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No city on earth has preserved its past as has Rome. Visitors stand on bridges that were crossed by Julius Caesar and Cicero, walk around temples visited by Roman emperors, and step into churches that have hardly changed since popes celebrated mass in them sixteen centuries ago. These architectural survivals are all the more remarkable considering the violent disasters that No city on earth has preserved its past as has Rome. Visitors stand on bridges that were crossed by Julius Caesar and Cicero, walk around temples visited by Roman emperors, and step into churches that have hardly changed since popes celebrated mass in them sixteen centuries ago. These architectural survivals are all the more remarkable considering the violent disasters that have struck the city. Afflicted by earthquakes, floods, fires and plagues, it has most of all been repeatedly ravaged by roving armies. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings examines the most important of these attacks and reveals, with fascinating insight, how they transformed the city - and not always for the worse. From the Gauls to the Nazis, Kneale vividly recounts those threatening the city, while drawing an intense and vibrant portrait of the city and its inhabitants, both before and after being attacked. In these troubled times when our cities can seem fragile, Rome's history offers a picture that is both shocking and also reassuring. Like the Neapolitans from Norman Lewis's Naples 44, Romans have repeatedly shrugged off catastrophes and made their city anew. A meticulously researched, magical and novel blend of travelogue, social and cultural history, Rome: A History in Seven Sackings is part celebration of the fierce courage, panache and vitality of the Roman people, and part passionate love letter to Rome. This is a popular history of the famous, incomparable city like no other.


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No city on earth has preserved its past as has Rome. Visitors stand on bridges that were crossed by Julius Caesar and Cicero, walk around temples visited by Roman emperors, and step into churches that have hardly changed since popes celebrated mass in them sixteen centuries ago. These architectural survivals are all the more remarkable considering the violent disasters that No city on earth has preserved its past as has Rome. Visitors stand on bridges that were crossed by Julius Caesar and Cicero, walk around temples visited by Roman emperors, and step into churches that have hardly changed since popes celebrated mass in them sixteen centuries ago. These architectural survivals are all the more remarkable considering the violent disasters that have struck the city. Afflicted by earthquakes, floods, fires and plagues, it has most of all been repeatedly ravaged by roving armies. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings examines the most important of these attacks and reveals, with fascinating insight, how they transformed the city - and not always for the worse. From the Gauls to the Nazis, Kneale vividly recounts those threatening the city, while drawing an intense and vibrant portrait of the city and its inhabitants, both before and after being attacked. In these troubled times when our cities can seem fragile, Rome's history offers a picture that is both shocking and also reassuring. Like the Neapolitans from Norman Lewis's Naples 44, Romans have repeatedly shrugged off catastrophes and made their city anew. A meticulously researched, magical and novel blend of travelogue, social and cultural history, Rome: A History in Seven Sackings is part celebration of the fierce courage, panache and vitality of the Roman people, and part passionate love letter to Rome. This is a popular history of the famous, incomparable city like no other.

30 review for Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    I’m so glad to have read this book, it was an amazing chronicle of all the historical centuries the city of Rome has gone through, in it you will find a little about Gauls, Murderous emperors, bloodthirsty barbarians, corrupt Popes, famous architects and artists , learn a little about the church schism and the birth of the Reformation, nazis and fascists . In summary you will get a piece of history served up in just small bites that won’t make you feel full but will satisfy you (yeah I used a fo I’m so glad to have read this book, it was an amazing chronicle of all the historical centuries the city of Rome has gone through, in it you will find a little about Gauls, Murderous emperors, bloodthirsty barbarians, corrupt Popes, famous architects and artists , learn a little about the church schism and the birth of the Reformation, nazis and fascists . In summary you will get a piece of history served up in just small bites that won’t make you feel full but will satisfy you (yeah I used a food pun....lol ). In short if you love classical history then you will love this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Arjun

