Thursday, May 3, 2018

The thrifty guide to ancient Rome: A handbook for time travelers by Jonathan W. Stokes, illustrated by David Sossella

On the one hand, I loved this and laughed all the way through. On the other hand, I kind of want to shelve it in fiction and write letters explaining how inaccurate it is.

So, the idea of this is that, hundreds of years into the future, a giant corporation (complete with evil CEO) has taken over America and time travel is now possible. But, as a sort of corporate-sponsored vacation, so with lots of liability waivers and "oh, you got beheaded, too bad, no trip insurance."

The book is written like a travel handbook, starting with where (and what) to eat, where to stay, and local hazards (like being beheaded). It then expands more into the history of the area, mostly focusing on Julius Caesar and his conquests and then giving an overview of the tumultuous history of Rome after his assassination.

The book is illustrated with red-tinted cartoons and filled with plenty of wacky information, like a venn diagram of Cleopatra's romantic involvement, TripAdvisor-like reviews of gladiator games, and letters from Time Corp's evil CEO. There is a limited bibliography - one contemporary title about every day life in Rome and a number of classic writers like Livy.

One review said this walked the line between fiction and nonfiction, but I feel it kind of slips over. Yes, it covers a lot of history, but it slips in so many jokes that it's hard to take seriously. It briefly mentions slavery, women's rights (nonexistent), and systems of government, but it references ancient Rome as a democracy, saying that there wouldn't be another democracy until the United States. That doesn't sound right to me? Can you call it a democracy if a large portion of the population has no voice? And isn't the US a republic? With the lack of sources and the light-hearted feeling of the text, I wondered how many inaccuracies there were - I am not an expert on Ancient Rome by any means.

But as an introduction, to get kids interested in history, this is delightful. It's funny, doesn't take itself too seriously, and will attract both history fans and those who think history is "boring."

Verdict: Buy it, but I still haven't decided to put it in fiction or nonfiction. There's an American Revolution title as well, but the third projected title was cancelled so I don't know if this will be a long-running series or not.

ISBN: 9781101998083; Published 2018 by Viking; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

No comments: