Rome from the Ground Up

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Rome is not one city but many, each with its own history unfolding from a different center: now the trading port on the Tiber; now the Forum of antiquity; the Palatine of imperial power; the Lateran Church of Christian ascendancy; the Vatican; the Quirinal palace. Beginning with the very shaping of the ground on which Rome first rose, this book conjures all these cities, past and present, conducting the reader through time and space to the complex and shifting ...

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Overview

Rome is not one city but many, each with its own history unfolding from a different center: now the trading port on the Tiber; now the Forum of antiquity; the Palatine of imperial power; the Lateran Church of Christian ascendancy; the Vatican; the Quirinal palace. Beginning with the very shaping of the ground on which Rome first rose, this book conjures all these cities, past and present, conducting the reader through time and space to the complex and shifting realities--architectural, historical, political, and social--that constitute Rome.

A multifaceted historical portrait, this richly illustrated work is as gritty as it is gorgeous, immersing readers in the practical world of each period. James McGregor's explorations afford the pleasures of a novel thick with characters and plot twists: amid the life struggles, hopes, and failures of countless generations, we see how things truly worked, then and now; we learn about the materials of which Rome was built; of the Tiber and its bridges; of roads, aqueducts, and sewers; and, always, of power, especially the power to shape the city and imprint it with a particular personality--like that of Nero or Trajan or Pope Sixtus V--or a particular institution.

McGregor traces the successive urban forms that rulers have imposed, from emperors and popes to national governments including Mussolini's. And, in archaeologists' and museums' presentation of Rome's past, he shows that the documenting of history itself is fraught with power and politics. In McGregor's own beautifully written account, the power and politics emerge clearly, manifest in the distinctive styles and structures, practical concerns and aesthetic interests that constitute the myriad Romes of our day and days past.