    Constructed essentially as an anthology series of historical sackings, this is an ambitious attempt at writing the history of a city from its post-Roman origins without just a simple chronological narration. I think broadly speaking it works well and to Kneale's credit there is a lot of cross-referencing and comparative analysis of the different periods particularly in terms of demographics, economics, technology, food and architecture - all of which give a good sense of how we got to the presen Constructed essentially as an anthology series of historical sackings, this is an ambitious attempt at writing the history of a city from its post-Roman origins without just a simple chronological narration. I think broadly speaking it works well and to Kneale's credit there is a lot of cross-referencing and comparative analysis of the different periods particularly in terms of demographics, economics, technology, food and architecture - all of which give a good sense of how we got to the present day. Some chapters are more interesting and factually relevant to Rome as it is today than others. The sacking by Henry IV (1081), by the French under General Oudinot (1848) and the Germans during WW2 after Italy had surrendered (1943-45) are the standouts and unlike most books covering these events, Kneale writes from a uniquely Roman perspective. Useful for underscoring just what a brutal and often dark history belies such a great city (Garibaldi's attempted defence of the Republic in 1848 or the Ardeatine Massacre of 1944 being two examples within those chapters where the Italian perspective is much more valuable). There are times when the narrative over 2,000 years becomes slightly overwhelming with such a huge cast of characters and it becomes somewhat hard to keep up (the twin Gothic chapters being particularly at fault for this). However, in general there are some fascinating stories presented here and the presence of some recurrent themes - e.g. realpolitik of (and between) various Popes, the prolonged mistreatment of Roman Jews or the building/re-building of some of the city's most famous monuments over the years - I think make this book a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in Rome.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    Title pretty much says it all. It goes from the first sacking of Rome from the Gaulish invasion in 387 bce. Then the Goths in 410ce. The Spanish/Lutheran invasion, The French, The Nazis stand out in my mind. Describes the sackings and the state of the eternal city around the times of these successive invasions spanning nearly 2400 years.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Liviu

    A love letter to Rome in 7 sieges though the moments in the 2500+ year history of the city they present are much more than the actual siege, but they comprise of a prelude with how the city changed from the previous moment and an epilogue with what happened next The 7 epochal moments are alos very well chosen as they comprise the famous episode with the Gauls and the geese (Rome small but on the cusp of moving into the world stage), Alaric (the declining but still imperial Rome), the Gothic war w A love letter to Rome in 7 sieges though the moments in the 2500+ year history of the city they present are much more than the actual siege, but they comprise of a prelude with how the city changed from the previous moment and an epilogue with what happened next The 7 epochal moments are alos very well chosen as they comprise the famous episode with the Gauls and the geese (Rome small but on the cusp of moving into the world stage), Alaric (the declining but still imperial Rome), the Gothic war when the imperial role of Rome is done and maybe another city wouldn't have recovered but the beginnings of the powerful papacy and the transformation of Rome into the Papal capital led to a fast recovery, the Canossa and follow-up (Henri IV got back and besieged the pope after the humiliation) when the papal-imperial/royal conflict heats up, the saco of 1527 when the most Catholic's majesty troops sack Rome (the culmination of the conflict and the end of the papacy as world power to a large extent though it lingered for a while), the Garibaldian/Mazzini defense against the French in 1848 and finally the nazi occupation and Allied liberation from 1943-1944 when Rome has already become the modern city of today I would say that this book is even more enjoyable if the reader has actually visited the Rome of today (as remembering how much it impressed me even in a short though full 3-4 day visit) , but I would highly recommend it anyway

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    An interesting read even if, as the author himself confesses, labelling some of these events as "sackings" is a bit of a stretch, while others were probably even more horrible than the already lurid histories depict. An interesting read even if, as the author himself confesses, labelling some of these events as "sackings" is a bit of a stretch, while others were probably even more horrible than the already lurid histories depict.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Review to follow.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Athan Tolis

