So I’ve struggled ahead in this book and made it past the half way point. If you are not very interested in the Roman world, and are not interested in political intrigue and the formation of the Christian church, then this book is definitely not for you.
I’m interested in the Roman world, so a third of this book is interesting to me. I’m not very interested in political intrigue, so a third of this book is not interesting. And although I’m curious about how the Christian church was formed, many of the points made by O’Donnell seem to be bogged down in theological details. He’s pretty much losing me at this point.
He has had a few interesting things to say. First, the textbook notion of the Roman Empire being invaded by barbarians and destroyed in blood and fire, appears to not be true. Most of the “barbarians” were more Roman than the Romans. Often they had been fighting on Rome’s borders as mercenaries or members of the army for many years. They were invited into the empire and shown its ways.
Even the oft-cited sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 wasn’t really an invasion. Thirty years earlier the Visigoths had been invited into the empire and offered land and a place to settle. Emperor Valens tried to renege on his deal after they were inside, and the Visigoths won a battle against an overstretched Roman army. The spent the next thirty years wandering from Constantinople to Spain, all the while becoming more acclimated to Roman society. When another Roman Emperor engineered the death of an important Roman general who had been keeping the Visigoths settled and happy, it ultimately led to Alaric sacking Rome after he didn’t get what he wanted.
The book is filled of many more similar stories. The Roman Empire wasn’t so much destroyed, as it was neglected and blundered away by its Emperors.
I’m still trying to decide if I want to continue reading this book. It isn’t a bad book, it just has a lot more in it then I’m interested in.