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Easily the most celebrated historical work in English, Gibbon's account of the Roman empire was in its time a landmark in classical and historical scholarship and remains a remarkable fresh and powerful contribution to the interpretation of Roman history more than two hundred years after its first appearance. Its fame, however, rests more on the exceptional clarity, scope Easily the most celebrated historical work in English, Gibbon's account of the Roman empire was in its time a landmark in classical and historical scholarship and remains a remarkable fresh and powerful contribution to the interpretation of Roman history more than two hundred years after its first appearance. Its fame, however, rests more on the exceptional clarity, scope and force of its argument, and the brilliance of its style, which is still a delight to read. Furthermore, both argument and style embody the Enlightenment values of rationality, lucidity and order to which Gibbon so passionately subscribed and to which his HISTORY is such a magnificent monument.


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Easily the most celebrated historical work in English, Gibbon's account of the Roman empire was in its time a landmark in classical and historical scholarship and remains a remarkable fresh and powerful contribution to the interpretation of Roman history more than two hundred years after its first appearance. Its fame, however, rests more on the exceptional clarity, scope Easily the most celebrated historical work in English, Gibbon's account of the Roman empire was in its time a landmark in classical and historical scholarship and remains a remarkable fresh and powerful contribution to the interpretation of Roman history more than two hundred years after its first appearance. Its fame, however, rests more on the exceptional clarity, scope and force of its argument, and the brilliance of its style, which is still a delight to read. Furthermore, both argument and style embody the Enlightenment values of rationality, lucidity and order to which Gibbon so passionately subscribed and to which his HISTORY is such a magnificent monument.

30 review for The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volumes 1-3

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    The most astounding work of history ever written. The irony is great, the footnotes are hilarious. He never gets old. His greatest detractors are usually those who never could stomach 2,400 pages or more nor the healthy dose of footnotes. Those who have made the journey realize subtle differences creeping into their existence -- they begin slipping words like 'indolent' and 'flagitious' into memos and conversations or they construct sentences with a newfound reliance on the semicolon. I can pict The most astounding work of history ever written. The irony is great, the footnotes are hilarious. He never gets old. His greatest detractors are usually those who never could stomach 2,400 pages or more nor the healthy dose of footnotes. Those who have made the journey realize subtle differences creeping into their existence -- they begin slipping words like 'indolent' and 'flagitious' into memos and conversations or they construct sentences with a newfound reliance on the semicolon. I can picture the little man now, rapping his snuffbox and discoursing on Julian or the folly of Honorius. Only, don't buy the fancy edition pictured here as it is entirely bereft of footnotes. I have an older edition edited by J.B. Bury that includes them all. Gibbon without footnotes is not Gibbon at all.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Volume 1. Many years ago, I read a 800 or 900 page abridgment, and assumed I had "read" Gibbon. Not so. After reading the first volume, it's clear, you can't cram 6 books into 1 book. Just not the same thing. The author and his achievement are lost in such packaging. Oh, you'll get some good nuggets (Gibbon is great on those), but what you're losing is a true sense of the vastness of Rome, and its history. And what of that history? The first volume. I'm not even going to try to describe in any de Volume 1. Many years ago, I read a 800 or 900 page abridgment, and assumed I had "read" Gibbon. Not so. After reading the first volume, it's clear, you can't cram 6 books into 1 book. Just not the same thing. The author and his achievement are lost in such packaging. Oh, you'll get some good nuggets (Gibbon is great on those), but what you're losing is a true sense of the vastness of Rome, and its history. And what of that history? The first volume. I'm not even going to try to describe in any detailed way such a crowded book of cruelty, slaughter and personalities. The cycle seems at times endless, as one emperor is replaced (murdered) by another, with revolting legions usually being the cause. Gibbon does put a bright The-Decline-Begins-Here circle around Commodus (chapter IV (180 AD). Commodus is the bad guy in the movie, Gladiator. The movie gets that right. Not the history, but the character. What follows are wars and power grabs. Gibbon himself, a few times, takes a step back and wonders What all of this actually means? But the wheel of history does turn. At some point a series of reformist emperors (before getting killed) institute changes within the army that once again make it an instrument of terror (things had slipped, with barbarian invasions ripping the Empire). Which gets us to Diocletian, and his (confusingly named) group of co-emperors. Diocletian's reforms are smart (the Empire had simply become too big to manage), but also burdensome, since the Roman world now gets to support four courts. The added taxes, along with a loss of half the population due to a mysterious years long plague, really put some strain on the system. Volume 1 concludes with the ascendancy of Constantine. Oh, and then there's a long (and somewhat boring) discussion of Christianity, Jews, etc. At one time, I believe this section was considered controversial. Outside of a some occasional snark, I found (considering the personalities and events which preceded it), dull and abstract. Don't know when I'll get to Volume 2.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Terese

    I read this one summer while working as a temp during college, I found the set at a garage sale. My assignment, answering the phones (in a small closet made mostly of glass) at an advertising agency, was making me feel low and stupid so these books were my antidote. Who could make fun of a temp reading Gibbon? As I recall I wound up with a little notebook full of lists of characters and family trees so that as I read along and forgot what had happened earlier I could refresh my memory. At times, I read this one summer while working as a temp during college, I found the set at a garage sale. My assignment, answering the phones (in a small closet made mostly of glass) at an advertising agency, was making me feel low and stupid so these books were my antidote. Who could make fun of a temp reading Gibbon? As I recall I wound up with a little notebook full of lists of characters and family trees so that as I read along and forgot what had happened earlier I could refresh my memory. At times, bored witless, I wanted to end the madness and read some lovely summertime garbage but I forced myself to finish. Of the books I remember nothing, of the process, everything.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bob Simon