    Author Matthew Kneale serves as a truly enthusiastic guide through the history of his adopted home city, Rome. With three thousand years to take you through, he faces an important problem: he needs to “choose his battles;” he truly stands no hope of both telling the whole history and keeping your interest. So he chooses to take you on a history of sieges (though “sackings” does sound more dramatic!) Rome’s been besieged many more than seven times, but that’s OK, the idea is not to tell you about s Author Matthew Kneale serves as a truly enthusiastic guide through the history of his adopted home city, Rome. With three thousand years to take you through, he faces an important problem: he needs to “choose his battles;” he truly stands no hope of both telling the whole history and keeping your interest. So he chooses to take you on a history of sieges (though “sackings” does sound more dramatic!) Rome’s been besieged many more than seven times, but that’s OK, the idea is not to tell you about sieges and sackings, it’s to impart some of Rome’s history on you, and hopefully some of the author’s love and admiration. To tell you about how people lived, how they were governed, what they wore, what and how Romans ate, what they drank, how often they bathed, where they lived, where their masters lived and how their society was structured. And then, of course, how the siege went, that’s in there too! The book would be incomplete without the careful reconstruction of the historical events and without portraits of the historical figures who turned Rome into a battlefield, which are all present and correct; the book is worth reading for the many intrigues alone. With one exception, his first six sieges are spaced out by 500 years from one another, to give the city time to grow (or shrink!) and evolve. This is not about the sieges, it’s about Rome, bottom line! So you start with Gaul Brennus, who ravaged Rome in 387BC after defeating its army at the battle of Alia, you move on to Visigoth Alaric, whose success on his third attempt in 410AD probably caused his death to malaria which he probably got in Rome the same year, and from him to the unsuccessful Ostrogoth Witigis who was thwarted by Belisarius in 538, only for his successor Totila to capture the eternal city two years later. Next comes (German) Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV’s three-year effort, that was crowned with success in year 1084, leading to his own coronation by his appointee Pope Clement III, followed by Norman Robert Guiscard’s re-taking of the city to re-establish Pope Gregory VII, one of several who excommunicated Henry. (this was all extremely confusing!!!) Rome was at its filthiest, but also at its grandest (excluding classical times) when Matthew Kneale brings us back, to tell the story of the unfortunate Pope Clement VII (a lesser member of the Medici family), who was undone by Emperor Charles V of Spain and his Lutheran Landesknechte in 1527. This was a proper sacking, probably almost as bad as that by the Vandals in antiquity (which is not much documented and does not feature in the book). Also, this marks the last time in this book when Rome was actually an important city, geopolitically speaking. From there it’s to the 1848 defeat of Garibaldi and Mazzini at the hands of the French, who’d come to reinstate the Pope, which of course was the preamble to the creation of the Italian state some fourteen years later. The book closes with the nine month German occupation of 1943. The author makes a truly enormous effort to not only keep some type of narrative going, but also to revise the history you’ve just learnt and to recount the evolution of his city through time. You can’t really hop around randomly between sieges and sackings, this is a book to be read linearly. Regardless, and perhaps it’s my fault for knowing so little, I’ve got to say I lost him often. There’s quite simply a whole lot of history (and far far far too many names of buildings and monuments) packed in these pages. But I did gain a very good understanding about how the city changed through time, for the evolution of the papacy and its role in the history of Rome and I was introduced to a number of historical figures who stand a decent chance of staying in my memory. If you know Rome, I suspect this is an indispensable book. Importantly, I most genuinely enjoyed reading this. It accompanied me everywhere for about a week!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Mathew Kneale is primarily a novelist and he uses his narrative skills to great effect when recounting the story of Rome from the attack on the Capitoline hill by Brennus and his Gauls, famously forestalled by the alarm cries of sacred geese, right up to the Nazi takeover after the flight of Mussolini. Kneale carefully sets the scene for each of his vignettes, picking out the salient details to paint a vivid picture of Roman life before each invasion. I was fascinated to discover, for instance, Mathew Kneale is primarily a novelist and he uses his narrative skills to great effect when recounting the story of Rome from the attack on the Capitoline hill by Brennus and his Gauls, famously forestalled by the alarm cries of sacred geese, right up to the Nazi takeover after the flight of Mussolini. Kneale carefully sets the scene for each of his vignettes, picking out the salient details to paint a vivid picture of Roman life before each invasion. I was fascinated to discover, for instance, that just before the invasion of Aleric, Rome had over three hundred public lavatories. You would be hard put to find one these days. A lot of this is familiar territory – the excesses of popes, the ambition of emperors, the development of the pilgrimage industry, the glamour of Garibaldi – but Kneale knits it all together adroitly, managing to create a coherent picture from the disparate parts. In doing so, he mimics the characteristic qualities of his subject, a city that over time has absorbed and assimilated all those who sought to conquer it and made them part of its complex and fascinating identity.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Rome: A History in Seven Sackings [2017] - ★★★★1/2 “...I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life…Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Rome...the Eternal City. A city-legend. Matthew Kneale (the author of English Passengers) begins his account of the capital of Italy with these words - "There is no city like Rome" [2017: 1]. It is true. History is everywhere in Rome - one breaths it with the air Rome: A History in Seven Sackings [2017] - ★★★★1/2 “...I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life…Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Rome...the Eternal City. A city-legend. Matthew Kneale (the author of English Passengers) begins his account of the capital of Italy with these words - "There is no city like Rome" [2017: 1]. It is true. History is everywhere in Rome - one breaths it with the air and feels it in the walls. Rome also proved to be one of the most lasting cities in the world, enduring many natural disasters and...sackings. Rome's historical sackings are the topic of Kneale's book. He looks at the history of Rome through seven particular sackings (from Gauls to the Nazis) and we begin to understand how wars and enemy invasions shaped the city and contributed to it becoming what it is today. The author looks at seven sackings of Rome - by (1) Gauls, (2) Goths, (3) "More Goths", (4) Normans, (5) Spanish and Lutherans, (6) French and, finally, (7) Nazis. With each of these sackings, Kneale first (i) looks at who the enemy was and what their positions were just before advancing on the city; then (ii) talks about the city itself, its economic situation, citizens and their way of life (everything from architecture to the state of medicine), just before the invasion; and, finally, (iii) talks about the sacking itself [Matthew Kneale, 2017: 2]. One of the great things about this book is how entertaining it is - Kneale writes in an engaging manner, and reading about the history feels like reading some exciting novel. The author dispenses with myths and misconceptions about Rome, revealing "true" Rome. Another merit of this book is that the author clearly shows the balance between warfare and civil life that existed at numerous times throughout history, and how that balance changed with each sacking. After all, people learn from history. As the book is structured in a certain manner, the author has to include certain events and probably does not have time to talk about other elements/events to fit his structure. Another weakness is that Kneale sometimes makes references to more recent politics, which are distracting and needless, such as to the "American-style popular patriotism" on page thirteen or to "Barack Obama" on page twenty-two. Matthew Kneale's fifteen-year research culminated in a very ambitious book, which is clearly-structured, well-written and entertaining to read. The scope of the book is immense. For example, there is as much in this book about the life and warfare in Ancient Rome, as about that Rome which was presented to the eyes of the Nazis in 1943. It is fascinating to read about the transformation of Rome through the sackings over hundreds and hundreds of years, and if you have even a slightest interest in the subject, this is a book to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Zulfiya

