Books : reviews

Gregory S. Aldrete.
History of the Ancient World: a global perspective.
Great Courses. 2011

Gregory S. Aldrete.
The Decisive Battles of World History.
Great Courses. 2014

Gregory S. Aldrete.
History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach.
Great Courses. 2015

Circle the globe to explore pivotal incidents of catastrophic failure in battle and consider how these errors changed the course of history.

Gregory S. Aldrete.
A Historian Goes to the Movies: ancient Rome.
Great Courses. 2020

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 16 September 2020

The glory of ancient Rome meets the grandeur of modern Hollywood as you join a historian to examine the accuracy of classic sword-and-sandal films.

This is the course guidebook that accompanies the short 12 lecture “Great Course” of the same name. It is essentially an abbreviated transcript of each lecture, some related reading, and some “questions to consider”. (I watched the lectures, which is what I am reviewing here, and am using the book simply as an aide-memoire.)

Much of what we “know” about the Romans we learned from the movies. How accurate are they? Here we get overviews of several “sword and sandals” films and TV series, including Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, I, Claudius, Gladiator, Life of Brian, and even some discussion of “bread and circuses” themes in science fiction films.

Aldrete discusses the plot of each film, how it was made, and the sometimes staggering amount it cost to make, and then goes on to gleefully point out what it got right, and wrong, about real Roman life and history. So we learn, for example, that the Romans didn’t have galley slaves, that thumbs up and down possibly meant the opposite of what they mean now, how Spartacus was the final slave rebellion, and how the Roman Army really fought.

We learn about history, and about films. But, unfortunately, we don’t see any action, and precious few stills, to illustrate the points.