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Rome from the Ground Up

Rome from the Ground Up

James H. S. McGregor

ISBN 9780674022638

Publication date: 10/31/2006

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.


  • Rome from the Ground Up is an enthralling book. McGregor's sensitive, lively writing rises to the beauties of the city and, miraculously, does so with the same economy that characterizes Roman Baroque architecture. McGregor obviously sees Rome's most sublime realms and writes a sublime prose to match, as far away from Rococo ornament as it is from the Rome that is grubby, gruff, crowded, boorish and bureaucratic—and this is perfectly true to the city, for that remarkably pure vision that is the Rome of the imagination has always floated above the Rome of reality, certainly since the time of Cicero and Vergil, probably since Romulus emerged from his mud hut alongside the Forum stream.

    —Ingrid Rowland, author of From Heaven to Arcadia


  • James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 5-3/4 x 9 inches
  • Belknap Press

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