James O’Donnell brings us an extraordinarily well researched and detailed account of all of the problems to befall the Roman Empire from the late 400 CE onward. His book offers insights and connections that the weekend historian would not stumble upon in the course of their normal reading. I can say that with authority as I now consider myself a weekend historian.
I have enjoyed many great books by Stephen Ambrose, John Keegan, and Rick Atkinson. I’ve read ancient source material by Thucydides and Livy. I considered myself a reasonably well-read aficionado of Roman history and culture. After reading the majority of this book, I can see that I have a long way to go to become a serious Roman historian.
I did not finish this book. I made it through seventy five percent of it. I learned a number of interesting things about how Rome disintegrated over the course of a few hundred years. I learned that at one point in the sixth century, Rome was not occupied for about forty days after a number of sieges devastated the ancient capital. In the end, though, there were too many names, too many obscure connections, and too much political intrigue to keep my interest.
And when it comes down to it, I read books to be entertained. Stephen Ambrose did a great job of presenting history and always making it interesting. I can’t say O’Donnell has done the same here. Let there be no doubt, he knows what he’s talking about and has obviously put an exceptional amount of time and research into this book. Other experts on the subject will find it an insightful and useful tome. I, however, did not. So I shall put an end to it and move on to something more enjoyable.
2 star – see the book rating explanation here