THE FIRST CENTURY: Emperors, Gods, and Everyman by William K. Klingaman

THE FIRST CENTURY: Emperors, Gods, and Everyman

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Klingaman (1919: The Year Our World Began; 1941: Our Lives in a World on the Edge; 1929: The Year of the Great Crash) now expands his temporal parameters to present an excellent overview of the known world during the first 100 years of the Common Era. Moving back and forth between Imperial Rome and China, Judea and Britain, Germany and Vietnam, Klingaman focuses on such figures as Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero; Jesus, Pontius Pilate, and Herod Agrippa; the Chinese emperor Wang Mang, Boudicca in Britain, and the Trung sisters in Vietnam. Despite the wide range of locales and the wealth of dramatis personae, however, Klingaman never tangles the threads of his story. He writes chronologically, with events taking place about the same time in Rome and China, for example, juxtaposed to provide parallels and contrasts. ""Like Augustus Caesar,"" Klingaman says, ""Wang Mang envisioned himself as the savior of a battered and debauched civilization that desperately needed to recover the idealism and spiritual purity of ages long past."" As in his previous books, Klingaman displays a facility for taking a complex situation and presenting it with admirable clarity and concision. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his treatment of the events taking place in Judea during the period. The political maneuverings, the nationalistic agitation, the religious fervor of the time are deftly handled. In particular, Klingaman's retelling of the story told in the New Testament manages to be objective without ever becoming iconoclastic. His sketching in of the background of the events in the life and death of Jesus adds dimension to the Gospel story, as he presents a balanced and insightful view of a controversial subject. An engrossing work of popular history that rewards with many little-known facts, perceptive analyses, colorful portraits, and a felicitous, witty style.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1990
Publisher: HarperCollins