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Hardcover Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America Book

ISBN: 0618742220

ISBN13: 9780618742226

Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America

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Book Overview

What went wrong in imperial Rome, and how we can avoid it: "If you want to understand where America stands in the world today, read this."--Thomas E. RicksThe rise and fall of ancient Rome has been on... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A great book.

This is a short, but very substantive book. Cullen Murphy has a nice writing style that combines academic research with a journalistic touch that makes for very easy reading. There is much to be learned here from start to finish. Early on Murphy acknowledges that the query of the book's title is nothing new. He likes to debunk the easy myths. In his prologue he even suggests that it might be helpful to be skeptical of that most sacred of all cows of historical interpretations drilled into us by generations of bumper sticker citers of George Santayana ( 'those who can not remember the past.. etc, etc' ). He presents his evidence and then asks the reader to think for themselves to answer the book's title question. So if you're looking for a simple money quote for the late night dorm room or bar conversation look elsewhere. Also, readers that want to fit a thesis into the simplicity of our current ideological contexts might be frustrated as well. Murphy is clearly too even handed and ultimately too intelligent for either of those approaches. His conclusions might surprise and - if you're looking for an easy answer- disappoint you. To use one of the quotes in the book from another historian: 'too often people focus on a handful of similarities and ignore all the differences'. Thus, he never comes out and says definitively that we ARE Rome. Instead he spells out, fairly convincingly in my opinion, the reasons that we are in many cases, and don't have to be in others. I found this approach to be very refreshing. In the end, he kind of decides that we 'MAY' be Rome but because of the uniqueness and strengths of America, the fate of our empire does not have to be the same as theirs. Through all the screw-ups and missteps we take, and factors outside our control that we face, the book ends on a hopeful note by saying that America's historic willingness to change and desire to improve is our best shot. Who can argue with that ? All in all highly recommended.

fascinating study, but reads like a novel

We can see physical reminders of the Roman Empire in various places in America, from the government buildings in Washington, DC to our Super Bowl X designations. But what are the other similarities between American culture and politics today and the ancient Roman Empire- and are they good or bad? Without moralizing or preaching, the author brings forth some fascinating similarities between the two countries that made me wish I had taken classic history in college. At the same time, he covers some important aspects of Roman history in a style that reads more like a novel than a college syllabus. Finally, he circles around to the heavy question of "Will America fall like the Roman Empire?" in a nicely even-handed way. (The discussion he brings up is not at all like the alarming emails I have received on the upcoming fall of America- due to one failing or another.) Anyone with an interest in classic history or contemporary American history and politics will enjoy this book.

too close for comfort

Comparisons between Rome and America are as old as our founding fathers, and thus the picture of Horatio Greenough's marble statue of George Washington on the cover of this book; he looks like a Roman caesar in his toga. Today "triumphalists" celebrate the comparison and want to export America as a model to the world, while "declinists" lament the similarities and warn about over-extension, arrogance and fall. But are we Rome? Murphy, former managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly for twenty years and currently editor at large for Vanity Fair, stakes a middle ground: "In a thousand specific ways, the answer is obviously no. In a handful of important ways, the answer is certainly yes" (p. 197). After a short prologue, Murphy devotes one chapter each to six parallels of "direct relevance" between ancient Rome and modern America. Both empires exhibit the symptoms of solipsism-- an exaggerated self-identity, the isolating effects of exceptionalism, ignorance of others, the presumptions of privilege, and sheer arrogance. Militarism characterizes both societies. Today America has 700 bases in 60 countries, and in any one year will conduct "operations" of some sort in 170 countries. Murphy suggests that our military is both "too large to be affordable, and too small to do everything it is asked to do." He then turns to how America has blurred the distinctions between the private and public (government) sectors, "the deflection of public purpose by private interest." Outsourcing government responsibilities might be effective and even necessary, but selling the public good for private profit isn't. The fourth parallel between Rome and America is the disdain with which both view outsiders ("barbarians") as inferior. Fifth, Murphy explores the complex notion of borders, both literal (eg, immigration) and figurative. Finally, in his epilogue he examines the "inherent complexity" of large empires like Rome and America. Are they ungovernable? Rome's empire lasted for a thousand years, and in many obvious ways its "decline and fall" did not mean it simply disappeared. When I have traveled to places like Egypt or China that have had continuous civilizations for thousands of years, and consider that America is just 200 years old--barely a blip on the graph of historical time--I resonate with historically-minded intellectuals like Murphy and their "brutal reminder of impermanence." I find it hard to imagine what America might look like a mere thousand years from now. For his part, Murphy is not overly pessimistic; he urges the country to be more rather than less like the America our founders imagined.

An Impressive and Elegant Warning

Are We Rome? is a short but highly important examination of the fall of the Roman Empire and its implications for the twenty-first century United States. Cullen Murphy begins by acknowledging that many parallels between Rome and America have been drawn over the years. The similarities and differences he draws, however, differ from those made by other writers and historians in that he focuses on the moods and attitudes of the two empires at their apogees. Here Murphy finds much which will alarm concerned Americans today. He notes that both Rome and the US have had similar beliefs in their own exceptionalism, that somehow both Romans and Americans are superior to the rest of the world and thus need take little notice of the opinions of others. He observes that both empires saw foreigners as being inferior and somewhat contemptible, fearing their influence while at the same time coming to rely on them more and more. Most interestingly, Murphy sees in both societies a reluctance to take part in public life and to adequately finance public services. While Murphy sees much over which to be concerned in modern America, he is not completely pessimistic. He calls for Americans to take a greater interest in the outside world while at the same time taking the problems we face within our society more seriously. Throughout this short (206 pages plus notes) work Murphy writes with a wit and flair that, despite the somber nature of most of the material, helps to inspire his readers. It is a breath of fresh air to read such trenchant observations amidst the obfuscation and blame-throwing which unfortunately has come to characterize political debate today.

Smart and alert analysis

Cullen Murphy's book on how our American and Roman empires overlap and don't overlap, and what we might be able to learn from this, explores territory that's been explored in this country since we were a country. What makes the question more urgent today, of course, is the war in Iraq, Islamic terrorism, and a set of political leaders that most of us don't find competent or trustworthy, according to all polls. This book is no simplistic jeremiad, however. In fact, what distinguishes Murphy's take on the subject, and what made this book a delight to read, is his own delight in searching out what's interesting and complex, instead of what's dull and simple to say. His voice in this book is a voice I can only compare to that of your favorite college lecturer: smart, alert, and provoking. (Murphy has written humor in his past life, and it shows.) I finished this book feeling not just educated but fairly hopeful, which in these times is pretty good value for the money (particularly the fairly hopeful part). I found Murphy's take on the first-century Roman wars in comparison with our Iraqi adventure particularly interesting, though Murphy is careful to maintain that in spite of the clear comparisons (such as the use of "outsourcing" to supply infrastructure and security) you can't just say that we've got the same bad habits that ultimately reduced Rome from an empire to a city that earns a good living from its ruins. P.S. I was surprised to see this morning that Adam Kirsch, a book reviewer for the New York Sun--a newspaper less likely to be sympathetic to Murphy's take on contemporary U.S, foreign policy than, say, the Times--liked "Are we Rome?" and called it "pithy [and] provocative" and other good things. That's my point about leaning back with this book and hearing your favorite college professor go at it for an hour. Kirsch's review, by the way, is at (...)
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