Rome, by Robert Hughes

Summary: a shoddy swan song

You pick up a book by as renowned an art historian as Robert Hughes you think you can be confident in his erudition. With Rome, you will be disappointed.

I would not class myself as an expert on ancient Rome, but I have read a few books by proper authorities. Which seems to be more than can be said for Hughes. Perhaps he did once. But if he did, he did not bother checking any details and instead consigned his misrememberings to the page with gay abandon.

Rome was Hughes last published book. It put me in mind of John Keegan’s The American Civil War, and Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias: shoddy final books by authors who had quite properly earned distinguished reputations for earlier work.

I read a review of this book by Mary Beard who suggested skipping the first five chapters – the ones that deal with her area of specialism, ancient Rome – so riddled with errors are they. But even if he is less slapdash with the facts in later chapters, presumably the ones that were closer to his professional specialism, I still found it is difficult to trust an author who doesn’t know the difference between architecture and engineering, and despite being a product of Australian Catholic schools, doesn’t seem to understand some of the most basic tenets of Christianity either.

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