S.P.Q.R. charts the development of the Ancient Rome from the murkiest depths of its origin mythos to the grant of citizenship to all free men by the Emperor Caracalla in the year 212CE. Dr. Beard carefully parses fact from fiction, while deconstructing the Ancient Roman mythos still very much alive to this day.
Where this book shines is in its meticulous attention to evidence. While stories of what various Roman emperors and military heroes did are in wide circulation today, many are based on later writings which did not have access to primary sources. Certainly many historians from the Classical Era, whom are now viewed as reliable sources, seem to have tainted their writings to make a benefactor, or themselves, look better. Dr. Beard lays bare where there is only incomplete evidence, hints or plain myth. It is a fascinating book for the history buff, though I felt that the author’s style was perhaps a little too ironically British.
The story is mainly set in Rome. A mysterious new weapon of mass destruction stolen (ok, maybe not so mysterious to SciFi buffs). A plot to destroy the Vatican. An ancient conspiracy. Signs and portents everywhere. A well rounded and intelligent hero. A spectacular climax.
I went in expecting a good thriller, but this book hooked me. I couldn’t put it down, and described it to someone as “literary crack”. The imagination displayed by Dan Brown in the creation of his intricate plot is nothing short of astounding. The way he weaves in real historical facts and artifacts to create suspense and thrills is a rare gift. This books also contains the best treatment of the science vs. religion debate as a theme since “Contact“. The downside of the novel is that it is too weighted towards being a page-turner. Despite the subject matter, there seems little depth to the narrative, which serves only to carry the reader to the next exciting situation.
One thing that annoyed me is that Brown should have let an Italian proofread some of his brief conversations in that language. He is never totally off the mark, but sometimes it just sounds wrong.