I’m willing to write off this failure as my fault as much as Mary Beard’s. I’m not a professional historian, and so I was looking for a broad-strokes overview of Roman history, a subject I’m intrigued by but don’t know a great deal about. That is so not what this book does. And I made the added mistake of listening to the audio book instead of reading it myself.
I listened to the first half on my summer road-trip recently, and I was able to keep up with most of it. But even in that very concentrated environment, I struggled. Trying to listen to the rest at home, where distractions abound, was pointless. And to make it worse, the chapters were 90-100 minutes long.
So I’m not the right reader/listener for this, but I think Beard blows it, too, by indulging in massive digressions, having sections fold over onto each other, padding the chapters with so much arcana that may be interesting to a handful of Roman scholars but is absolutely wasted on us laypeople, and trying to tell us everything she can think of regarding a 1,000-year period.
History is a narrative. The word “story” is embedded in the term itself. Yet in the mass of details here, the story disappears. It was painful, to be honest. I don’t really understand anything more about Rome after having spent 18 1/2 hours listening.
Instead, I’ll turn back to fiction for some more Roman narratives and I’ll pick up Robert Graves’s I, Claudius.