    Momsen was a better historian, but Gibbon a better writer. Forget about historical accuracy and just enjoy the writing. I purchased the three volume Heritage Press edition, with Piranesi illustrations, when I was a young paratrooper. I carried at least one of the volumes in my field pack...a labor of intense love, as they are not light. The middle volume has dried blood on it from when I was injured and wouldn't part with it. I read and re-read...and then re-re-read. Open it to any volume.. to a Momsen was a better historian, but Gibbon a better writer. Forget about historical accuracy and just enjoy the writing. I purchased the three volume Heritage Press edition, with Piranesi illustrations, when I was a young paratrooper. I carried at least one of the volumes in my field pack...a labor of intense love, as they are not light. The middle volume has dried blood on it from when I was injured and wouldn't part with it. I read and re-read...and then re-re-read. Open it to any volume.. to any page and begin. Never, in my mind, have I ever seen such balance of sentences and thought..such delight in words. When I returned to college, I did a Gibbon speciality in 18th Century English lit. Read his autobiography countless times as well. To this day, decades later, I still pull any of the three volumes from my shelf and lose time and place in the joy of reading him. I cannot recommend it too highly. A delight for anyone. The good stuff just gets better with time I first read it in 1961, and many times since. The last was December of 2011

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    The local book shop made this set available to me last night. Three volumes, hardcover with dust jackets, seemingly unread condition, no marks no owner's name, (but) no slip case, damage limited to common shipping related corner-crush but otherwise as-new -- US$28 amounts to much pocket-change-savings over the typical abe$175. That be $2 in excess of the cover price of Danielewski's latest. Proust2013/Gibbon2013. Any brave souls to schedule this one?