    What a delightful reading experience. The Eternal City as it is known has witnessed and withstood a lot in its glorious and not so glorious history. The authors explores the history of major events through the history of major battles and what preceded those events. The precedents are not only military, but historical, cultural, and religious. This is what makes this book so informative. The approach to the narrative structure is also quite original. The author first mentions one of the proverbi What a delightful reading experience. The Eternal City as it is known has witnessed and withstood a lot in its glorious and not so glorious history. The authors explores the history of major events through the history of major battles and what preceded those events. The precedents are not only military, but historical, cultural, and religious. This is what makes this book so informative. The approach to the narrative structure is also quite original. The author first mentions one of the proverbial sackings, and then tells the backstory that explains why and how it was possible. It also adds significant substance and meat to the story, and despite the somewhat original approach to the major story of Rome, the book also flows well and sounds harmonious and coherent. Additionally, I found personal deviations about some of the historical participants quite engaging, and the book is full of those small gems. I highly recommend it. It is not a brilliant book, but it is damn good.

  11. 4 out of 5

    George McDonald

    Meh. Seemed like an interesting concept, tracing the history of the city in the context of its occupations by invading forces. Sort of Michenerian in scope, ranging from 250 BCE to 1945, but, the execution was lacking. Kneale tries to convey what life was like in Rome at each of these eras (there are lots of lice), but it ultimately reads like a bunch of anecdotes he is able to glean from the scanty reports of the times, and a number of his 'facts' don't seem to gibe with other sources. For exam Meh. Seemed like an interesting concept, tracing the history of the city in the context of its occupations by invading forces. Sort of Michenerian in scope, ranging from 250 BCE to 1945, but, the execution was lacking. Kneale tries to convey what life was like in Rome at each of these eras (there are lots of lice), but it ultimately reads like a bunch of anecdotes he is able to glean from the scanty reports of the times, and a number of his 'facts' don't seem to gibe with other sources. For example, his statement that malaria was eradicated in Rome by the Fascists, when in fact, it was a post war aggressive DDT campaign that really made the dent in the incidence of the disease. Also, he placed Rome as the largest city in Western Europe during the 11th century, when in fact, it was significantly smaller than Cordoba.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    This work attempts to condense of the history of Rome into seven main sections, usually tied to when some foreign power or entity "sacks" the city, from the Gauls during the Republic to the Allies and Nazis fighting over the Eternal City in the latter stages of World War II. From the seven main "sackings", Kneale not only discusses the actual conquests, but offers context for what life in the city was like, the geo-political, economic and social conditions. It is a mix of academic history and in This work attempts to condense of the history of Rome into seven main sections, usually tied to when some foreign power or entity "sacks" the city, from the Gauls during the Republic to the Allies and Nazis fighting over the Eternal City in the latter stages of World War II. From the seven main "sackings", Kneale not only discusses the actual conquests, but offers context for what life in the city was like, the geo-political, economic and social conditions. It is a mix of academic history and interesting tourist guide facts. It will not cover all aspects of Roman history, but it hits enough of the key points. This might be worth the read for a history buff who wants to go beyond the history described in a Rick Steves' guides. I think this would be a better hard-copy read as opposed to audiobook, but still, not a bad history of such a key world city.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alasdair