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Editorial Reviews

Ingrid Rowland
Rome from the Ground Up is an enthralling book. McGregor's sensitive, lively writing rises to the beauties of the city and, miraculously, does so with the same economy that characterizes Roman Baroque architecture. McGregor obviously sees Rome's most sublime realms and writes a sublime prose to match, as far away from Rococo ornament as it is from the Rome that is grubby, gruff, crowded, boorish and bureaucratic—and this is perfectly true to the city, for that remarkably pure vision that is the Rome of the imagination has always floated above the Rome of reality, certainly since the time of Cicero and Vergil, probably since Romulus emerged from his mud hut alongside the Forum stream.
Anthony Grafton
McGregor has produced a guide to Rome like no other known to me. An astonishing feat of exposition and compression, Rome from the Ground Up would be immensely useful for any intelligent visitor in Rome for the first time.
Booklist - Brad Hooper
Where history, architecture, and travel find common ground is where this author dwells... The text, peppered with crisp illustrations, is recommended for the erudite traveler.
Alexander Purves
Rome from the Ground Up is splendid. It is an informative and intriguing introduction to the city, not only for those on their first visit but also for many who have been beguiled by the city but have wanted a guide to lead them step by step, illuminating buildings as they go, who may not need (nor want) the quantities of information supplied by a more thoroughgoing architectural guide. As such it fills a distinct need and has done it handsomely. I will certainly recommend it to our students-- and to anyone else heading to Rome.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - John Freeman
Despite the organized chaos of its streets and squares, Rome was not a planned city, but a group of cities that gradually became one. In Rome From the Ground Up, James H. S. McGregor describes how this happened in prose so clear you'll think it came from one of Rome's many springs.
San Francisco Chronicle - Christine Delsol
This survey of Rome's past, as it evolved over 3,000 years from a string of small cities that sprung up along the Tiber into the seat of empire and finally today's city, is part history, part architecture, part travelogue...McGregor metaphorically digs into the soil beneath Rome's present-day monuments to 'reconnect the modern city with its ancient counterparts.' Each chapter considers the monuments in the order that a visitor would encounter them while walking through the city, resulting in a guide for the thoughtful traveler as well. Color photos, engravings, historical maps, architectural plans and drawings bring Rome's past to life.
US Italia Weekly - Michael Moore
An important addition to the already jam-packed library of books on Rome...Unlike the standard Baedecker guide--which leads the reader through meticulously detailed tours of specific sites--McGregor takes on the whole magnificent sweep of Roman history, from Romulus to Rutelli (to quote my cicerone friend). In a novel approach, he tells the city's story by taking you on a neighborhood by neighborhood visit, starting with the oldest part, the Tiber Island and the Ancient Port, and then moving slowly away from the river and into the Forum, the Imperial City, the Vatican, Trastevere and the Quirinale hill...Rome from the Ground Up provides just the kind of overarching structure that the visitor to Rome needs, either on the way to or back from the Italian capital. It is also a beautifully-written work, providing a prose that is a very fitting tribute to the sights that it describes. So while the politicians are slugging it out in buildings with glorious names like Palazzo Madama and Montecitorio, why not take an excursion through history, in the comfort of your own armchair?
Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Peter Keegan
While no single book can ever do justice to such a city, McGregor's study provides an illuminating and practical introduction to Rome...For those lucky enough to find themselves in Rome for the first time, McGregor's integrated approach to the architecture, culture and history of the city would be a useful and reliable aid to understanding its manifold complexities.
SlowTravel - Robert Barret
I can't really have a favorite book on Rome, can I? No, but...well, this comes close. In three hundred pages of clean, muscular prose, McGregor has done the almost impossible task of pulling the glories of this city together in a neat, readable, incredibly well informed study. He takes us through the history of Rome as reflected through its physical presence, as he briskly describes with a wonderful eye what we can still see around us, and how we can place these wonders into a coherent sense of the city.
History Wire - Steve Goddard
The author chronicles Rome's evolution over 3,000 years from a group of small cities along the Tiber River, showcasing the architecture, history and culture that made it what it is today. The lush images and maps are unusually rich for a paperback edition. Planning a trip to Rome this year? Be sure to slip this book into your valise.
Publishers Weekly
This intricate, literary traveler's guide explores the contiguous cities of Rome built on the Tiber floodplain over the centuries. McGregor, co-head of the University of Georgia's department of comparative literature, chronologically traces the successive periods of intense architecture and planning that helped Rome achieve strategic greatness, from the Etruscan management of the Tiber Island ford 3,000 years ago, to the city's unparalleled artistic stamp by Bramante and Michelangelo during the Renaissance, to Mussolini's monumental Fascist vision, to the precarious repairs heralding the Jubilee Year of 2000. The ancient historian Strabo remarked that while Greek cities were esteemed for their beauty and wealth, Rome excelled in the construction of roads, aqueducts and sewers, and on this theme McGregor dwells expertly, giving readers an excellent tour of ancient landmarks. As an official residence of emperors until the fourth-century displacement of the capital to Constantinople, Rome gushed with water in the form of baths and fountains; with the return of the popes from Avignon in 1377, the Vatican assumed prominence, and Bramante's restructuring of Old St. Peter's became a beacon for Rome's new mission. Here is a walking tour in stately, inviting prose that renders wonderfully manageable a massive history lesson for the intellectually curious and adept. Illus. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A pleasing history of Rome from antiquity to the modern era, tied to monuments, buildings and other structures throughout the city. The heart of Rome is the Tiber River, and there McGregor (Comparative Literature/Univ. of Georgia) begins. "Like all too many urban rivers," he writes, "it lies far below street level in a deep and narrow chasm, visible from above but almost out of reach." Not quite; the homeless get to it easily enough. But the point is well taken; the Tiber stands as a rebuke in a city full of splendors but also of graffiti and litter, one that is "being internationalized at an unprecedented pace" and made ever more chaotic with bigger and more numerous motor vehicles. Step away from the river, and McGregor's tour of the city becomes calmer and more reflective, and even longtime students of Roman history stand to learn something from his pages. Among the lessons offered along the way: The Basilica Julia represents a major urban renewal project on the part of Julius Caesar, who bought up a big chunk of the ancient Forum at "Manhattan prices" (whether of Pieter Minuit or Donald Trump we do not know) for the purpose. The Piazza di Spagna is so named because the Spanish embassy was once located there, and with it the office of the Institute for the Propagation of Faith-for it made sense for the proselytizers to associate with busy conquerors. Benito Mussolini engineered some urban renewal of his own, clearing out hundreds of houses in order to make his grand Via del Impero. And so on, in a wealth of detail and with well-chosen illustrations. Well worth consulting before planning a tour of the Eternal City. McGregor might have spent more time-or time at all-on certain well-knownpoints on the Roman map (the Campo dei Fiori, the Gardens of Sallust, the Baths of Caracalla), but Georgina Masson's Companion Guide to Rome (1974) fills in the blanks.
Booklist