  6. 4 out of 5

    J.W.D. Nicolello

    Ah yes, this is the edition I recently purchased. Hardcover, unabridged three-volume. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I now begin my ascension into this Tome. There may be another book thrown in for intermission at times, but my desk is well-polished, reading lamp luminous, fresh notebook, pencils, sharpener, new cushioned chair, some pens. I conceived this idea, which believe it or not is part of much larger idea, two years ago, and the time hath cometh. Fasten thy seat-belt, Young Joseph; the time Ah yes, this is the edition I recently purchased. Hardcover, unabridged three-volume. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I now begin my ascension into this Tome. There may be another book thrown in for intermission at times, but my desk is well-polished, reading lamp luminous, fresh notebook, pencils, sharpener, new cushioned chair, some pens. I conceived this idea, which believe it or not is part of much larger idea, two years ago, and the time hath cometh. Fasten thy seat-belt, Young Joseph; the time is now. ------- I've spent the day reading/re-reading the first couple of pages, getting used to the tone. Long haul. Thank nothing. One of the most unforeseen hilarious encounters right off of the bat is that Gibbon makes Wallace's footnotes look like misplaced wet wipes. Gibbon's prose, so naturally illustrious, is an ardent reminder of the full-blown idiotic level which digitality has rendered our words, archaicabbreviation, futile convenience in the face of retarded mental death. Jest came at a crucial therapeutic point in my life, but man, Wallace just seems more and more like a total drugged out (Legally/Illegally) rambling idiot of his end times, in the face of annihilating historical erudition. An odd reaction. Good, though, as I intend to bury Davey's cornball chewing tobacco addled observational humor anyway, amidst a million other things, in the process of my note-taking concerning structural development for my own Tome in the werks. Seems already, like Wake, a book one shall forever have nostalgia for the present in reading for the first time, as one shall never be the same thereafter. Brick by brick.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Gibbon's Enlightenment era perspective tends to occlude the accuracy of historical account (as is often the case). What's funny is just how much critical flack this book has received for being inaccurate. In historical context, it may have something to do with Gibbon's ostensibly atheistic views regarding the rise of Christianity that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. He writes about religious zeal with the same indignant revulsion as Freud or Darwin later would. Gibbon does provide a melli Gibbon's Enlightenment era perspective tends to occlude the accuracy of historical account (as is often the case). What's funny is just how much critical flack this book has received for being inaccurate. In historical context, it may have something to do with Gibbon's ostensibly atheistic views regarding the rise of Christianity that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. He writes about religious zeal with the same indignant revulsion as Freud or Darwin later would. Gibbon does provide a mellifluous and engaging narrative, albeit an astonishingly long one. It's a masterpiece, and if one has the time a worthwhile read. For anyone interested in studies of world civilization, this is an essential text. Just writing this review makes me want to read Arnold Toynbee, and intensifies my admiration for the high standard of British historical studies that we have seen over the past few centuries.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Decline and Fall, Chapters 1-16 of which were first published in 1776 (contemporaneous to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but far less rambling and no less comprehensive) is a wonderful, and wonderfully accessible history of the Roman Empire, ca. 180-1590 CE (although really hearkening in early chapters all the way back to Marius' salvation of the Republic through Sulla, Caesar, Augustus' ascendancy, and including the achievements and delinquencies of the predecessors of the Antonines). In fact, Decline and Fall, Chapters 1-16 of which were first published in 1776 (contemporaneous to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but far less rambling and no less comprehensive) is a wonderful, and wonderfully accessible history of the Roman Empire, ca. 180-1590 CE (although really hearkening in early chapters all the way back to Marius' salvation of the Republic through Sulla, Caesar, Augustus' ascendancy, and including the achievements and delinquencies of the predecessors of the Antonines). In fact, the book is so accessible you can find it here (I would offer the Project Gutenberg citation, but it's not nearly as browsable. Please ignore CCEL's politics in deference to their superior editorial competence.) Gibbon's definitive. He even has the ultimate comment on Roman history which I will offer verbatim rather than paraphrase to give Goodreaders the flavor of his prose: "The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed and finally dissolved by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of barbarians." (Chapter 39) Well. There it is. If Decline and Fall has any faults, they lie in Gibbon's devotion to painstaking historical retelling at the expense of a single narrative arc. This is completely excusable inasmuch as Gibbon was the first to synthesize a definitive Empirical history in the English language (and from rigorously documented classical sources, no less)! To a lay reader, though, things get repetitive as hell once the cycle of depravity through military despotism becomes clearly entrenched. This book therefore makes a far more rewarding browse than read. One last comment -- this work contains far and away the best footnote I've ever read: "According to Dr. Keating (History of Ireland, p. 13, 14,), the giant Partholanus, who was the son of Seara, the son of Esra, the son of Sru, the son of Framant, the son of Fathaclan, the son of Magog, the son of Japhet, the son of Noah, landed on the coast of Munster, the 14th day of May, in the year of the world 1978. Though he was successful in his great enterprise, the loose behaviour of his wife rendered his domestic life very unhappy, and provoked him to such a degree, that he killed -- her favourite greyhound. This, as the learned historian very properly observes, was the first instance of female falsehood and infidelity ever known in Ireland." -- Chapter 9, note 13 Woohoo! Its sheer absurdity beggars further comment -- but I will anyway. Gibbon's use of the dash alone... such great comic timing! (In case you were wondering about context, the note stems from Gibbon's consideration of the mythological origins of the proto-Viking germanic peoples (the Goths), in a passage where he cites these as being held in common with "the wild Irishman as well as the wild Tartar." To ape Gibbon's style, this note is the author's nod to the origins of the former as a mere reference to author/title is accorded the latter.) I take it that Gibbon found Keating's work more entertaining than Abulghazi Bahadur Khan's "Genealogical History of the Tartars." If so, it's no wonder this work of Keating's is far easier than Khan's to find online. Wheee! What fun this learning stuff is.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    I'm only on the second book of this series, but I think I've read enough to mention a point of caution to prospective buyers. Like all classics, "The Decline and Fall" is available in an untold number of editions and I would simply advise against buying the boxed set from Everyman's Library. I'm going to confess that I bought this particular edition because it looked academic and gave me a warm smug feeling. Just open that plain green hardcover with golden lettering and thread bookmark, and try N I'm only on the second book of this series, but I think I've read enough to mention a point of caution to prospective buyers. Like all classics, "The Decline and Fall" is available in an untold number of editions and I would simply advise against buying the boxed set from Everyman's Library. I'm going to confess that I bought this particular edition because it looked academic and gave me a warm smug feeling. Just open that plain green hardcover with golden lettering and thread bookmark, and try NOT feeling intelligent. Unfortunately there should be some sort of warning against purchasing books based solely on their external aesthetics... Before I dive into a rather dull tirade (see below: many paragraphs) I want to say that the edition's only truly damning shortcoming is its complete lack of translations. Gibbon, not counting on the sharp decline in Latin awareness, frequently cites original Roman sources using original Roman words and phrases. Now while it might amuse a scholar or professor to read these excerpts in their unadulterated purity, an amateur like me is left completely in the dark. As a low estimate, I would say that I'm forced to ignore entirely about one fourth of Gibbon's footnotes - and that's not counting what I skip from laziness. The Everyman's Library set is obviously not for your average reader, but the publisher should at least have updated its review of Gibbon's work. These books still use the editors notes from the 1910 edition, which add almost nothing illuminating or interesting, yet still manage to distract the reader from the narrative. This 'modern' editor manages to correct Gibbon on some minor, rather forgettable details, but fails to offer any new perspectives that would enlarge our understanding. Very frequently in fact, he seems to snivel over some negligent point of opinion, particularly when it comes to the sanctity of early christianity. I would not much mind these defensive commentaries, were it not such an obvious sore point with Sir Oliphant ( the editor. ) Gibbon's severity is well known, and I fully expected a few words of balance to be included in any modern reading, but Smeaton's pedantic invectives are simply tiring. To wit: "Divest this whole passage of the latent sarcasm betrayed by the subsequent tone of the whole disquisition, and it might commence a Christian history..." Yes, the editor has surely convinced me that he knows many words. A variety of other trifles give Oliphant the opportunity to exercise his tone of persnickety condescension. Corrections are fine, but we don't need to hear a paragraph of disquisition on why this or that term has been 'confounded' by Gibbon. More than anything though, I'm worried about the corrections themselves being outdated. If Smeaton and Gibbon are in disagreement, I really wonder if an entire century of archeology hasn't already settled the argument more firmly. It kind of makes all those trifling notes feel that much more pointless. Just to really complain now, I'd like to add that I can't open the book wide enough to see the middle of the maps, and I really wish there were more modern appendices - Just give us something more for the sixty dollars we spend. So in conclusion, box set bad. Pretty; but bad. If you're going to buy a heavy read like this, take awhile to browse the additional material and make sure you're satisfied with it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I first read an abridged edition of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in high school, then the complete Modern Library edition upon completing seminary. The decision to do so turned out to be a good one. Gibbon's dry wit and irony, particularly as regards the Christians, was not so prominent in the abridged version. Indeed, he would be offensive to many, hysterically funny to others. He is also an excellent writer, many of his passages bearing reading aloud. Indeed, had one I first read an abridged edition of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in high school, then the complete Modern Library edition upon completing seminary. The decision to do so turned out to be a good one. Gibbon's dry wit and irony, particularly as regards the Christians, was not so prominent in the abridged version. Indeed, he would be offensive to many, hysterically funny to others. He is also an excellent writer, many of his passages bearing reading aloud. Indeed, had one the time and the audience, it would be delight to spend the months necessary to do so. My first reading of Decline and Fall was while enrolled in Latin class at Maine Township High School South in Illinois. I was, and am, a poor student of languages, having academically studied German, Spanish, French, Latin and American Sign Language and learning only the last of them well enough to use it, probably owing to its very different character. I was, and am, incapable of rote memorization. The intellect dulls, the eyes grow heavy. At best, I can store the forms, say, of declensions into short-term memory, then they're gone. To survive Latin class I got into the practice of awakening every morning before the sun in order to cram for the quizzes to come that morning. That was good enough to pass, my grades ranging from B to D. The B grades were probably charitable. Louise Fischer, one of the two Latin teachers I had, was impressed by my knowledge of Roman history and by my derivative notebook which was likely the best in the class. My grammar was all messed up, but my vocabulary wasn't bad. Indeed, learning Latin roots by this means made the work of exegesis with the Greek texts of the Christian scriptures much easier when I later went on to study ancient literature. Ms. Fischer was, I thought, impossibly old, the oldest teacher I'd ever had, so old and obese that she actually wore knee pads colored to match her skirts for the times she'd fall down. She never did that in class where there were things to hold on to and sit upon, but she fell in the hallways. They probably kept her on because of a lack of younger Latinists and a desire to maintain the school's reputation, Latin having a bit of class, you know. In any case, the only other Latin teacher they'd had, the one I had the second year, didn't last long. In order to further ingratiate myself with Ms. Fischer I joined Latin Club. It was terrible! Almost all the members of it were, like myself, geeks. Most were geeky girls. The high point of our activities was the celebration of the Saturnalia when we--or our poor mothers--made ourselves togas (in the real Saturnalias togas were eschewed) and ran about the corridors of the Science Building, ostensibly making merry. That was just too much. I quit as unobtrusively as possible, at the end of the semester.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Charles Gonzalez

