Ultimately I have to take this book at its word(s) because I have such an otherwise facile understanding of Roman history that I am a stuck/kept audience member.
I found the sweep and scope of this book both manageable and readable. The research seemed quite sound, and the theorizing that does happen (which is relatively little) is mostly sidebar commentary and joking more than interpreting.
This is a history of the beginnings of Rome. There’s a debate that was and maybe still is happening in other texts I have read about the differences between beginnings versus origins. Beginnings is sort of used to represent a descriptive version of events, meaning you discuss and explain how the different parts came together, versus origins which is a more prescriptive, where you discuss wholeness at something’s inception.
This book is about beginnings. She often refers to an immeasurable moment in the history of Rome of when people in the area would have referred to themselves as “Roman” and thought of themselves in this way. She goes on to complicate this point by suggesting that not only would that moment be unfixed in time, it would also be unfixed in place (as people of the empire might consider themselves Roman without living in Rome) and in concept (as people in Rome might have strong leanings as to different interpretations of that definition).
So the result is a muddled history. And honestly that’s more fun. It takes out the narrativizing impulse of creating cohesive history and allows for a lot more thought into who writes histories and what are even histories.
My favorite moment in the whole book is where she basically admits that other than being interesting and neat, there’s not much use to trying to glean wisdom from Rome. But I enjoyed this book a lot. I can only assume it’s any good.