    Plenty here that's of interest and very readable, full of evident enthusiasm. But frustrating as it's one of the worst proofed books I've seen. Articles (definite and indefinite) appear utterly arbitrary, and better editing would have picked up its repetitiveness and some inconsistencies and contradictions (quite often people mostly did x and then mostly did y, which is the opposite). Awkward expression throughout makes it hard to believe this was written by an award-winning novelist.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Annarella

    A book I read like it was a novel. An interesting group of articles about the different sacks of Rome that is a history book and a telling of the city history. Very interesting and fascinating. Recommended. Many thanks to Simon&Schuster and Edelweiss for this ARC A book I read like it was a novel. An interesting group of articles about the different sacks of Rome that is a history book and a telling of the city history. Very interesting and fascinating. Recommended. Many thanks to Simon&Schuster and Edelweiss for this ARC

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    This was a great quick read that gave a whirlwind look at the history of Rome from antiquity to the present day. I loved the set-up; each chapter had a standard formula with who was doing the sack, the state of the city at the time, and then the sack itself and how it changed Rome. I personally think this would be an excellent book to pick up if you're going to Rome and want a little more background on some of the city. Kneale does an excellent job at telling you when some of the greatest monume This was a great quick read that gave a whirlwind look at the history of Rome from antiquity to the present day. I loved the set-up; each chapter had a standard formula with who was doing the sack, the state of the city at the time, and then the sack itself and how it changed Rome. I personally think this would be an excellent book to pick up if you're going to Rome and want a little more background on some of the city. Kneale does an excellent job at telling you when some of the greatest monuments were built and how they were used across the centuries (believe it or not, the Colosseum was an apartment building in much of the medieval period). How some of the more famous piazzas changed from ancient Roman chariot racing grounds to the popular gathering places they are today was also fascinating. I could really feel Kneale's love affair with the Eternal City and it made it such an enjoyable reading experience.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wouter

    Interesting take on the history of Rome, taking snapshots at certain intervals, every time just when the eternal city's walls are about to breached once again. The structure of each chapter (background - description of city life - the siege itself) takes you by the hand without feeling too forced. It also allows for deep dives into the lives of ordinary Romans instead of rehashing the same old stories of the rich and famous. The author could have spent a little bit more time on why he chose these Interesting take on the history of Rome, taking snapshots at certain intervals, every time just when the eternal city's walls are about to breached once again. The structure of each chapter (background - description of city life - the siege itself) takes you by the hand without feeling too forced. It also allows for deep dives into the lives of ordinary Romans instead of rehashing the same old stories of the rich and famous. The author could have spent a little bit more time on why he chose these seven sackings and skipped other more famous and interesting sackings like the sacking by the Vandals (which gave it's name to vandalism) and the raids by the saracens.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    I did not find the Gauls and Visigoths, et al as interesting as I expected. Less detail would have improved the book for me. But of course, if I had known that ahead of time, I would not have chosen the book. What I did find very interesting are the sections of the book covering relatively more recent history, the corrupt popes and Mussolini. I knew a bit about the popes and especially remember when the Catholic Church struck many saints from existence in the 1960's, reporting that not only were I did not find the Gauls and Visigoths, et al as interesting as I expected. Less detail would have improved the book for me. But of course, if I had known that ahead of time, I would not have chosen the book. What I did find very interesting are the sections of the book covering relatively more recent history, the corrupt popes and Mussolini. I knew a bit about the popes and especially remember when the Catholic Church struck many saints from existence in the 1960's, reporting that not only were they not saints but many never existed! It was a shock to me at the time. I didn't know that they were created in a public relations campaign, in which Rome competed with Jerusalem for pilgrims and travelers and money. The final chapter, about the Nazis and Mussolini, was the most interesting and confirmed facts I had learned from other books: that (ironically) more Italian Jews survived the war than the Jews of other European countries and the Italian army did not fight well because they were not invested in the aims of the war. I have learned a bit about history, ancient to modern, and a bit about myself--stick to modern history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James Edwards

