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Do you ever find yourself reading along, and when you come to a reference to ancient Greece or Rome, you start scratching your head? With sort of a, “I think I heard something about that somewhere, but I don’t remember much about it” kind of thought?
The Classics: All You Need to Know, from Zeus’s Throne to the Fall of Rome is the book for you.
Caroline Taggart has put together a short (169 pages) primer/refresher for all that ancient stuff that you used to know but that has fallen by the wayside. Or maybe you never learned it in the first place.
For such a short book, Taggart has packed a surprising amount of information into it. Topics covered include language, mythology, philosophy, history, the arts, the sciences, and a few more things. You won’t read the book and be an expert by any means, but you will certainly have a decent base of knowledge to work from.
The book might sound boring, but Taggart’s style is actually pretty fun. “Atlas was inhospitable to Perseus (see page 47), who used the head of Medusa to turn him into a mountain range in North Africa, which takes almost as much talent as cutting someone’s head off while looking at their reflection in a shield, and makes me think that Perseus could have taught David Copperfield a thing or two.” She also occasionally mentions modern-day references to these ancient stories. “The first famous figure to emerge from this was Draco, who has given his name to very harsh measures in any context, as well as to a character in Harry Potter who provokes the audience to hiss whenever he appears.”
It’s very good for what it is, but after suffering through a 10th-grade English teacher who seemed to think that World Literature meant Greek and Roman Literature and a Greek and Roman Culture class in college, I think I’ve absorbed all I’m going to absorb on the topic. I won’t say that there was nothing new in this book for me–there definitely was–but it wasn’t anything that I’ll ever remember. The cross-references (see paragraph 5), while a good idea, got distracting on a straight read. They would be invaluable if you were just looking up a quick little reference though.
I do recommend this for anyone who wants to fill in the gaps in their classical knowledge, because it really is a fun book, but it might be a little too basic for someone with a decent working knowledge of the Greeks and Romans already.
Thanks to FSB Media for sending me a copy for review.