Where history, architecture, and travel find common ground is where this author dwells... The text, peppered with crisp illustrations, is recommended for the erudite traveler.
— Brad Hooper

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Despite the organized chaos of its streets and squares, Rome was not a planned city, but a group of cities that gradually became one. In Rome From the Ground Up, James H. S. McGregor describes how this happened in prose so clear you'll think it came from one of Rome's many springs.
— John Freeman

San Francisco Chronicle

This survey of Rome's past, as it evolved over 3,000 years from a string of small cities that sprung up along the Tiber into the seat of empire and finally today's city, is part history, part architecture, part travelogue...McGregor metaphorically digs into the soil beneath Rome's present-day monuments to 'reconnect the modern city with its ancient counterparts.' Each chapter considers the monuments in the order that a visitor would encounter them while walking through the city, resulting in a guide for the thoughtful traveler as well. Color photos, engravings, historical maps, architectural plans and drawings bring Rome's past to life.
— Christine Delsol

US Italia Weekly

An important addition to the already jam-packed library of books on Rome...Unlike the standard Baedecker guide—which leads the reader through meticulously detailed tours of specific sites—McGregor takes on the whole magnificent sweep of Roman history, from Romulus to Rutelli (to quote my cicerone friend). In a novel approach, he tells the city's story by taking you on a neighborhood by neighborhood visit, starting with the oldest part, the Tiber Island and the Ancient Port, and then moving slowly away from the river and into the Forum, the Imperial City, the Vatican, Trastevere and the Quirinale hill...Rome from the Ground Up provides just the kind of overarching structure that the visitor to Rome needs, either on the way to or back from the Italian capital. It is also a beautifully-written work, providing a prose that is a very fitting tribute to the sights that it describes. So while the politicians are slugging it out in buildings with glorious names like Palazzo Madama and Montecitorio, why not take an excursion through history, in the comfort of your own armchair?
— Michael Moore

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

While no single book can ever do justice to such a city, McGregor's study provides an illuminating and practical introduction to Rome...For those lucky enough to find themselves in Rome for the first time, McGregor's integrated approach to the architecture, culture and history of the city would be a useful and reliable aid to understanding its manifold complexities.
— Peter Keegan

SlowTravel

I can't really have a favorite book on Rome, can I? No, but...well, this comes close. In three hundred pages of clean, muscular prose, McGregor has done the almost impossible task of pulling the glories of this city together in a neat, readable, incredibly well informed study. He takes us through the history of Rome as reflected through its physical presence, as he briskly describes with a wonderful eye what we can still see around us, and how we can place these wonders into a coherent sense of the city.
— Robert Barret

History Wire

The author chronicles Rome's evolution over 3,000 years from a group of small cities along the Tiber River, showcasing the architecture, history and culture that made it what it is today. The lush images and maps are unusually rich for a paperback edition. Planning a trip to Rome this year? Be sure to slip this book into your valise.
— Steve Goddard

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019119
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2005
  • Series: From the Ground Up Series , #1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.
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Table of Contents

1 Tiber Island and the ancient port 5
2 The Roman forum 33
3 The imperial city 61
4 Early Christian churches 107
5 Vatican revival 151
6 Renaissance in the river bend 193
7 Baroque expansion 237
8 The survival of history 281
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2006

    A Well Grounded Friendship

    Several books came in my Barnes and Noble shipment. This is the one I read first! Rome from the Ground Up is elegantly presented with shiny pages and clear print. It feels good in the hand. Better, the words flow as if a friend were talking. Every chapter fixes on one of the nodes of Rome. I like the idea that each period of Rome's rise and fall took place in contiguous but seperate neighborhoods. I enjoyed that perception. I walked every step of the way through the successive centers of Roman history and architecture. Once, I lost myself by remembering a wrong direction. The maps in the book are too small to help much, but by rereading, I rejoined the narrative. I know Rome fairly well, and my history about the same, but this book carried me along so well that it is worth the price just to revisit places I knew and liked. Better, I learned new places to read more about. This is the best book on Rome since H.V.Morton wrote Walks in Rome way back before the second war. The publisher decided on a small format book with small illustrations. That made the book easy to handle, but I had to carry a magnifying glass to see many of them. No matter, there are other books with pictures. This book sends one to other sources for more information, which is a great experience!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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