As I mentioned at the start of the year, one of my new year’s resolutions was to read more non-fiction books. We’re almost halfway through the year and I am way behind on my target. This book is at least partially responsible for that.
I love Mary Beard. She’s a Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, she writes for The Times and she’s presented a handful of television programs about the classics. She is, as far as such things can exist, a celebrity classicist. Having spent four years studying the classics in school, including a smattering of Latin, I thought this would be an enjoyable and easy way to get myself one step closer to my reading target. I really chose the wrong book.
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations is, at its core, a selection of book reviews. Beard has read a load of books and essays (and watched Asterix the Gaul) and she has some opinions about them that she’d like to share. Luckily along the way she offers some snippets of interesting trivia and points of interest. I learned a couple of new facts and got to watch Beard stomp on other things I’d been taught as a child.
The book was nicely laid out, with reviews organised in categories depending on the source material. As such we make our way from Ancient Greece to the present day and the depiction of the Romans and Gauls in the Asterix books and movies. That said, by about half way through I was really beginning to struggle. The reviews are very consistent but that means they’re also fairly predictable in style, if not content. Beard outlines the premise of the essay or book she is reviewing, raps the author on the knuckles, suggests what the author should have said, moves on to the next piece.
For me I’d read more of Mary Beard’s work, but I’d prefer a more textbook format with her own material rather than a protracted discussion of the work of her peers.
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