A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome, by Alberto Angela
This was a huge bestseller a couple years ago, and since I love history I decided to give it a try. I'll admit that it sat on my shelf for a long while, though, since my experience with nonfiction (particular history books - thank you, college) leads me to assume that most of it is rather boring. Boy, was I wrong. Translated from Italian, this is more a work of archeological voyeurism than history. The reader is addressed as a tourist visiting Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan, around 115 CE. Angela takes us from midnight to midnight, describing all the sights, smells, tastes, and noises we would have experienced there. We learn about Romans from all different walks of life, from the elite down to the lowliest slave. Monumental works we see now as degraded shades of their former selves are delectably described for our benefit. It's part history lesson, part travel guide, and Angela does a fantastic job. Granted, the translation to American English is a bit awkward at times, and there were numerous editing errors throughout, but they take little away from the whole. It's no wonder this was such a fast seller; it wonderfully brings history alive in a way anyone can enjoy.