    Four books complete , two more to go. Book four focuses on the reign of Justinian and his wife, Theodora, who was elevated to queen by virtue of her marriage. Justinian is a complex character, eager to reign strong and well but suffering from very real human limitations of morality, confidence and trust. The highlight and pinnacle of Justinian's reign are the martial accomplishments of Belisarius, the general that Gibbon ranks with the exploits of Alexander in terms of personal bravery in battle Four books complete , two more to go. Book four focuses on the reign of Justinian and his wife, Theodora, who was elevated to queen by virtue of her marriage. Justinian is a complex character, eager to reign strong and well but suffering from very real human limitations of morality, confidence and trust. The highlight and pinnacle of Justinian's reign are the martial accomplishments of Belisarius, the general that Gibbon ranks with the exploits of Alexander in terms of personal bravery in battle. Belisarius is almost too good to be true, a loyal servant to his king, brilliant in strategic and tactical thinking, a hero and leader to his men, a just and thoughtful governor of conquered regions. Also, politically savvy enough to survive his return to Constantinople and the envy of the court. While Gibbon's reputation for historical accuracy has been dented by 200 years of new scholarship, as far as I can see, no writer comes close to his almost lyrical narrative that, while executed in 18 century English is still a wonder to behold and does not inhibit the patient readers understanding. So 2000 pages to get to the sixth century, the balance of the story to take me to the victory of the Turks in the 15th. Other commentators have written that the last third of the Decline is a difficult and less than gripping slog. That may be, though I foresee great opportunity for nuggets of exquisite prose and historical insight in those 1300 pages.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    1680+ pages and I am now officially 1/2 done. Love Gibbon's sense of humor, his methodology, his hard bigotry towards the Huns, his soft bigotry towards the Christians, and his ability to find interesting nouns to link with rapine: "idleness, poverty, and rapine"; "rapine and oppression"; "violence and rapine"; "rapine and cruelty"; "rapine and torture"; "rapine and corruption"; "rapine and disregard"; "War, rapine, and freewill offerings" AND that is all just volume one. An important and intere 1680+ pages and I am now officially 1/2 done. Love Gibbon's sense of humor, his methodology, his hard bigotry towards the Huns, his soft bigotry towards the Christians, and his ability to find interesting nouns to link with rapine: "idleness, poverty, and rapine"; "rapine and oppression"; "violence and rapine"; "rapine and cruelty"; "rapine and torture"; "rapine and corruption"; "rapine and disregard"; "War, rapine, and freewill offerings" AND that is all just volume one. An important and interesting work, that moves with a quicker pace than its size or age would suggest. Bring on Volumes 4 - 6 and the decline of the HRE!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    The long history of a dissolving empire. Gibbon frequently alludes to one or another event as pivotal to the "decline" and/or "fall" of the empire, but he doesn't really make any conclusive statements for "the" cause of the decline of the roman empire. It turns out that history is complex and there is really not one true cause, but many related incidences that complicate a short thesis statement. I enjoy David Timson's reading, though it does get monotonous at times with the prolific footnotes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    I guess this is the standard popular accounting. not sure if it's correct in either its factual allegations or its conceptual conclusions. but the prose is great and it's a lot of fun arguing back at him. as to facts & conclusions, i prefer to counter with GEM de. Ste. Croix's Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. I guess this is the standard popular accounting. not sure if it's correct in either its factual allegations or its conceptual conclusions. but the prose is great and it's a lot of fun arguing back at him. as to facts & conclusions, i prefer to counter with GEM de. Ste. Croix's Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Ames

    I have an old hardbound 7 volume copy of this "book" and have just finished book 3. I can only take it in small doses and frequently re-read sections because of the style of writing - 18th century English. But I will finish it, because it is an amazing chronicle of history that has affected us all for the last milennia. I wish I had read it sooner.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Jackson

    Vol 3 on the thousand years of the Eastern Empire and its long list of eunoch emperors ets can put you to sleep. But his beautiful prose does not flag. Gibbon is wonderful, right to the last blast of Mehemts great cannon.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Why I abandoned it...it one sentence: because hahahahaha there's no way I'm going to finish all six volumes in 2016, which means "Congratulations Mr Simpson!" I probably would have given it: five stars, obviously. Why I abandoned it...it one sentence: because hahahahaha there's no way I'm going to finish all six volumes in 2016, which means "Congratulations Mr Simpson!" I probably would have given it: five stars, obviously.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    Best ever. Words don't do it justice.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Bird

    Not only one of the great histories, but perhaps the greatest collection of footnotes ever written.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adebayo Oyagbola

    Fantastic imagery, the best writer of English ever!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jefferson

