Synopses & Reviews
The rise and fall of ancient Rome has been on American minds from the beginning of our Republic. Today, we focus less on the Roman Republic than on the Empire that took its place. Depending on who's doing the talking, the history of Rome serves either as a triumphal call to action, or a dire warming of imminent collapse. Esteemed editor and author Cullen Murphy ventures past the pundits' rhetoric to draw nuanced lessons about how we might avoid
Rome's demise. Working on a canvas that extends far beyond the issue of an overstretched military, Murphy reveals a wide array of similarities between the two empires: the blinding, insular culture of our capitals; the debilitating effect of corruption; the paradoxical issue of borders; and the weakening of the body politic through various forms of "privatization."
Most pressingly, he argues that we most resemble Rome in the burgeoning corruption of our government and in our arrogant ignorance of the world outside—two things that are in our power to change. In lively, richly detailed historical stories based on the latest scholarship, the ancient world leaps to life and casts our own contemporary world in a provocative new light.
"Lurid images of America as a new Roman Empire either striding the globe or tottering toward collapse, or both are fashionable among pundits of all stripes these days. Vanity Fair editor Murphy (The World According to Eve) gives the trope a more restrained and thoughtful reading. He allows that, with its robust democracy, dynamic economy and technological wizardry, America is a far cry from Rome's static slave society. But he sees a number of parallels: like Rome, America is a vast, multicultural state, burdened with an expensive and overstretched military, uneasy about its porous borders, with a messianic sense of global mission and a solipsistic tendency to misunderstand and belittle foreign cultures. Some of the links Murphy draws, like his comparison of barbarian invaders of the late Empire to foreign corporations buying up American assets, are purely metaphorical. But others, especially his likening of the corrupt Roman patronage system to America's mania for privatizing government services a 'deflection of public purpose by private interest' are specific and compelling. Murphy wears his erudition lightly and delivers a lucid, pithy and perceptive study in comparative history, with some sharp points." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Murphy...believes that improvement is possible. Whether readers agree with him or not, the book is bound to be persuasive and provocative." Booklist
"Murphy makes telling points about the solipsism of political élites and the impact of corruption and cronyism on civil society, but he stops short of predicting America's fall." The New Yorker
"[W]riting with fluency and grace and possessing a solid grounding in the classics, [Murphy] actually serves up specifics....An essay in the Walter Karp-Lewis Lapham mode that's sure to irk the neocons." Kirkus Reviews
"[P]rovocative and lively....Murphy's arguments, even when they fail to be fully convincing, are thought-provoking." Walter Isaacson, The New York Times Book Review
"Such meditations are often ponderous, but Murphy's book is uncommonly witty and wise. He displays an insouciant touch..." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"In this age of military and cultural conflict, it's no surprise that pundits on both sides of the political fence say the answer is a simple yes. (We're either a civilizing democracy, the Right's take, or a brutalizing imperium, the Left's.) A new book, Are We Rome?
...offers a more nuanced and convincing view. It's true, [Murphy] writes, that there are many similarities between our empire and Caesar's. Yet the American national character and Rome's couldn't be more different. And that, Murphy argues, will be the key to avoiding Rome's fate." Tim Heffernan, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
Esteemed editor and author Murphy draws nuanced lessons about how America might avoid Rome's fate. In lively, richly detailed historical stories based on the latest scholarship, the ancient world leaps to life and casts the contemporary world in a provocative new light.
About the Author
Cullen Murphy is the managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly. His books include Rubbish!: The Archeology of Garbage and Just Curious: Essays. For nearly twenty years he has written the text of the internationally recognized comic strip Prince Valiant. He lives in Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Eagle in the Mirror / 1
1 : The Capitals / 24 Where Republic Meets Empire
2: The Legions / 59 When Power Meets Reality
3 : The Fixers / 91 When Public Good Meets Private Opportunity
4: The Outsiders / 121 When People Like Us Meet People Like Them
5: The Borders / 152 Where the Present Meets the Future
Epilogue: There Once Was a Great City / 185 Acknowledgments 207 Notes 209 Bibliography 251