    Sometimes confusing as it dives from the events a chapter is focusing on to historical, political and social context, it is overall an interesting read. A history of Rome - especially regarding Rome under Fascist rule - that I knew little of. Definitely needs proof reading. Spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and sentences that had been started in one way but clearly ended as if written in a different way, plus sources appear to be thrown in at seemingly random intervals.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Did not finish. Just couldn't get up the enthusiasm beyond about chapter 2.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    I didn’t care for the structure of the book. It attempts too much.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kitty

    Such a wonderful history of Rome with descriptions of rich and poor through the ages.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    This book offers a great shorthand history of Rome. Written in an anecdotal and narrative style it is not dry. And if you like architecture, this will not disappoint.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve Majerus-Collins

    Honestly, I expected Rome: A History in Seven Sackings to be a much better book. It's a good book. It's got lots of interesting stuff within its covers. It's reasonable well-written. The problem, for me, is that I didn't learn a whole lot. I'm no Rome scholar, but nearly everything seemed like a refresher on stuff I'd already stuffed into my head. The only one of the seven sackings I didn't know much about came in the mid-1800s when Mazzini and Garibaldi were on the scene, a time and place that's Honestly, I expected Rome: A History in Seven Sackings to be a much better book. It's a good book. It's got lots of interesting stuff within its covers. It's reasonable well-written. The problem, for me, is that I didn't learn a whole lot. I'm no Rome scholar, but nearly everything seemed like a refresher on stuff I'd already stuffed into my head. The only one of the seven sackings I didn't know much about came in the mid-1800s when Mazzini and Garibaldi were on the scene, a time and place that's never penetrated my thick skull somehow. The rest, though, I knew. Almost all of it. Still, the book is interesting. It makes me wants to explore Rome, something I've never yet had the chance to do. It's obviously something I should. Anyway, read it if you don't know a whole lot about Rome. It's good. It's just not great, which is what I wanted.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    A very enjoyable read, beyond Ancient Rome I have had little to no interest in the history of the Eternal City. This book has however piqued my interest especially in the history of Rome up to and around the Renaissance, it brings to life many memorable events and characters and one can imagine the treachery and danger of being a Roman across all centuries. Easily readable and relatable, not a hard book or a chore to get through. What slowed me down was my unfamiliarity with Roman and to a degre A very enjoyable read, beyond Ancient Rome I have had little to no interest in the history of the Eternal City. This book has however piqued my interest especially in the history of Rome up to and around the Renaissance, it brings to life many memorable events and characters and one can imagine the treachery and danger of being a Roman across all centuries. Easily readable and relatable, not a hard book or a chore to get through. What slowed me down was my unfamiliarity with Roman and to a degree Italian history beyond the Roman Empire, which I am now happy about because I now have new interests to explore and research such as Robert Guiscard and the Normans. The afterword makes for a very handy guide to the remnants of each sacking that still remain visible to this day. I for one am looking forward to my next visit to Rome and seeing it with fresh eyes.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    It's not very often that I read a review of a book and then realize that it's in my pile of books to read - but this happened here. For a change, I slightly disagree with the published review. I thought this was quite a good way to write about a city with so much history, but I do wonder if there were others the author could have used.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Way over on the pop side of pop history. A little too dramatized, with a few too many bold and vaguely-sourced claims.