    Historical Fascination and Literary Pleasure Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) is one of those classics you always hear about but never read because the prospect of broaching a six-volume history of the Roman Empire written in the 18th century is so daunting. But finally listening to the three volumes of the audiobook version read by Bernard Mayes, each of which includes two of Gibbon's books, filled me with a historical and literary rapture. In the first audioboo Historical Fascination and Literary Pleasure Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) is one of those classics you always hear about but never read because the prospect of broaching a six-volume history of the Roman Empire written in the 18th century is so daunting. But finally listening to the three volumes of the audiobook version read by Bernard Mayes, each of which includes two of Gibbon's books, filled me with a historical and literary rapture. In the first audiobook volume, Gibbon brings to life the Roman Empire from about 180 AD to about 395, the extent of its boundaries, the governing of its provinces, the organization of its military, and the success that led to its decline and fall by, among other things, making the citizens too soft, the military too mercenary, and the senate too weak. This history was made by spoiled citizens, fickle soldiers, corrupt prefects, obsequious senators, pernicious eunuchs, rapacious barbarians, and, of course, numerous emperors: amoral and tyrannical, pusillanimous and paranoid, or, rarely, moderate and able. Gibbon wittily and enthusiastically relates fateful battles, appalling scenes of treachery, rapine, and slaughter, interesting details of exotic cultures (like the Sarmatian barbarians who wore "mail" vests of overlapping horse hoof slices and wielded poisoned fish bone weapons), and telling insights like, "History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." I was morbidly fascinated by Gibbon's account of the feuding sects of the "primitive" Christian church, Catholics, Arians, Homoousians, and so on arguing, persecuting, and excommunicating each other over the true substance of Jesus while indulging in pomp, pelf, pride, and power, yet ever spreading their religion due to their zeal, world everlasting after death, and "real" relics, miracles, and visions. Gibbon advocates Age of Enlightenment reason against superstition and might have enjoyed the Jefferson Bible. My favorite figure was the philosopher-poet-general Apostate Emperor Julian, who packed so much into his short life (32 years) and reign (1 year and 8 months). As new Caesar, Julian was tossed into Gaul with 360 soldiers and told to rescue it from tens of thousands of German barbarians, disarmingly declaiming, "Plato, Plato! What a task for a philosopher!" As new Emperor, he booted bishops, barbers, and eunuchs out of the palace, replaced them with poets, philosophers, and sages, and tried to return the newly Christian Roman Empire to a Hellenistic Paganism. He even got back at the insulting people of Antioch by writing a satire on his beard. Ah, how might the current world have developed had Julian not played Alexander the Great and invaded Persia! From the first volumes of his history, Gibbon is a master of the witty phrase: "He promised only to betray, he flattered only to ruin; and however he might occasionally bind himself by oaths and treaties, his conscience, obsequious to his interest, always released him from the inconvenient obligation." "The ecclesiastical governors of the Christians were taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove; but as the former was refined, so the latter was insensibly corrupted, by the habits of government." "The weak and guilty Lupicinus, who had dared to provoke, who had neglected to destroy, and who still presumed to despise his formidable enemy, marched against the Goths at the head of such a military force as could be collected in this emergency." The 2nd volume of the audiobook moves from 340 AD through the “total extinction” of the Western Empire and 600 years of the continual decay of the Eastern Empire. Along the way Gibbon performs refined autopsies on 250 years of internecine Christian warfare fought over the precise nature of the Incarnation of Christ (“religious controversy [being] the offspring of arrogance and folly”); the “apostolic fervor” of the Christian extirpation of paganism and destruction of its beautiful temples; the pernicious popularity of relics and saints (“myriads of imaginary heroes, who had never existed, except in the fancy of crafty or credulous legendaries”); the rise of savagely solitary hermits (“unhappy exiles from social life . . . impelled by the dark and implacable genius of superstition”); 1000+ years of Roman laws, from property and inheritance through marriage and divorce to crime and punishment; the superstitious perception of disasters like earthquakes, comets, and plagues; and the impacts on language, religion, law, class, and empire of “barbarians” like Attila and the Huns, Theodoric and the Goths, Genseric and the Vandals, Clovis and the Franks, and Alboin and the Lombards (Long Beards!). And he writes fascinating cultural reports about things like the Green and Blue chariot racing faction conflict that pervaded every sphere of society (from the familial and vocational to the political and religious) and nearly toppled the Eastern Empire (making the soccer hooligans of today seem like quaint Quakers and casting light on our own obsession with sports stars and teams). He even recounts legends of interest, like the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, a Rip Van Winkle-like tale that spread throughout the world, a human response to shocking change like that of the pagan Roman Empire turning Christian. There is in this second audiobook volume no single figure as fascinating as the Apostate Emperor Julian in the first, but there are more compelling supporting characters. The emperor Justinian, for example, the persecutor of Jews and torturer of homosexuals, the rewarder of enemies and punisher of friends, the reformer of the law code, promoter of science and technology and builder of churches, hospitals, and aqueducts, unprecedentedly gave half his reign to his wife Theodora, who in her younger days acted in ribald comic pantomimes and sold her sexual favors to a parade of lovers and who after becoming Empress had people disappear into her private prisons and reappear as maimed monuments to her displeasure and had an old palace converted into a home for 500 prostitutes. The general Belisarius, perhaps the greatest military leader in the history of the Empire--an active giant among a race of supine pygmies--used his brains, bravery, charisma, leadership, and reputation to recover in only six years with pitiful resources and puny armies half of the provinces of Africa and Italy etc. lost by the fall of the Western Empire. In return for his boon-service, Belisarius was repeatedly humiliated by suspicious Justinian but ever exercised a patience and loyalty “either below or above the character of a man,” and his only flaw was uxoriousness, giving Gibbon the opportunity of remarking, “the revenge of a guilty woman is implacable and bloody.” And the life of Andronicus, the last Emperor of the Comnenian dynasty, was an engaging cross between a romantic pulp adventure novel and a revenge tragedy. No one can run down a villain as enjoyably as Gibbon, as when he introduces the archbishop Theophilus as “the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue; a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood.” Gibbon’s moderation even compels him to qualify his admiration for things he likes, like the St. Sophia cathedral in Constantinople, a sublime work of taste, wealth, and skill that seemed the residence if not the workmanship of the deity: “yet how dull the artifice and insignificant the labor if it be compared to the formation of the vilest insect that crawls on the surface of the temple.” The third and final audiobook volume of Gibbon's history, including the fifth and sixth book volumes, left me fulfilled. Here we meet the Prophet Mohammed, his followers and successors, and the rise and spread of Islam. The empires of Ghengis Kahn, Timour the Lame, Charlemagne, and Mahomet II. Orthodox iconoclasts and Catholic image worshippers. Popes and anti-Popes. Hyperactive Norman Robber-Adventurers. The zeal, ignorance, and "baleful fountain of holy war" of the Crusades. Rapacious acts and pusillanimity aplenty. Some heroism for hope. Everywhere ambition, pride, scheming, and betrayals. Greek fire, gunpowder, sea battles, and wars involving the deaths or slavery of tens of thousands. The state of Rome in the waning middle ages. The long decline of the Eastern Empire culminating in the inevitable fall of Constantinople. The history is everywhere uplifted by Gibbon's Age of Enlightenment reason, moderation, humanity, and elegant and witty prose. The third volume, like the first two, teems with lines full of wit and wisdom, pathos and comedy: "Ambition is a weed of quick and early vegetation in the vineyard of Christ." "The dominion of priests is most odious to a liberal spirit." "Solitude is the school of genius." "In speech they (Bulgarians, Hungarians, and Russians) were slow, in action prompt, in treaty perfidious. . . . Whatever they saw, they coveted; their desires were insatiate, and their sole industry was the hand of violence and rapine." "The discipline of the soldier is formed by exercise rather than by study. . . the battles won by lessons of tactics may be numbered with the epic poems created from the rules of criticism." "If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind." If the first audiobook volume has the most compelling figure in the history, the Apostate Emperor Julian, and the second one the most compelling supporting players (like Belisarius), this third one has the most charismatic city, Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire, inhabited by wealthy, decadent, proud, weak, and short-sighted people. After a selective but lengthy listing of the many tongue-twisting titles for the specialized ranks of Byzantine hierarchy, among them Autocrator (emperor) Sebastocrator (sub-emperor), Logothete (accountant), Protovestiare (wardrobe), Dragoman (interpreter of foreign ambassadors), and Protostrator (horse assistant), Gibbon says: "Their honors and emoluments, their dress and titles, their mutual salutations and respective preeminence, were balanced with more exquisite labor than would have fixed the constitution of a free people; and the code was almost perfect when this baseless fabric, the monument of pride and servitude, was forever buried in the ruins of the empire." He takes a nearly perverse pleasure in detailing how "The Greeks, by their intestine divisions, were the authors of their final ruin." Gibbon's account of the taking of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 after a furious 53-day siege is gripping. Ancient weapons (bows and catapults) fighting with modern ones (guns and gigantic canons). Irony and drama abounding, as when the last Greek emperor, Constantine, gives a morale raising speech, which turns out to be "the funeral oration of the empire;" as when, the Ottoman Janissaries, Christian tribute slaves molded into elite Moslem infantry, storm the Christian capital; or as when "The Greeks and Turks were involved in a cloud of [artillery barrage] smoke which could only be dispelled by the final deliverance or destruction of the Roman empire." The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, then, takes the reader from about the 2nd century AD till about the middle of the 15th, from when the empire was a young single entity through its division into two, Eastern and Western, and recounts their respective declines and falls and relationships with each other and with the major barbarian and other civilizations that came and went. Throughout, Gibbon’s history is marked by his Age of Enlightenment value of humane, rational, and moderate behavior and his condemnation of its opposite, by his rich and balanced sentences, by his wit and imagination, by his attempts to obtain from earlier panegyrics and invectives an objective historical truth about his subjects, by his application of the lessons of history to his own contemporary era and to human civilization in general, and by his impressive ability to hold the reader’s interest through thousands of pages of centuries of history. For the intrepid, Gibbon's history gives much literary pleasure and historical insight, and is well worth the time it demands. Some listeners complain that reader Bernard Mayes sounds too British or boring, but I find him perfectly suited to reading long works of history (like Herodotus' Histories). He reads with a professorial British accent and impeccable rhythm, enunciation, and emphasis, a wise and weathered uncle recounting a fascinating history. Gibbon's lively notes, his "table-talk," are missing from the audiobook, so I recommend getting one of the several e-books of his history so as to be able to peruse them.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Dean

