Edward Gibbon – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
It takes roughly as long to read as it did to write, yet this turns out to be a good thing. Gibbon published the first of six volumes in 1776, and the last in 1787. Factually, it holds up quite well, though it was written before archaeology revolutionized the historian’s profession.
Gibbon writes history as it should be—rather than simply reciting facts, he tells stories, has opinions, and argues a thesis. His skepticism of exaggerated claims and numbers in ancient sources is also decidedly modern; it is interesting to read this work of history as a product of its own place in history.
The Decline and Fall was written during the peak of the Enlightenment, and exemplifies its emphasis on reason and skepticism. Gibbon’s periodic prose style is superb, and his many quirks are both endearing and curmudgeonly. He openly hates superstition, is quite opinionated on various monarchs, puts naughty details in his footnotes, and really has it in for eunuchs, of all people.
Gibbon is also a true master of the art of the insult, and offers too many quality barbs to recount here. Naturally, I made highlights throughout the text.