Smil (Global Catastrophes and Trends) scrutinizes the frequently made comparison between ancient Rome and the contemporary U.S. as “bloated, decadent” empires in decline. Though he sees the U.S. as a country “in gradual relative retreat” and believes that the perception of its power and influence, like that of ancient Rome, is vastly exaggerated, he dismisses any analogy between the two because of their vastly different reaches of power and economic bases. With exacting rigor, he makes his case first by clarifying such key terms as empire, then examining the political might, energy consumption, and demographic patterns of the two societies. Smil covers an impressive range of topics, from the U.S.’s national debt to the Roman use of water power. By taking a granular, scientific approach, the author convincingly demonstrates that life in ancient Rome and contemporary America are so different in almost every meaningful way that any comparison of the two societies is at best general and superficial. Readers willing to sift through the author’s frequently technical analysis will come away with a richer understanding of both the Roman Empire and the post-WWII United States. (Mar.)
"[T]his book is both a polemic and a work of scholarship." --
Daniel Headrick, Technology and Culture
The MIT Press
"Smil (Univ. of Manitoba, Canada) has written an entertaining response to authors who have compared the US to the Roman Empire..." -- S. Prisco III,
The MIT Press
[T]his book is both a polemic and a work of scholarship.
Smil (Univ. of Manitoba, Canada) has written an entertaining response to authors who have compared the US to the Roman Empire...