Thursday, June 7, 2012

Decline and Fall

Every now and then I assign myself one of the larger white whales in the western canon. Five or six years ago it was The Anatomy of Melancholy. This year it’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Burton's Melancholy, stylistically almost impenetrable at the outset, was a hoot. Gibbon's Decline and Fall is nowhere near as forbidding: on the contrary, the prose is buttery, seductive. The author contrives to make long, complex sentences seem perfectly effortless. Although I’m generally familiar with the material from other authors ancient and modern, I’ve never enjoyed the telling quite this much. Very highly recommended indeed—but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

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