Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber

Ideally, I'd write a little something at least about every book just after I finished it, when it's freshest in my mind.  But that doesn't happen.  However, I did just finish The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber, and happen to have a little time to write about it.

I enjoyed reading through this book, which is part of the Ambleside Online reading list for Year 6.  I think it's well-placed there.  Although the language is simple enough that it could be easily read and understood by younger children, the subject matter is such that it may even disturb them, and there is a lot that I think is worth discussing, so I think it's better for slightly older ones. While Guerber doesn't go into too many lurid details, the character of especially the later Roman emperors, and the events they instigated, are pretty gruesome and just outright evil.  In my opinion, this is a good book for introducing ancient Rome to children, but if I were covering the time period with children younger than say age 11/12 or so, I would most likely skip some things, as well as discussing a good many others. 

I am also reading and enjoying Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster right now.  While I'm not ready to review it, being less than halfway through, in the front of it I have made a list of some general topics to discuss.  Since both books are about the Roman world, many of these discussion topics are identical for both books.  Three prominent things are:

1)  False gods are mentioned quite a bit, as well as pagan practices, such as ceremonies they held.  The Story of the Romans will occasionally point out that these people were pagans and doesn't give things from the perspective that the Roman people might have had as much as Augustus Caesar's World does.  The Story of the Romans also points out the error of their ways at times, approaching topics with a "Christian" worldview. Guerber does generalize Christianity toward the end, and says toward the end that the "true" Christians began to be called Catholics, which is another discussion point in this home. 

2)  Murder makes many repeat appearances throughout the story of the Roman world.  While murder in itself is a sad topic, and some of the stories about people murdering others are quite awful, especially sad is the frequency of suicide.  Many, many leaders killed themselves rather than be conquered.  And as the Roman empire was in decline and became more wicked (this time period is covered in Guerber's book, but not Foster's, since hers is mostly limited to the time of Augustus' life), rulers would at times force people to commit suicide as well.  Not only just the fact that these things were done, but also methods, are sometimes mentioned -- not usually with much detail, but again, some things one might choose to skip for the younger, and discuss for even an older student.

3)  Adultery is another thing I wrote down.  The story of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, followed by  Antony and Cleopatra, is a big one in the story of Rome, so that's something to discuss.  Guerber manages not to bring out Caesar and Cleopatra's relationship, other than that they fought on the same side, but Antony and Cleopatra's story is dwelt on for at least a couple chapters.  There are also other instances mentioned where marriage is clearly not honored well among the Romans.

There are more things than these to discuss in the book, but these jumped out as major repeats. 

Overall, I'd say this is a good introduction to ancient Rome.  I learned quite a bit myself reading it.  While there's a lot to discuss in this time period, and while I haven't really done lots of other reading on that period to compare it to, I think The Story of the Romans handles it pretty tastefully, all things considered, as well as giving a good foundation to build on more later.

You can see this book for free online here.  I bought the Yesterday's Classics copy pictured above, because I prefer to have a hard copy.  It's a good edition.   

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1 comment:

  1. I'm having so much fun keeping up with your more frequent posts! :) Yes, we got a lot out of these two books when we studied Rome as well. Destry enjoyed Caesar's Gallic Wars (I believe that was the title without getting up to check) as well. I appreciate the points you highlighted. There was such immorality in so many different areas. . .it sounds too familiar, doesn't it?