The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 3 of 3)

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3 by Edward Gibbon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The finale volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 49 through 71 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the Iconoclast controversy in correlation with rise of the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century and ending with a description of the causes and progression of the decay of the city of Roman in the 15th century, Gibbon relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments in both Europe and the Middle East ultimately led to the end of Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the state of the city of Roman at time of the Roman Empire’s complete end.

The majority of the 22 chapters deal with the rise of Islam and the resultant political and martial effects that would ultimately determine the fate of the Byzantine Empire. Although beginning with the Iconoclastic controversy that began the schism of the Christian church as the bishop of Rome rose to power in the West, Gibbon used those developments to launch into how Islam rose in Arabia then spread across not only areas once under Roman control but also their long-time Persian rivals in the aftermath of the reconquests of Heraclius. While detailing the internal struggle within the Caliphate period, Gibbon reveals how Emperors attempted to combat this new faith and military force to increasing little effect has time went on.

The thorough retelling of the numerous political changes throughout Asia that affect the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire shifted the focus away from the ‘Roman’ world to locations as far east as China, but revolutions of people in these areas would play into the fortunes of Constantinople. Also playing into fate of Byzantine was the barbarian Christian West that the Emperors called for aid not only from kings but the Pope as well. Unfortunately the resulting Crusades and mercenary arms that went East would inflict a mortal wound to the Empire in 1204 thus beginning a centuries long death spiral that only lasted as long as it did because of internal revolutions with the growing Ottoman Empire until 1453. This dreary recounting of the end of Byzantium is mirrored by Gibbon in his recounting of the history of the city of Rome itself throughout the Middle Ages until the fall of the New Rome in the East.

This finale volume of Gibbon’s life consuming work revealed the struggle of the Eastern Empire of Byzantium to continue against a succession of Islamic powers and its ultimate demise thus completing the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet in retelling the eventual fall of Constantinople, Gibbon paints a huge picture for the reader about how events both near and far away from the Bosporus affected the fortunes for both good and ill of the New Rome. And in recounting the history of the city of Rome throughout the Middle Ages, a reader sheds a tear with Gibbon about the loss of the monuments of both Republic and Empire due to the necessity or vanity of the people of Rome after for the fall of the Western Empire.

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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 2 of 3)

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2 by Edward Gibbon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 27 through 48 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the reign of Gratian and ending with the reconquests of Heraclius in 628 A.D., Gibbons relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments that saw the ultimate split of the Roman Empire, the fall of the West, and the continuance of Roman tradition in the East centered in Constantinople before glancing at the lives of the next 60 emperors of Byzantium over the next 600 years.

The deterioration of the Rome picks up with the reign of Gratian and his eventual overthrow leading to the unification of the Empire under Theodosius the Great before its finale split with the inheritance of his sons and then their successors over the next 50+ years. Throughout the era of House of Theodosius, the various barbarian tribes made inroads into the Western Empire which included two sacks of Rome itself by the Visigoths and Vandals, as the long ineffectual reign of Honorius and his successors allowed the Empire to slip out of their fingers. In the vacuum arose the genesis of future European states such as England, France, and Spain while Italy declined in population and political cohesion as the Pope began to fill not only a religious but political role.

The Eastern Emperors in Constantinople, unlike their family and colleagues in the West, were able to keep their domain intact through military force or bribes to turn away. The bureaucratic framework established by Constantine and reformed by Theodosius was used to keep the Eastern Empire thriving against barbarian incursion and Persian invasions while creating a link to the Roman past even as the eternal city fell from its greatness. Yet as the Eastern Emperors kept alive the Roman imperial tradition while continually orienting it more towards Greek cultural heritage, the internal conflicts of Christianity became a hindrance to social and imperial stability leading to rebellions of either a local or statewide nature or allowing foreign powers to invade.

This middle volume of Gibbon’s monumental work is divided in two, the first focusing on the fall of the Western Empire and the second on how the Eastern Empire survived through various struggles and for a brief time seemed on the verge of reestablishing the whole imperium. Yet throughout, Gibbon weaves not only the history of Rome but also the events of nomadic peoples as far away at China, the theological controversies within Christianity, and the numerous other treads to create a daunting, yet compete look of how Rome fell but yet continued.

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The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence, and Depravity in an Age of Beauty

The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of BeautyThe Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

The Renaissance is always seen by popular culture as the reestablishment of learning and art after the lull of the Dark and Middle Ages, whether this correct or not it is the view Alexander Lee takes on the outset of his book “The Ugly Renaissance.”  Lee focuses on exposing the dark underbelly of the Renaissance period hidden behind the veneer of the wondrous art that we only view today.

Lee uses the lives of various artists and the work they did to illustrate the various facets of the ugly Renaissance from the vast poverty and inequality to sex and scandals, of corrupt bankers to murderous warlords patronizing fabulous works of art along side irreligious popes and priests who hide their scandalous ways by showing the grandiose moments in church history whether based on fact or fiction, and how art was used to further bigotry and prejudice of any race or culture not white, Christian, and European.

The moments in history that Lee highlights at first seems to show the greatness of popular view of the Renaissance, but then Lee shows that all is not what it seems in the highlighted moments.  While everything Lee brings forth backs up his assertions these moments aren’t exactly new to those interested in history, which unfortunately makes “The Ugly Renaissance” a rehashing of history that many already know to be true.  While Lee can be given credit for attempting to inform the wider public of what also happened during the Renaissance besides the masterpieces of da Vinci and Michelangelo, his prose is dull that even I had to stop myself from zoning out several times.

The history of the Renaissance world, beyond the artistic and literary masterpieces most remember, for the popular crowd is a laudable effort by Lee.  However the tone of the overall book and the dull prose, undermine the overall produce for students of history that want to go beyond “popular” history.  So while this book has good information, be aware of the prose and tone before you read.

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The Monster of Florence

The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Monster of Florence is the first true crime book I’ve ever read and while I knew it was about a serial killer and the investigation in catching the perpetrator that went off the rails, then I read the book and couldn’t believe it. The first portion of the book detailed the killings themselves following Spezi’s steps as he reported the happens in and around Florence with the crimes then the various investigations that led to interesting trials. The second portion of the book saw Preston enter the story and how his life was turned around by the Monster case especially from the hands of Giuliano Mignini. The Afterward of Preston’s view of the then-developing Amanda Knox case in light of his own knowledge of Italian journalism and justice was very poignant when looking years back.

Although I have read about how many people didn’t like the details Preston gave about his own experience with the Italian justice system, but I thought it helped highlight one of the problems plaguing the Monster case which seemed to be the point of the book. While Preston and Spezi have come up with a likely candidate for the Monster himself, the fact that they must battle decades old conspiracy theories seems the longest shadow that has cast itself over this case.

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