am more interested in the ancient history rather than modern history (basically up to the fall of the empire) at this time, but bought this book in advance of a trip to Rome that we have planned. Would have preferred more of a synopsis for my purposes, hence the rating; but if you are after a very detailed account then this is probably a good choice.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    General history of Rome from the earliest periods through to Mussolini, with a bias towards the political. Well written and accessible, it was a useful read before a visit to the city. Also a reminder that after the fall of imperial Rome the city has been invaded on countless occasions, and how political the Papacy has been. Covers a lot of ground in c400 pages.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Somehow I always enjoy books about Italy, whether they are tourist guide books, history or architecture or music or design and fashion. This was no exception and was well written and interesting, even the long history of the papacy. It just made me want to return, so next year's big trip will probably have to be Italy...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Finally finished this one week before I left Rome, and really glad I did. Was a great a great book to read to give me a perspective on the history of the city, especially since I for whatever reason ignored most of ancient history taught in high-school. Long, but worth it, and with lots of crazy, fascinating, and sometimes upsetting detail.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    I read this book before going to Rome the first time. You won't put it down. It was a required text at UCD in the history course in European Cities that Gaetano taught in. No chapter sags... every topic is thrilling. I think of it often. Don't worry about an endless saga of Caesars. This is far more complex and enticing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Some interesting stuff here. Abandoned because it had to go back to the library. I started to get bored with all the popes after awhile, but there were some nice tidbits about everyday life in the city.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Read this before I moved to Rome; an excellent companion to the city.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Johanne

    Its a great book but pretty substantial and it just never made it to the top of the to-read heap. Will revisit though before my next visit to Rome.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    I don't know yet, I'm only at page two, leave me alone with your questions and your rating boxes, only just got here!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Wonderful overview. Hits all the main events and people but is relaxed enough to slow down for some interesting diversions.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Too short for what it trys to do

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Some interesting things, but large passages of architecture that do not particularly interest me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lukas

    Nice reading with essential information. I've read it during my visit in Rome.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Toccara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ismail çakır

  29. 4 out of 5

    Natália Joaquim

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Parks

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