Non-Fiction Book of The Month: SPQR
Mary Beard belongs to that elite subset of historians who – like Sharma and Starkey – have managed to connect with the public. Her triumphant BBC series Meet the Romans opened the theatre of Roman power and occupation to a huge and appreciative audience, and in SPQR Beard finally has the perfect stage to mount the bigger picture with all her extraordinary level of understanding.
Our Non-Fiction Book of the Month, SPQR covers an impressive sweep of both the familiar and the unfamiliar, and certainly for the most well-worn avenues – the histories of various Emperors, for example – Beard debunks myth with abandon, calling into question everything from the chances of Cleopatra actually comitting suicide by snakebite through to employing wry scepticism around the excesses of Caligula and Nero.
The real pleasures to be had however surround her digging into the rich detail of Roman life, uncovering much around the notion of what being a ‘Roman’ actually meant in a vast Empire that was almost defined by its very diversity.
From issues around slavery through to progressive women’s politic, Beard assembles persuasive theories around just how such a society not only functioned but flourished, despite its apparent ‘top down’ governance. Her conclusions – based on leading-edge research – challenge much received wisdom, but Beard’s gifted authority transforms our understanding and assumptions.
Shot through with humour, wisdom and meticulous fact, SPQR is a book that invites us to engage in the Roman legacy in an entirely new way.