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    I received this book as a Christmas present, but it sat on my shelf for a few months before I plucked up the courage to read it. I was almost afraid of what I would find. Given my deep interest in, and veneration of, classical civilisation, I didn’t want to hear about the destruction of the eternal city by some greasy Gauls, lousy Ostrogoths, or pillaging Spaniards. I preferred to ignore this sad decline and wanted to revel in Rome’s classical grandeur. I winced at the thought of ancient marble I received this book as a Christmas present, but it sat on my shelf for a few months before I plucked up the courage to read it. I was almost afraid of what I would find. Given my deep interest in, and veneration of, classical civilisation, I didn’t want to hear about the destruction of the eternal city by some greasy Gauls, lousy Ostrogoths, or pillaging Spaniards. I preferred to ignore this sad decline and wanted to revel in Rome’s classical grandeur. I winced at the thought of ancient marble masterpieces being smashed and incinerated to make lime mortar, or the blood-hallowed stones of the colosseum, the most concentrated killing ground in history, being pillaged for St Peters. Give me conquering Caesar in his triumphal procession. But this, I admit, is a rather silly, narrow-minded view of a city that has a much richer, and longer, history. Rome is a city that has been birthed again and again; its countless metamorphoses took it from backwater Latin town to epicentre of the word’s greatest empire, then to the seat of its greatest religion, and finally to modern capital of a unified Italy. It was disaster just as much as triumph that has shaped Rome’s cultural fabric. Fortunately, much of Rome’s history lingers on in its surviving buildings – churches, temples, forums, piazzas, and palaces. These relics offer a snapshot of each of Rome’s successive ages. History built atop history. Kneale, a resident for over 15 years, uses his intimate knowledge of Roman geography to great advantage. Through his detailed description of events, and augmented by excellent maps at the beginning of each chapter, history becomes geographically navigable in the mind. There is something captivating about Rome. The mind reels at a “dizzying sense of time past and greatness lost”. By looking at seven major invasions between 387 BC and 1944 AD (Gauls, Goths, More Goths, Normans, Spanish and Lutherans, French, Nazis), Kneale is able to unpick Rome’s winding ways and separate the historical strata layer by layer. Rome is a great survivor; like some hardy bacterial colony, it has endured massive population collapse, from a bustling classical metropolis of over a million inhabitants, to a town of just a few ten thousands under Pope Gregory VII where the ancient forum was known as the ‘Campo Vaccino’ or cow-field. Each sacking served as a major turning point in the life of the city, and Kneale offers fascinating insights into Rome’s various incarnations. He travels previous Roman generations forward to each subsequent period and dissects what they would find reassuringly familiar, or disconcertingly different. This helps to give a vivid sense of Rome as an expanding, contracting, evolving, surviving, organism. The book’s structure is formulaic but effective; each of the seven chapters is a tripartite chronicle of a particular invasion. The narrative begins with premonitions of doom, as the invading army is described and the historical backdrop fleshed out. Next, life inside the city walls is examined; some inhabitants are proudly defiant, others festering in fear, while some are plotting betrayal (all sieges but one succeeded only with the complicity of insiders). The chapter ends with a fall as the sack itself is played out – citizens murdered, damage wrought. This formula works better for more recent events. Kneale gives a lively account of Garibaldi’s impassioned resistance against the French (he only retreated to the hills once his sword became so buckled from use it could no longer fit in the scabbard, declaring: “wherever we go, there will be Rome”). Most compelling is the section on the rise of fascism. Needlessly embroiled in war, abandoned by craven, self-serving leaders, and occupied by an erstwhile ally, many people led a silent, heroic resistance . “Centuries of cynicism and distrust of authority had borne fruit … They thwarted them with their humanity by refusing to be carried along by an ideology of fear and hatred … it was the Romans’ finest hour.’” The latter part of the book’s success may simply be due to the greater number of first-hand accounts that have survived. Earlier first hand accounts, however, can be just as colourful, such as that by the breathtaking self-agrandizer Benvenuto Cellini, who aided in Rome’s defence against the armies of Charles V’s in 1527 during Rome’s most destructive sack. From the battlements he claims to have personally shot both the Duke of Bourbon and the Prince of Orange, in addition to single-handedly saving the Castel Sant’Angelo. Not all, Cellini boasts, “If I told all the great things I did in that cruel inferno, I would astonish the world.” Kneale is best when portraying the everyday life of Romans through the centuries, from their attitudes towards health: “Though Rome now had several hospitals these were on the prayer side of the spectrum”, to culinary predilections: ancient Roman dishes, which were flavoured by a kind of fermented fish sauce, “would be more Thai than Mediterranean” to modern tastes. Kneale effectively captures both the squalor and splendour of Rome, which, though it has had its fair share of detractors (declaimed by John Ruskin in his day as a “nasty, rubbishy, dirty hole”), loses none of its charm to Kneale. His affection for the enduring spirit of Rome’s inhabitants and their proud resilience in the face disaster shines throughout the book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark McTague

