They were all foreigners

Michael Kulikowski

  • BuySPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
    Profile, 606 pp, £25.00, October 2015, ISBN 978 1 84668 380 0

Neil Tennant described his run of hits between ‘It’s a Sin’ and ‘Heart’ as the Pet Shop Boys’ imperial phase, when they owned the charts and charmed the critics by setting Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat. We are now in Mary Beard’s imperial phase, and she’s entered it with wit and charm and insight rather than the intellectual thuggery of Niall Ferguson. After A Don’s Life blog and its printed spin-offs, after the misogyny she faced for daring to present a BBC2 series without the looks of a film star, and after the OBE, comes the doorstop SPQR to charm the charts and critics both. Beard gives us a sweeping Roman history that’s both reassuringly familiar and abidingly strange.

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