Book Rec - if you like Professor & the Madman, Longitude, The Masters of Rome series

Justinian’s Flea by Willam Rosen (Amazon link)

Tells the late antiquity (6th century C.E.) story of the last Emperor of Rome to be accorded to the title “The Great.” Charts his ascendance, his successful efforts to re-integrate the Empire via his legendary general Belisarius and others, and the foundation-shaking consequences of the first great bubonic plague through Europe.

  • It’s meticulously researched. If an academic Doper knows of any gaffes, please educate me - but it is very detailed and reference-heavy - but in an accessible way. Bottom line is that I feel I am getting a fascinating, fact-based education - in a good way.
  • It takes cool, interesting diversions - like Professor and Longitude, it fills in the historical, geographic and economic contexts for various situations and decisions. It spends time exploring the architecture and approach to construction of Justinian’s greatest building triumph, the Hagia Sophia. It explores the evolution of the plague bacteria and the carrier flea, along with the epidemiology behind how the plague likely spread and effects. And it uses the central arc of the story of the Empire to keep you fully dialed in.
  • It’s very well written - with all those details and diversions this could bog down in a second. Quite the opposite - the pages fly by and the author has fun laying out paragraphs of set up and ending a section with a last plot-twist sentence which introduces a new character or development that moves things along. Even though this covers the greatest power of the Western hemisphere of its day, it is not a story most of us readers know (okay - at least I didn’t) so there is both a sense of familiarity and plot twist surprise at the same time and the author knows how to work both angles.

I am not done yet, but just 2/3’s of the way in I clearly already got my money’s worth even if it tanks from here…

Any other Doper’s read it?


Really? No one’s read it or is into this kind of book? I have been on threads where all of the other books I mentioned in the thread title have been cited and praised, so I thought this would be hearty Doper fair…

I’m into it. :slight_smile:

I’ve added it to my next Amazon shipment.

Ever read Graves’ book Count Belisarius? Fiction, based heavily on Procopius.

Very cool, thank you! I’ve only just finished Longitude and enjoyed it very much. Also have read Professor… (but wasn’t as into it … more due to the writing style than the content, though). My sister is really into the latter, and loves Roman history, so I’ll be forwarding your rec to her. The biological stuff sounds like it could be a bit ‘woolly’, but if you say it’s not too technical, I’ll give it a try myself. :slight_smile:

How did you come across this, mighty WordMan?

**choie ** - the biological stuff is a bit “woolly” - but you have my permission to skip over those bits! I sure as heck did the same thing with some of the “war” parts of War & Peace!

As for how I found it - I was looking in that section in the book store (history or biography; can’t recall) for a different book and thought the title of this one seemed interesting; I read the inside jacket and was sold - but it has turned out to be even better than I had hoped. I haven’t even gotten the book I had originally set out to look for - American Prometheus, about Robert Oppenheimer…

**Malthus ** - I love Graves, and the author of J’s Flea mentions Graves among other authors who have added to Belisarius’ legend. Sounds like it needs to go on my list…

I’ll put in a plug for Aztec by Gary Jennings. It traces the life of an Aztec man from his birth in a poor rural village to his rise to the Tenochtitlan aristocracy and his work as a translator when the Spanish Conquistadors arrive. You see the Aztec Empire in all its blood-soaked glory, from its absolute pinnacle of power and influence, to its utter destruction. Epic and sprawling - lots of sex, intrigue, human sacrifices, scheming, adventure, sex, romance, heartbreak, social criticism, religion, warfare, sex, etc. Highly recommended. I re-read it every five years or so.

Good timing for this thread.

I was talking to a good friend last night and he told me he had just started Atlas Shrugged. I now have some things to recommend before he gets too far into the pit and has to finish the damn thing.