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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping new history of how climate change and disease helped bring down the Roman Empire

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome's power - a story of nature's triumph over human ambition.

Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. He takes listeners from Rome's pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the seventh century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a "little ice age" and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.

A poignant reflection on humanity's intimate relationship with the environment, The Fate of Rome provides a sweeping account of how one of history's greatest civilizations encountered, endured, yet ultimately succumbed to the cumulative burden of nature's violence. The example of Rome is a timely reminder that climate change and germ evolution have shaped the world we inhabit - in ways that are surprising and profound.

Author bio: Kyle Harper is professor of classics and letters and senior vice president and provost at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 and From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

©2017 Princeton University Press (P)2017 Recorded Books

What listeners say about The Fate of Rome

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One of the best, most original books on the decline of Roman Power.

This is an absolutely extraordinary book. I have been reading about Rome for most of my adult life. Harper’s book nonetheless continually surprised and even shocked me. His erudition is overwhelming, his research is formidable and his style is approachable and reader friendly. I can not recommend this book highly enough. If you think you know your Roman history - guess again and prepare to be amazed.

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Highly recommended, gripping, well researched.

This book is more like a who done it.
I couldn't put it down. The discussion of the latest scientific techniques give authority to Dr. Harpers conclusions. Not just the historical vagaries of the climate, but the detailed descriptions of pandemic waves flesh out a compelling narrative. Please make his other books available.

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  • B. Coleman
  • 2019-06-15

Interesting and worthwhile

As others have noted, this is like some sort of Roman ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’, so much so that honestly Harper and Diamond should probably just team up. That, of course, could be a touch problematic: an event - even a series of them - does not happen in isolation. It can be tempting to lean a bit too heavily on the exciting new idea, and, as with Diamond, there is a whiff of that here.

But by and large this is a meaningful addition to the standard understanding of Roman history, so often told as variations on a timeline, each speaking of “the known world” as though those in the hinterlands assumed all the world before them was some sort of mass hallucination. That is to say Rome did not exist in a terrarium, a bubble, divorced from world events, from climate, from disease. It’s refreshing to dive into a book which not only acknowledges this, but is about it.

It’s not perfect. Some of it can be a bit of a slog. Some of it is presented as a revelation when really it’s probably obvious or common sense. And the narration is unremarkable, in either direction.

If this topic didn’t immediately pique your interest then the book itself likely won’t persuade you. But if it did then I don’t think you can go wrong in checking this out.

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  • David Maher
  • 2018-02-11

Compelling History

Does an excellent job with showing the power of scientific sources for history. Full disclosure, I do have a fascination with epidemic history, so not completely unbiased. A very interesting take on the decline of the Roman empire.

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  • Trebla
  • 2018-02-07

Excellent meld of History & Science

As Diamond did in Guns germs & Steel, Harper makes a great case for the deep influence of environment in the course of history. We are all familiar with the stories of the Roman Republic & empires as told by men writing things down. But the larger view of that history in the context of climate change and disease evolution suddenly makes a lot sense. Many Aha! moments. I trust this work will be reinforced and expanded by others on the trail of history synthesis.

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  • Emailus07
  • 2021-04-08

okay but not the best narration

The overall content is good and novel. It is interesting to correlate history with things other than human actions alone. However the narration was not interesting enough for me to be enthusiastic about the book. Took a while to finish this one.

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  • Casey E.R. Sanders
  • 2021-04-02

Fascinating Subject....Poorly Executed

I came to this book after it was recommended by Mike Duncan on his Revolutions podcast. It's a fascinating subject matter but the execution is lacking. I made it about 2 1/2 hours in before giving up. The writer switches between some pretty needlessly flowery descriptions of Ancient Rome to extremely technical scientific jargon and the transition between the two is jolting. It would have been helpful if the writer had obeyed Orwell's advice to never use a long word where a short one will do. The narration suffers as a result: is the narrator reading a colorful narrative history of Rome or a scientific treatise on disease, climate, and social structure? That said, the fundamental subject matter is interesting and will enlighten and entertain those who can get past the problems described above.

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  • Fred
  • 2021-03-20

Outstanding!

Wonderful to see history as we have learned it, supplemented, expanded and enriched by ecology, microbiology and climatology. This allows a deeper, richer and much more nuanced understanding of this most famous “decline and fall.” Yes the players in this drama made good decisions and bad. But forces they could not imagine much less understand or control often were often decisive. Well written and well performed. Deserving of a second or even a third read/listen.

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  • steve
  • 2020-09-29

Rating Change

I rated this book a 5 in all categories several months ago and greatly enjoyed it. With time on my hands due to Covid I decided to listen to it again. I was quite surprised how little I had remembered and during my second time around I could see why; the book was organized in a nonchronological way, moving back and forth through the centuries, chapter after chapter. The relevant centuries, primarily the 2nd- 5th centuries, were so mixed up that the book lacked a cohesive narrative. The subject matter was great but it was difficult to remember much of it when presented in such a disorganized manner. Imagine a book centered on the climate and disease of the United States, or some other historical subject, that jumps back and forth with no chronological order. As I listened each chapter made sense but I had no idea how little of the specifics, or the general content, I had retained until my second listen. Should have rated it a 4 overall and story, at best.

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  • Lynn
  • 2020-05-07

Cautionary Tale! Romans vs Deadly Microbes

This contains a prophetic warning as it swings back and forth between bits of Roman history, climate change, energy capture and consumption, plagues, microbes. More or less chronological. Repetitive & definitely could use copy editing. Could use a chapter on slavery, since energy and slavery were intricately related throughout the thousand or so years covered. Narrator has a nice voice but repeats several idiosyncratic mispronounciations. Marseilles spoken as "Murs Seals" throughout? Argh. The last chapter is the best - a nice little essay and summary. Lots to think about during stay safe at home.

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  • Working Man
  • 2019-12-23

Thoroughly engaging

Great read, even for the non-historians among us. I found it thorough and well-constructed from start to finish. I’ve recounted to friends and colleagues numerous statistics and facts from this booked that I had failed to be aware of or appreciate the magnitude of. It helps one reflect on the true fragility of life even when death seems so distant to all but the aging or ill among us in today’s sanitized and industrialized society. We, like the romans, are still living creatures in a world with many things we depend upon for wellbeing beside ourselves.

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  • L. Ford Ballard, Jr.
  • 2019-11-30

Wonderful update of Gibbons

Delighted to learn about all the research and new discoveries that have updated the fate of Rome. Well narrated and very well written. Ideal book for my daily two mile walk.