James H. S. McGregor - Rome from the Ground Up

Last summer was my first trip to Europe, 10 days of which were in Italy. Since then I've been rather interested in the country. Hence, this book looked like something that may help fill the gaps in my knowledge. Unfortunately, it was something of a disappointment.

The details provided are presented rather dully, the locations/directions are difficult to interpret, and the photographs--although bright, colorful, and on high quality paper--are the size of postage stamps. Someone unfamiliar with Rome would be unable to get much, if anything, from this book. As it was, many of the pages meant nothing to me--especially for places I did not visit. It was almost like reading it in a foreign language.

When in Italy, I used two guidebooks--Rick Steves' Italy and Italy (Eyewitness Travel Guides). Both had their pros and cons. Rome from the Ground Up wouldn't be my choice over either.

Rick Steves' Italy is entertaining, but the maps are bad, it's dated the day it comes out, and some of the recommendations are dubious. The tourist areas know who Rick is and give him special treatment. Also, there isn't much on the history or facts and figures relative to other guides. Many areas are completely skipped when it comes to this guide.

I preferred the Italy (Eyewitness Travel Guides) for accuracy and pictures. The maps were also good. And the history and descriptions weren't bad either (but I always wanted more still). The biggest drawback to this guide is its weight. It can be too much to lug around.

I was hoping that Rome from the Ground Up would be that "more." It is, but not in a good way. It should be more lively, clearer on where and what exactly is being discussed, and should have much larger pictures.

If you're looking for a well-written history of Rome then look elsewhere. If you are looking for another guidebook then this one should only come into play as a fourth or fifth supplemental one, after the better ones that are out there. I would really only recommend this book to someone who knew Rome well already. Finally, if you do buy this book make sure to purchase a magnifying glass as well. Otherwise, you won't be able to see enough in the pictures to figure out what they represent.

from the publisher:
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.