    The Mount Everest of nonfiction literature. Gibbon set the bar for historical, scholarly research and hasn't been equalled since. Not just a list of dates and names, but instead an insightful, compelling story of the last days of Rome based on decades of in depth research using virtually every known source available at the time. Six volumes in total, each volume over 500 pages, the first three covering Rome from the days of Augustus to its final subjection to the barbarians, about 500 years. Vol The Mount Everest of nonfiction literature. Gibbon set the bar for historical, scholarly research and hasn't been equalled since. Not just a list of dates and names, but instead an insightful, compelling story of the last days of Rome based on decades of in depth research using virtually every known source available at the time. Six volumes in total, each volume over 500 pages, the first three covering Rome from the days of Augustus to its final subjection to the barbarians, about 500 years. Volume 1 covers the early Empire from the end of the Republic to the reign of Constantine. Very interesting with many details about the various Emperors, the lives of the common Romans and their laws, plus information about the barbarians of the time, including their lifestyles and diet, their religion, and their motives for constantly harassing Rome. Shows the beginning of decline as the Senate loses power to the Emperors, and the Emperors lose power to the Praetorian Guard. Beginnings of the fateful decision to replace Roman born Legions with barbarian auxiliaries. Volume 2 is the history of Christianity. While important to the subject at hand it is somewhat repetitive and interesting mostly to people deeply versed in the Bible. The vagaries of the lives of various saints and monks continuously fighting over the same territory can be somewhat tedious, and much time is spent discussing the battle between homoousianism and homoiusianism, which Gibbon himself declares in his own footnotes is only clear to the most dedicated theologians. There is still entertainment, as exemplified by the group of religious zealots whose goal in life was to die a martyr's death, and such was their laudable dedication that within a few generations they went from a group numbering thousands to total extinction. It also demonstrates that while Christians were certainly persecuted by the Romans, once Constantine converted far more Christians died at the hands of other Christians that had ever been killed by the Romans. Volume 3 follows Constantine and the division of the Empire. Much of the action shifts away from Rome itself, as the city becomes less important over time. The Senate relinquishes so much power to the Emperors that eventually the Emperors don't even bother to consult the Senate on decisions, and Rome goes decades at a time without even being visited by their leader. An interesting fact is that the Praetorian Guard, so important in Volume 1 that they decided the rise and fall of Emperors, is rarely even mentioned in Volume 3, not only unable to wield power but not even able to perform their sacred duty of protecting the Eternal City. One of the few times they are cited is when they are seen fleeing through the streets of Rome with the rest of the citizens as the city is being sacked by Alaric. Excellent work which walks us through the decline of a great Empire. A people which had subdued the entire known world became fat and lazy. Rome stopped manning their army with Romans and bought mercenaries instead, they stopped growing their own food and imported most of their grain from Africa, and they failed to reproduce their numbers at a pace to match the population of the raging barbarians on their borders. By the time Theodoric shows up with a Gothic hoard looking for a place to live he has no problems handing out unpopulated parcels throughout Italy to his followers. Many people unreasonably fear the prospect of taking on these mighty tomes, but they are well worth the effort.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shehroze Ameen

