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Monday, January 23, 2006

From Caesar to Romulus Augustulus

Lynn Sislo was slightly vexed that I didn't quote her in this week's Sentential Links, but this post of hers warrants a hell of a lot more than just a drive-by: she's just finished reading a book. Quite a book, actually. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

So, what have I gained from reading this colossal work, other than having accomplished my goal of finishing it? Quite a lot, actually, but it's hard to define exactly what I got out of it. My memory is not what it used to be, not that it was ever very impressive, so I can't tell you what happened year by year or even century by century; I can't list the names of emperors or talk intelligently about the many wars and the changing borders of what was The Roman Empire. But I think I have something of an overview. All my life I've heard about the glorious Roman Empire - good and bad - but it was all much more complicated than all the journalists and pundits trying to make points make it out to be. That's not surprising since most things are more complicated than journalists and pundits make them out to be.


I've never been much interested in this one, but I do need to get back to reading the King James Bible, since I'm right in the middle of Exodus, if memory serves. (Gotta check the bookmark.) Like her, I'm reading the Bible straight through, beginning to end. I wanted to do it in a year, which can be done at a rate of four chapters a day, but I fell off for some reason. And I also have to keep banging through The Brothers K.

I always find something inspirational about reading someone's thoughts upon finished one of the undisputed Great Books. Books constitute a greater investment of time than do, say, works of music. I'd never claim that any book is an inherently greater work of art than, say, the Beethoven Ninth; but in temporal terms, from the initial beat of the first movement to the final chord of the fourth, the Beethoven Ninth will take roughly sixty-five to seventy-five minutes. You know when you're going to be done. (We're talking initial appraisal here; lifetime study is a different matter, and one can indeed spend a lifetime on either Beethoven's Ninth or Gibbon's Decline and Fall.)

Lynn also wonders what to read next:

In a rather improbable coincidence, I also finished reading the last few pages of James Michener's Hawaii this morning so I'm now looking for two more books to read. After so much history, I'm in the mood for some light, breezy space opera but, without buying something new, I don't have much to choose from that I haven't read before. I'll probably start Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson even though it looks like fairly heavy reading and therefore not quite what I had in mind.


I loved Cryptonomicon, although I didn't understand big chunks of it. With that book, I eventually decided to stop trying to keep track of everything and just kind of "go with the flow". I should probably read it again -- there are some wonderful passages in that book, including one that played a role in killing my waistline. (Damned Cap'n Crunch!)

(Of course, I note that Lynn wants to read a breezy space opera but doesn't want to buy any new books. Would that there were places that would let you take books home for a time to read, for free, on the condition that you bring them back after, say, three weeks. And maybe this book-lending place would also stock other media, such as films on DVD and even music. Such a place would be awesome!)

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