Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

Matthew Kneale. Simon & Schuster, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9109-1
Kneale (Passengers) stumbles in his attempt to plumb the mystique of the Eternal City in this panoramic and deeply researched account of Roman history, told through the city’s seven sackings at the hands of Gauls, Goths, Nazis, and other barbarian hordes. Early in the process of writing, Kneale reveals, he envisioned each chapter as “a kind of vast postcard from Rome describing what it looked like, felt like, and smelt like” at a given moment in time. Unfortunately, this authorial intent has not translated well: rather than an evocative travelogue or history, the book is more a series of disconnected episodes of political intrigue and bloodshed. Kneale’s love for the city in all its incarnations, past and present, is clear, but his habit of beginning each chapter with a present-day anecdote about a deserted castle or sleepy Calabrian town that is then revealed as the site of a major historical event quickly becomes repetitive. Later material on the rise of Italian nationalism in the mid-19th century and the occupation of Rome by the Nazis is persuasively presented, with a sense of narrative urgency that earlier sections lack. Yet the crucial element missing throughout is a sense of the sheer presence of the city, whether as an imperial capital, ransacked ruin, or sacred site. Despite Kneale’s best efforts, Rome still holds its secrets close. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/19/2018
Release date: 05/15/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5082-6007-3
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-1-5011-9111-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-5082-6468-2
Downloadable Audio - 432 pages - 978-1-5082-6006-6
Show other formats
Discover what to read next