Overview (Spoilers Abound):
I’ve always had a fascination with Roman history but hadn’t stumbled across a book that quite covered the expansive and complex subject. Instead, my knowledge of the Romans has been relegated to their influence as it pops up in the histories of other influential individuals such as Cleopatra. Having found Beard’s SPQR in a local bookstore, I couldn’t wait to add it to my reading list as it would serve to hopefully fill in gaps or add a timeline to the few names that stand out from Nero to Caesar.
In general, SPQR added to my foundational understanding of the Romans. However, I found the material to be more dry than I’d anticipated and found that Beard glossed over key sections that I’d been looking forward to learning more about. That said, she did acknowledge fast forwarding over certain topics, but backed up the decision with sound reasoning due to a lack of concrete evidence or not tying into the bigger theme of SPQR. Additionally, she challenged many of the established quotes and legends surrounding key Roman figures by presenting contrary evidence. At 608 pages, SPQR is already a fairly hefty tome. I fully recognize that Beard could not provide all the details that I yearned for regarding this dense subject, instead she manages to concisely cover a significant portion of the Roman history while still adding a plethora of facts. Moreover she finds the space to expand upon topics where historians diverge on key opinions, which is especially interesting as the researchers span centuries at this point.
On a side note, while reading this history I had a reoccurring epiphany that many of my favorite authors must have had heavy inspiration from the Romans regarding the names, military designations, and other random aspects of life for some of my favorite books from Pierce Brown’s Red Rising to Rowling’s Harry Potter.
Overall, Beard does a fantastic job organizing an unwieldy history subject that could fit in seemingly countless volumes into one intriguing book that has only served to amplify my curiosity regarding the Romans.