Why America Is Not a New Rome
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Why America Is Not a New Rome

By Vaclav Smil

An investigation of the America-Rome analogy that goes deeper than the facile comparisons made on talk shows and in glossy magazine articles.

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Praise

Summary

An investigation of the America-Rome analogy that goes deeper than the facile comparisons made on talk shows and in glossy magazine articles.

America's post–Cold War strategic dominance and its pre-recession affluence inspired pundits to make celebratory comparisons to ancient Rome at its most powerful. Now, with America no longer perceived as invulnerable, engaged in protracted fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, comparisons are to the bloated, decadent, ineffectual later Empire. In Why America Is Not a New Rome, Vaclav Smil looks at these comparisons in detail, going deeper than the facile analogy-making of talk shows and glossy magazine articles. He finds profound differences.

Smil, a scientist and a lifelong student of Roman history, focuses on several fundamental concerns: the very meaning of empire; the actual extent and nature of Roman and American power; the role of knowledge and innovation; and demographic and economic basics—population dynamics, illness, death, wealth, and misery. America is not a latter-day Rome, Smil finds, and we need to understand this in order to look ahead without the burden of counterproductive analogies. Superficial similarities do not imply long-term political, demographic, or economic outcomes identical to Rome's.

Hardcover

Out of Print ISBN: 9780262195935 240 pp. | 9 in x 7 in 23 b&w photos, 13 b&w illus., 21 maps, 21 graphs

Paperback

$17.95 T ISBN: 9780262526852 240 pp. | 9 in x 7 in 23 b&w photos, 13 b&w illus., 21 maps, 21 graphs

Reviews

  • [T]his book is both a polemic and a work of scholarship.

    Daniel Headrick

    Technology and Culture

  • Smil (Univ. of Manitoba, Canada) has written an entertaining response to authors who have compared the US to the Roman Empire...

    S. Prisco III

    CHOICE

Endorsements

  • Repetition by pundits and literary commentators in the mass media has entrenched in people's minds the notion that America is a new Rome. Smil's book, tightly argued and rigorously documented, is a concise and persuasive scientific demolition of the Rome-America parallel, totally deflating the usefulness of the analogy as a tool of historical analysis. Why America is Not a New Rome is a much-needed corrective.

    Paul Demeny

    Distinguished Scholar, Population Council, New York