    “After a war of about 40 years, undertaken by the most stupid [Claudius], maintained by the most dissolute [Nero], and terminated by the most timid [Domitian] of all the emperors, the far greater part of the island [of Britain] submitted to the Roman yoke.” That is just one, of the many samples of text which define this book. And what a book it is: it is a difficult work of non-fiction documentation on the Roman Empire, the first to help spread the knowledge and appreciation on the topic at any “After a war of about 40 years, undertaken by the most stupid [Claudius], maintained by the most dissolute [Nero], and terminated by the most timid [Domitian] of all the emperors, the far greater part of the island [of Britain] submitted to the Roman yoke.” That is just one, of the many samples of text which define this book. And what a book it is: it is a difficult work of non-fiction documentation on the Roman Empire, the first to help spread the knowledge and appreciation on the topic at any rate. When one wants to consider the impact of this book, you only need to consider the books which have been published post-Gibbons. Fortune's Favorites for example - which is a well researched book on the topic, and actually becomes a respectable approach to compliment the work of Gibbons himself. To put it simply, this is a necessary work to add to the list of books read on the topic of the Roman Empire. And is a must read for anyone yearning for a challenge - whether it is entrenching one's self towards the most difficult passages ever constructed by any Englishman before or since; or appreciating the grasp, diversity, veracity, and passion which Gibbons practiced in the course of writing, compiling, editing, and finalizing one of the greatest contributions to English language and history.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mahesh Docherla

    An excellent history book delving into all aspects of Roman society and how it evolved after the period of the 4 good emperors. Considering it was written in the 19th century, such a 6 volume exhaustive book is a humongous task and that is why, this is considered one of the greatest history books written and is still quoted again and again by modern historians in their works. Gibbon's insight includes changes in the attitudes of Romans with the onset of Christianity, its exposure to the Persian e An excellent history book delving into all aspects of Roman society and how it evolved after the period of the 4 good emperors. Considering it was written in the 19th century, such a 6 volume exhaustive book is a humongous task and that is why, this is considered one of the greatest history books written and is still quoted again and again by modern historians in their works. Gibbon's insight includes changes in the attitudes of Romans with the onset of Christianity, its exposure to the Persian empires and then to Islam, how pagan Roman leaders & citizens who were basically secular in their outlook were more successful than monotheistic Roman leaders which brought a new element of religion into their civil strifes. Need to get used to the Victorian English and have to reference frequently with Wikipedia and Google Maps to understand the old terms and old names of ancient & medieval kingdoms and empires.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Boweavil

    Lots and lots of fascinating information, but he does go on and on and on.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eliot

