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How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower
Yale University Press, 2009
560 pp., $32.50
Little, Brown and Company, 2009
448 pp., $27.99
Decline and Fall
If your thoughts are running to decline and fall— though I can't imagine why on earth they should be—you might want to hunker down with Adrian Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell, just published by Yale University Press. One of Goldsworthy's great virtues is common sense, bracingly put to work. He begins with a superb overview of the "state of the art," touching not only on currents in scholarship but also on Rome in the popular imagination. A while back, I planned a special section on Rome in Books & Culture (including a couple of then-new books on the fall of Rome), but I could never get it off the ground. Maybe I should try again.
We've seen on other occasions how books that have followed very different trajectories to publication seem designed to be read together. A number of the most interesting people I've met in the years since 1996 (I think it was), when I first attended a Liberty Fund gathering, have been participants in these meetings, which (with a nod to Michael Oakeshott, but especially to the founder of Liberty Fund, Pierre Goodrich) celebrate conversation for its own sake. (I know, I know. At first I thought there was a trick of some sort, a hidden agenda. Nope.) So it was that I met Paul Rahe several years ago. Yale has just published Rahe's longawaited book, Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect, and will issue a companion volume (on Montesquieu) in the fall. This is a project of staggering erudition, driven by great passion. I've only begun to plumb it, and to read this book and the second volume properly will require a long time not only with Rahe's own words but also with his conversation partners. Even on a first pass, though, it's clear that Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift and How Rome Fell should be in the same stack at your bedside.
What else might find a home in that stack? Oxford's Bodleian Library has been doing a splendid series of little books collecting postcards on various ...