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The Fate of Rome

Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire
Narrated by: Andrew Garman
Length: 15 hrs and 20 mins
5 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

Non-member price: $41.73

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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping new history of how climate change and disease helped bring down the Roman Empire

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome's power - a story of nature's triumph over human ambition.

Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. He takes listeners from Rome's pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the seventh century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a "little ice age" and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.

A poignant reflection on humanity's intimate relationship with the environment, The Fate of Rome provides a sweeping account of how one of history's greatest civilizations encountered, endured, yet ultimately succumbed to the cumulative burden of nature's violence. The example of Rome is a timely reminder that climate change and germ evolution have shaped the world we inhabit - in ways that are surprising and profound.

Author bio: Kyle Harper is professor of classics and letters and senior vice president and provost at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 and From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

©2017 Princeton University Press (P)2017 Recorded Books

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  • Trebla
  • 07-02-2018

Excellent meld of History & Science

As Diamond did in Guns germs & Steel, Harper makes a great case for the deep influence of environment in the course of history. We are all familiar with the stories of the Roman Republic & empires as told by men writing things down. But the larger view of that history in the context of climate change and disease evolution suddenly makes a lot sense. Many Aha! moments. I trust this work will be reinforced and expanded by others on the trail of history synthesis.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • David Maher
  • 11-02-2018

Compelling History

Does an excellent job with showing the power of scientific sources for history. Full disclosure, I do have a fascination with epidemic history, so not completely unbiased. A very interesting take on the decline of the Roman empire.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • B. Coleman
  • 15-06-2019

Interesting and worthwhile

As others have noted, this is like some sort of Roman ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’, so much so that honestly Harper and Diamond should probably just team up. That, of course, could be a touch problematic: an event - even a series of them - does not happen in isolation. It can be tempting to lean a bit too heavily on the exciting new idea, and, as with Diamond, there is a whiff of that here.

But by and large this is a meaningful addition to the standard understanding of Roman history, so often told as variations on a timeline, each speaking of “the known world” as though those in the hinterlands assumed all the world before them was some sort of mass hallucination. That is to say Rome did not exist in a terrarium, a bubble, divorced from world events, from climate, from disease. It’s refreshing to dive into a book which not only acknowledges this, but is about it.

It’s not perfect. Some of it can be a bit of a slog. Some of it is presented as a revelation when really it’s probably obvious or common sense. And the narration is unremarkable, in either direction.

If this topic didn’t immediately pique your interest then the book itself likely won’t persuade you. But if it did then I don’t think you can go wrong in checking this out.

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  • CHRISTOPHER BURNETT
  • 04-04-2019

fascinating mix of environment, disease & politil

So much of Romes incredibly long history and ebbs and flows of the Empire only based on Human and Politucal dynamics. this book abandons this 1 dimensional view and adds the dimension of climate and disease that loved the Roman rise and destroyed its foundations in the failing years.

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  • Christopher Pick
  • 20-03-2019

Great book!

First original outlook on Rome's fall that I have heard in a long time. If you're a classical history fan, this book is for you

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  • William Wilkerson
  • 20-01-2019

Comprehensive assessment

This book incorporates an organized narrative, detailed cultural history, accurate sources and a wealth of scientific information. It’s rare to find a book on this topic that is both informative and interesting. This is the best in the genre that I’ve come across.

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  • Gary A. Hill
  • 12-12-2018

Fate of Rime

Well researched, obviously. New thoughts about weather and bacteria as regards to the demise of the Empire. I learned a lot, and I’ve read around 15 books on the subject of Rome and its citizens. A fifth star wasn’t given because I needed a dictionary to translate....but maybe the onus is on me!

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  • Sterling Wright
  • 12-12-2018

Just a terrific book. Every chapter is enlightening and substantive.

I have a degree in classics and have read many books about Rome. I will say that this is one of my favorites. It’s inclusion of scientific techniques and how they are reshaping our understanding of the Roman world is brilliantly done.

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  • Amazon Shopper for over 20 years!
  • 01-12-2018

Great Overview & Perspective

I much enjoyed this perspective of Roman History. I was in search of inspiration for writing ideas and this book was perfect. The narration was perfect. I found the audio version a bit difficult to follow in chronology at times, as this is a vast period with (to me) some unfamiliar characters. However, it does not mean it wasn’t a worthwhile and excellent listen, it only means I also ordered the hardcover version as a companion for further study. Great listen!

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  • Clint Bartley
  • 22-08-2018

Very interesting and new content

This book brings in new findings to explain what happened in the late Roman Empire. Very interesting indeed. This is not an introduction book, however. Definitely more for the academic type or someone somewhat familiar with the Roman Empire.