THE REACH OF ROME

A HISTORY OF THE ROMAN IMPERIAL FRONTIER, 1ST-5TH CENTURIES A.D.

In a distinctive and lucidly reasoned contribution to classical scholarship, freelancer Williams traces the military history of the moenia mundi (the world's walls) encircling the Roman Empire, which made possible the long pax Romana of the ancient world. The conquests of Pompey and Julius Caesar had expanded the boundaries of Roman imperium widely by the death of Caesar in 44 b.c. As the author tells it, military frontiers were conceived in the days of the Roman republic as launching posts for military excursions rather than as static positions for protecting the fruits of past conquests. However, soon after his accession as the first emperor in 27 b.c. following a sanguinary civil war, Augustus mandated the deployment of Roman soldiers in defensive garrisons along the far-flung perimeter of the empire. According to Williams, Augustus may have done this in order to maximize his power: The dispersal of the legions precluded concentration of power in the hands of an ambitious general with designs on the imperial throne and assured that Augustus alone would have control of the armies. In addition, the threat of defeat at the hands of extramural enemies was real; the annihilation of Varus and his legions at the Teutoburg Forest in 9 a.d. showed that Roman military techniques, so powerful in conquests of civilized peoples like the Carthaginians and Greeks, were less potent against wild terrain and savage barbarian tribes. Augustus's successors long remembered what came to be called the Varian Disaster and consequently institutionalized his policy of fortifying the frontiers. Williams argues that later emperors became married to Augustus's flawed formula for imperial defense, even as barbarian military competence improved. By the time the passivity of the frontier ensured its destruction at the hands of the barbarians, the frontier had done its work of preserving the civilization of Rome for four centuries. A fine look at the Roman frontier's function in the empire's political and military life, and at its meaning for history. (8 pages b&w photos, 30 maps)

Pub Date: July 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-15631-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

more