    While consistently informative and engaging, the book's title is rather misleading. This is a brief history of the seven sackings, not a history of Rome as revealed via the sackings. By that I mean the focus is on the sackings, understandably, and not some essential quality of Rome or Romans (other than the obvious one of survivors) with the historical growth and development of the city more in the background. This is no criticism of the author, who has done a considerable amount of scholarship While consistently informative and engaging, the book's title is rather misleading. This is a brief history of the seven sackings, not a history of Rome as revealed via the sackings. By that I mean the focus is on the sackings, understandably, and not some essential quality of Rome or Romans (other than the obvious one of survivors) with the historical growth and development of the city more in the background. This is no criticism of the author, who has done a considerable amount of scholarship in bringing these sackings to a general audience, as evidenced by the wealth of sources used and copious end notes on said sources. I only mean to say that the title leads one to see the sackings as the vehicle for telling the history of the city, when the sackings are the focus, not that development history as such. It remains more as a frame for the story. Nevertheless, this is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in Roman history as the author is, as other editorial reviews have said, witty, learned, and possessed of an eye for relevant and telling detail. I would also say that the reader would benefit from beginning with the Afterword as it comes closest to establishing a theme for what is, in my view, mostly a chronicle of seven invasions that have only their target in common. Still, the book is well worth reading. A more serious complaint, which is no fault of the writer and which should not deter potential readers, concerns the editing. In a book of 400 pages, one expects one or two typographical errors to escape detection, yet I stopped counting after two dozen (and not only missing commas), and that was within the first 100 pages. "Was this really published by Simon and Schuster?" I asked myself. I felt sorry for the author and embarrassed for that venerable publishing house. Quite regrettable. However, perhaps just as Rome has survived all those invasions over the centuries, the value of the author's work survives the poor editing to which it was subjected.

  29. 4 out of 5

    JQAdams

    This is pretty much what the title promises: seven occasions on which Rome was occupied militarily by conquering invaders, ranging from the Gauls of the fourth century BC to the Nazis during World War II. “Sackings” might stretch the point, since some of the occupations didn't seem to involve the looting and pillaging you might expect from that term. But otherwise, each chapter is a predictable three sections: (1) the outsiders are approaching! (2) Let's talk about what Rome was like in the year This is pretty much what the title promises: seven occasions on which Rome was occupied militarily by conquering invaders, ranging from the Gauls of the fourth century BC to the Nazis during World War II. “Sackings” might stretch the point, since some of the occupations didn't seem to involve the looting and pillaging you might expect from that term. But otherwise, each chapter is a predictable three sections: (1) the outsiders are approaching! (2) Let's talk about what Rome was like in the years or centuries leading up to this moment. (3) the outsiders have taken the city, what happened next? It wasn't always obvious how Kneale chose his sackings; sometimes he refers in passing to other takeovers that seem to have been at least as pivotal as the ones covered here and sometimes more distinct from the others in time and perpetrator (the book features two Gothic sacks in relatively quick succession, for instance). And sometimes he gets further afield from his topic than seems warranted, usually to try to defend Rome and its people from some perceived slight (there's a whole out-of-nowhere page about how the claim that Italians are incapable of competently fighting wars is a canard). But it was an okay read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben Jammin'

    Each chapter is split into three parts for each sacking: context, daily life, the sacking itself. My main bone to pick is that the context parts are mostly international politics and often largely irrelevant to the sacking itself. This book promises Rome and sackings; a third of this book then fails at delivering its promise. That said, I loved the details about daily life in Rome in each period. From the hill made of pot-shards (Roman equivalent of disposable Tupperware) to the development of f Each chapter is split into three parts for each sacking: context, daily life, the sacking itself. My main bone to pick is that the context parts are mostly international politics and often largely irrelevant to the sacking itself. This book promises Rome and sackings; a third of this book then fails at delivering its promise. That said, I loved the details about daily life in Rome in each period. From the hill made of pot-shards (Roman equivalent of disposable Tupperware) to the development of food culture from curry-analogs to pasta. The sackings up to and including the modern times are interesting, a mix of hearsay, slander and true archeological snapshots. They begin to feel repetitive up until post-medieval sackings, which goes to illustrate that Rome didn't have much in the way of weaknesses other than reliance on food imports. An enlightening read, but a little bit of a drudge at parts.

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