    An excellent conclusion to the first three volumes. I always thought the Roman Empire would have fallen with a bang, but reading Gibbon, it sounds like a mere whimper.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    Despite what this listing states, this set is NOT "Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of the Bury Text, in a boxed set. Introduction by Hugh Trevor-Roper." That is an egregious error on the part of Goodreads but I don't see any way to correct it from my lowly station. I only review this book to bring attention to this particular set, which is edited, with an introduction and appendices, by David Womersley. It deserves to be singled out from the plethora of abridged and bowdlerized editions, no matter how well Despite what this listing states, this set is NOT "Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of the Bury Text, in a boxed set. Introduction by Hugh Trevor-Roper." That is an egregious error on the part of Goodreads but I don't see any way to correct it from my lowly station. I only review this book to bring attention to this particular set, which is edited, with an introduction and appendices, by David Womersley. It deserves to be singled out from the plethora of abridged and bowdlerized editions, no matter how well meant those are. This set from Allen Lane, published by Penguin, contains all Gibbon's footnotes, E.G.'s defense of his Vol 1 chapters on Christianity [composed in response to a most annoying critic] and an insightful, context-providing Introduction. Also the print is readable, the formatting is excellent, and the quality of the paper in the hardcover edition is good. The paperback version of this set from Penguin Classics looks nice but it does not age well, physically -- at full retail price the paperback set is not even less expensive than a good used version of the hardcover set.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a review of the complete work, all volumes 1-6, as published by Everyman's Library in two box sets. History is a cruel horror story, and Edward Gibbon is the bible and guiding light for the mind that diligently pursues her courses, and partakes in the general grief, tempered with the occasional pleasures, of her cup. One starts reading Edward Gibbon as an infant, and comes away enlightened, and aware of the cornerstones of the history of humanity, cognizant both of the heights of human sp This is a review of the complete work, all volumes 1-6, as published by Everyman's Library in two box sets. History is a cruel horror story, and Edward Gibbon is the bible and guiding light for the mind that diligently pursues her courses, and partakes in the general grief, tempered with the occasional pleasures, of her cup. One starts reading Edward Gibbon as an infant, and comes away enlightened, and aware of the cornerstones of the history of humanity, cognizant both of the heights of human splendor, as well as of the depths of human folly, and everything in between. Gibbon is incredible in that, he, in the eighteenth century, was able to unravel the grand narrative of the vast tapestry of nearly two millennia, in its whole and overall, and as a contiguous story, whereas even after his having portrayed it, we - many of us, in a much more modern time and clime, and with far greater freedom in our thoughts and in our access with information, still miss the forest for its trees. His eloquent and humorous pen sweeps effortlessly, yet with incredible attention to detail, over not just Rome and the great Caesars, but also the Byzantine, the ascendance, and duplicity of Christianity, the origin, the bluff, and the spread of Islam, the sordid state of Europe, Charlemagne, the Crusades, the Arabian Caliphates, the Ottoman Empire, the depredations of Zingis Khan and of Tamerlane/Timur, the papal establishment, and much more - in that sense, the title is modest, and work deserves the appellation of a history of Western Civilization. I look at Gibbons work, in its full, unabridged, and uncensored six volumes spanning nearly four thousand pages, as presumably the greatest book I have ever read. Reading Gibbon is the nearest analogue I can think of for the spiritual to the scientific mind, and shakes the very foundations of much of one's previous understandings. We start to see humanity as an organism, and humans, even entire peoples, as mere appendages of it, given to contentious factions, disastrous beliefs, and pernicious policies. If everyone read Edward Gibbon, the world would be at peace, superstition (either blatant, or legitimized under the appellation of religion) would wither and die, and reason and science will prosper and multiply! In that sense, he is a true Renaissance man. If I were an Egyptian or a Roman, I would gladly build a temple to Gibbon, and worship him as a great deliverer and philosopher - that, from a mind which refuses superstition, is perhaps the greatest of praise? Granted, there are some boring stretches, but nothing that I have ever read compares, even remotely, to the genius of Gibbon.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Nelson

    The first three volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall are something everyone should read. Everyone knows the footnotes contain gems, but the text itself contains exemplary handling of evidence (even when lacking, Gibbon gives alternatives which schematically look like "Whether [actor] did this out of malice or ignorance, intentionally or accidentally, ..." which forces us to question what can be concluded from the evidence given). It's a literary masterpiece, but one which requires consulting a fe The first three volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall are something everyone should read. Everyone knows the footnotes contain gems, but the text itself contains exemplary handling of evidence (even when lacking, Gibbon gives alternatives which schematically look like "Whether [actor] did this out of malice or ignorance, intentionally or accidentally, ..." which forces us to question what can be concluded from the evidence given). It's a literary masterpiece, but one which requires consulting a few additional texts. Bard's The Literary Art of Edward Gibbon is a great reference which walks through a lot of the subtleties one might miss. Bard focuses more on the literary aspects, like the use of irony in Gibbon's writing, which (never having taken a class that seriously discussed the many forms of irony) was quite enlightening. Roy Porter's Gibbon: Making History is a good secondary reference for making sense of Gibbon's style and method. Porter discusses, among other things, how events in Gibbon's life found their way into his writing (for example, in one chapter Gibbon makes a lot of snide remarks about the pointlessness of marriage — coincidentally, at the time when he wrote that, his aunt was trying to arrange a marriage for Gibbon). I'll probably have to go read Tacitus' Annals and Thucydides, since they appear to have influenced Gibbon the most (as far as style is concerned). But the Decline and Fall is a book to be re-read periodically, even if just for the entertainment value.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Balls Montgomery

    The Roman Period is by far the most fascinating portion of history in my humble/correct opinion (from Romulus to Constantine XI). Everything from the people, the battles, the language, the enemies, the religion, the engineering, and the brilliance is something always swells my brain with raw emotion. I'm fully invested in every aspect, when I see a modern map of the world I designate those who once flourished under Roman rule the most fortunate of fellows. The subject awakens something deep in m The Roman Period is by far the most fascinating portion of history in my humble/correct opinion (from Romulus to Constantine XI). Everything from the people, the battles, the language, the enemies, the religion, the engineering, and the brilliance is something always swells my brain with raw emotion. I'm fully invested in every aspect, when I see a modern map of the world I designate those who once flourished under Roman rule the most fortunate of fellows. The subject awakens something deep in me that makes appreciate our species for incredible genius and absolute inhumanity (best signified by the Colosseum, a feat of engineering wonder whose purpose was to display gore and barbarity to a ravenous crowd). Gibbon's work is a masterpiece that gives Rome succumbing to its wounds so much elegance, energy and yes humor. I've read people who concern themselves with "historical inaccuracies" which would be important if Gibbon was our only resource but in this age of information one can learn immediately the mistakes Gibbon made (it also goes without saying with all of the sources combined, our picture of Rome is still ever grainy) if one is only concerned with learning facts for the sake of facts. But most histories do not have Gibbon's clarity, his wit or his ability to immerse the reader in several subjects that could easily fill a tome individually. Rome is given a deserved majesty with his words which in the hands of a dullard could easily make the sack of Rome into a particularly upsetting Wednesday.

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