Thursday, June 15, 2017

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations by Mary Beard (2013)

Mary Beard is pretty fucking amazing.  I think this book was almost completely comprised of book reviews Beard wrote of a variety of other books - books about famous Romans and ancients (Augustus, Cleopatra), or books about classicists famous in their field, or even a graphic novel (a new Asterix).

I write book reviews too.  I now know they suck.  Beard is the master of book reviewing.  She is an excellent, sharp reviewer.  Her reviews are reviews, but they are also essays, informative, full of information.  And she knows her shit, and she isn't afraid to show it. Here she is writing a review about the Cleopatra book (I think it was the new one by Stacy Schiff:  "Cleopatra was born in 69 is just one of the many examples where modern biographers cherry - pick the parts of an ancient text that suit them and turn a blind eye to those that do not."  Beard is the hole puncher, the anti-cherry picker, she never avers; she always prefaces with "I have a hunch" and "I believe" with emphasis on the I.   She is utterly charming when she does so, and eviscerates with a twinkle in her eye.  She is professionally aware of the uncertainty of history that's 2,000 or so years old, and wants us to know that too

She doesn't just peck either.  Here is another review:  "Poetry is grilled for ‘ facts ’ that it could never yield . In one horribly memorable argument he takes a fragment of an epigram by the poet / historian Florus ( ‘ I don’t want to be the emperor / Strolling about among the Britons ’ ) as evidence to support his claim that Hadrian made his first inspection of Hadrian’s Wall on foot."

"One horribly memorable argument"  This is a take down.  Not mere pecking.

I love her.

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and InnovationsConfronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations by Mary Beard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is primarily a book of book reviews that Mary Beard has done in various publications over the years.

I also write book reviews. I now know they suck.

Mary Beard is the master of book reviews. She is sharp and clever. Her reviews do actually review books she has read, but the writings found within this book are also so much, much more than mere book reviews. They are essays; they intellectually challenge; they are treats for the mind; they are all so damn good. She knows her shit, and she expects other authors and scholars and historians to know their shit too, and when they don't seem to know their shit, she calls them out on it. She is unafraid. Beard is the hole puncher, the anti-cherry picker, she never avers; she always prefaces with "I have a hunch" and "I believe" with emphasis on the I. She is utterly charming when she does so, and eviscerates with a twinkle in her eye. She is professionally aware of the uncertainty of history that's 2,000 or so years old, and wants us to know that too.


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