1962, Books, Non-Fiction

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1962) edited by Donald Kagan

This particular Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is an old sampler of theories about the decline of the Roman Empire that I think was part of a class my father took in university. It was assembled in 1962, but the first issue with it is that many of the books and articles it draws on were published significantly earlier than 1962. And though we’ve learned a lot since 1962 about how to “do” history, they no doubt had learned much between 1916 and 1962. And I mention this because some of the excerpts included are laughably unsophisticated and one of them is actually a racist “explanation” of how “blood mixing” caused the downfall. (You’ll be happy to note that the authors quoted in the book who were aware of that theory can barely dignify it with criticism, even in the early decades of the 20th century, so that’s something to restore at least a little faith in humanity.)

Anyway, I guess this might work as a reasonable survey of the most common theories that existed in the first half of the 20th century. But as a survey of history, it doesn’t hold up now. That should not be a surprise to anyone and you’re probably wondering why I read it. I’m not sure I have a good answer for you.


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