Book Review: “How Rome Fell, Death of a Superpower” and; “Reappraising the Right, the Past and Future of American Conservatism”

by Mike

While we are not in the habit of doing book reviews here a little bit of a coincidence inspired me to do so. A few days back I purchased Adrian Goldsworthy’s new book, “How Rome Fell, Death of a Superpower.”

How Rome Fell, is a historical narrative in which Goldsworthy analyzes the 2nd to 6th century Roman decline. Attributing it more to “Rome’s “almost continual internal conflict” rather than the archetypal reasoning of constant Hun intrusion.

Regardless, the event which coincided with my purchase and inspired this post was the book review which appeared on the American Spectator.

AmSpec- Many recent analyses of the collapse of Roman power have made a point to draw parallels with modern day America, and to disparage American foreign policy in general, and that of George W. Bush in particular. Goldsworthy makes clear in his preface that such comparisons are of little value simply because the United States and Rome, and the context of their times, are so vastly different. He is far too diplomatic to level heavy criticism on his colleagues who have chosen, nonetheless, to do so. He even extends such professional courtesy to Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) whose book and miniseries Barbarians takes pains to make such comparisons and to criticize the Iraq war. Goldsworthy merely comments that it is “highly entertaining stuff, even if the message is somewhat strained.” Aside from being cool towards trying to make serious comparisons of ancient states with modern ones, Goldsworthy is a European scholar who believes that the decline and fall of American power would be a bad thing — and that is refreshing.

Like Gibbon, Goldsworthy begins his narrative in the late second century, with the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He then takes the reader on the journey through Rome’s ups and downs, innovations, and adaptations through to the final collapse of the Western Empire, making use of the latest research and archeological discoveries. He also includes a brief discussion of the continuation of the empire in the east, the short-lived reconquest of Italy and North Africa during the reign of Justinian, and the emergence of Muslim power that would topple the Persian Empire, and ultimately put an end to the remains of a shriveled Eastern “Roman” Empire in 1453.

Though the text is usefully footnoted, it is written with the general reader in mind. Goldsworthy does not overwhelm the reader with the names of many minor figures (doing so to a fault when he mentions one of Aurelian’s generals in Egypt, but neglects to point out that the general was the future emperor Probus). He does write the occasional tantalizingly unclear sentence, but for the most part, Goldsworthy’s prose is lucid and engaging.

If you have a fascination with ancient Rome, history in general, or just like thought provoking accounts, I highly recommend Goldsworthy’s book. You won’t be disappointed!

Another good read which I am concurrently exploring, along with HRF, is a book by noted Conservative historian, George Nash, titled “Reappraising the Right, the Past and Future of American Conservatism.”

Nash covers a myriad of influences on movement Conservatism from its leading intellectuals, philosophers, luminaries, think tanks, politicians, and journals. He then provides a candid exploration of conservatism’s contemporaneous disaffection and its potential renewal. Reappraising the Right is extensively researched, VERY well written, and extremely relevant to today’s discussion on the future path of Conservatism.

Please note: It’s official release date is set for November 2nd. However, if you are interested, you can purchase the book through Intercollegiate Studies Institute for its list price. Or wait till after its proposed release date, when it cheapens up a tad, and buy it from Amazon.

Either way, it is an engaging read and if you pick it up I hope you enjoy!

Jeff at the Capital Tribune also delved into the book’s discussion with his own review.


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About Mike Elliot

Works in Construction Engineering and Project Management. Mike has been employed by the federal government and worked extensively within the private sector as well. His interests include public policy, economics, politics, foreign policy, philosophy and other assorted mind-numbing practices. Mike can be contacted, complimented, or criticized at He is also available for speaking engagements and prefers to be paid in gum.
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5 Responses to Book Review: “How Rome Fell, Death of a Superpower” and; “Reappraising the Right, the Past and Future of American Conservatism”

  1. I guess great minds think alike. A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of “The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New Hisotry” by James J. O’Donnell. I haven’t had a chance to crack it open yet. But from my prior readings on the subject, I tend to agree that Rome’s internal weaknesses were ultimately more significant than her external ones. Rome had always faced powerful enemies throughout her history, but the decline of the Roman nobility under the Imperium and the advent of Christianity undermined the values that had made Rome strong, while the switch to mercenary armies that owed their loyalty more to gold and their commanders rather than to Rome created the instability that made the Empire vulnerable.

    Certainly we face today a similar danger of erosion of the values that have made America a great nation.

  2. Mike says:

    Agreed Sanity. I have never run across a full length study on the theory about Rome’s internal strife being the main catalyst of its descension. Although I have seen it presented as more of a minor catalyst. It definitely made me reappraise my own viewpoint on the subject.

    And even though this wasn’t Goldsworthy’s intention, it seems inevitable that we might be able to learn some lessons from Rome’s downfall as it relates to America.

  3. Jason says:

    I say we make it a habit, Mike. I did one under author’s notes at the beginning of the year. I am reading over a book a I got as a present that most of you would find interesting. The book is about Americanism and it was published by a professor in 1924. It was given to me as a gift. I’ll put something up on it next week.

  4. Jeff says:

    I must mention the American Spectator’s review on my blog. Thanks for posting this. I need to pick up Goldworthy’s book. I have just about all of his others. Anthony Everett just released Hadrian and The Triumph of Rome within the past month. So far that has been a very good read. Peter Heather’s, Fall of the Roman Empire, released a few years back was exceptional. If time allows you should check that one out. Excellent post.

  5. Mike says:

    Absolutely, Jason. I think that is a great idea! And the book sounds interesting I am looking forward to hearing about it.

    Jeff, no problem. When I am completely done with How Rome Fell, I am picking up his biography on Caesar. According to what I have been told it is a really great read. I will also check out the other books you mentioned. Thanks!

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