Alexander the Great has captured the imagination of history like few others have: Julius Caesar is said to have wept before a statue of this Macedonian king. Pompey allegedly wore a cloak that once belonged to this legendary general. Despite the fascination, questions still remain about who Alexander was, how he was able to achieve what he did, and, most importantly, the nature of his sudden demise. Anthony Everitt provides answers to these questions in his excellent new biography Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (Random House, $30). Despite the immense scholarship surrounding Alexander, Everitt succeeds in providing a new and full portrait of the legendary figure. At the core of this remarkable book is the author’s stated goal of interpreting Alexander not through a modern lens, but through that of Alexander’s own time—providing insight into how the events of his life were viewed as they unfolded. What emerges is an eminently readable and compelling biography that captures the character of the man himself.
Serious history buffs will appreciate the new perspective on the decline of the Roman Empire offered in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (Princeton, $35). While experts and armchair historians have spent years debating the human causes that contributed to the downfall of the great empire, Kyle Harper argues that it was brought to the brink of destruction by a larger, less manageable force: nature. He demonstrates that the Roman Empire was able to flourish due to an ideal climate, but when climate stability began to decay so did the fortunes of Rome. And while the Romans benefited from increased migration, travel, and trade, these factors also permitted the spread of a variety of deadly diseases. The author is clearly an expert in his field, and he makes a compelling case by drawing on modern developments in fields such as DNA sequencing, epidemiology, and climate science. As Harper lays out in his book, perhaps the Romans’ greatest mistake was holding on to the belief that they had “tamed the forces of wild nature.” These environmental factors, along with human error, helped to bring about the destruction of one of the greatest empire’s the world has ever seen.
This gorgeous tome is a visual encyclopedia of human meaning. Objects, animals, and body parts are placed within cultural, social, and historical contexts and analyzed. It is the perfect companion for artists, writers, anthropologists, and curious folk in general.
(This book cannot be returned.)