Review: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Discussions of violence and rape

The depth of my knowledge of ancient Rome starts with a loose understanding of Romulus and Remus, and ends with Shakespeare’s plays.

Beard’s account of Rome’s first millennia is full of colorful characters, dissections of different accounts, and touches on the myriad relics that continue to be found to this day. This book is so easy to listen to. The stories flow into each other and each chapter builds on what came before it. SPQR manages to hold the story of early Rome, while managing to go into depth on certain stories. The fact that this is not a Cliffs notes account of all the politics, intrigue, and conflict is really something to behold.

What really endeared me was how funny it was in places. Perhaps it was my own ignorance, but the dead pan way Beard presents the tales really worked to tickle me. My personal favorites include the truth about the assassination of Julius Caesar and several attempted murders on collapsible boats.

In terms of minor gripes, if you enjoy a plethora of rhetorical questions, this is the nonfiction work for you. Some of them do eventually get answered, if only tangentially. But there is enough material proposed to fill another 500+ page book. In addition, my favorite chapter was the one about the haves and the have-nots. It covers unseen aspects of culture that get overshadowed by the nigh-legendary political stories. This discussion, however, can also cover another 500+ page book.

A fantastic, easy-to-read primer on early Rome with enough material to encompass further exploration and learning.