Featured on the cover of the NYT’s Sunday Book Review, Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Norton/Liveright; OverDrive Sample) is racing ahead of copies ordered, with holds ratios raging from 6:1 on the low end to over 16:1 on the high end in libraries we checked.
Beard, perhaps better known in the UK where she is a classics professor at Cambridge University, is similar to Neil deGrasse Tyson here – a noted expert in a field many people are interested in but don’t know as much about as they would like.
Beard does for ancient Rome what Tyson does for space, offering an accessible and fascinating history that grips readers through stories, arguments, and contrary opinions (Cleopatra likely did not commit suicide via snake bite).
In the NYT’s author Ferdinand Mount heaps praise on Beard and explains the title, saying:
In SPQR, her wonderful concise history, Mary Beard unpacks the secrets of the city’s success with a crisp and merciless clarity that I have not seen equaled anywhere else. (The title comes from the Roman catchphrase Senatus Populusque Romanus — the Senate and People of Rome.)
The Guardian reviews it as well, under a headline that calls it “vastly engaging,” and The Atlantic says it is “magisterial.” Dwight Garner, reviewing for the daily NYT‘s said Beard is “charming company” and suggested this book might be her breakout moment in the US.
“I would not pick any. I’m a woman! It’s just about conceivable to me that a man might be able to find someplace, but it would all be a hell! There’s no political rights, death in childbirth, and no aspirin! Never. I like now.”