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Terry Deary is a fantastic childhood author. His real and often gorey outlook of history in his series of book (which has now been made into a game, stage show and recently a television series which can be viewed on CBBC) truly inspires older children-particularly boys to learn and read more. This addition focuses upon life in Roman times including stories about Rassimus and the gladiators. Superbly illustrated by Martin Brownt the range of purely printed text, cartoon strip examples of Roman life and pictures supporting the text makes for great reading.
When my 9 year old son studied Romans at school his teacher used some of this material in class to enrich their learning. I have found both my boys are keen to read more and have benefitted from the factual information in this book and others like it. In my opinion, Ruthless Romans would be suitable for children aged 7 and over.
I would however raise a caution, as the series title suggests some of the information is indeed horrid and certainly not for the faint hearted!
The Horrible Histories range of books is designed to get kids interested in history by
well, by telling them all the horrible bits as well. The intro to this particular books, The Ruthless Romans, actually starts out by telling us how teachers always go on about how wonderful the Romans were, and conveniently ignoring the more atrocious side of the Romans. Actually from what I remember of history lessons, theres an element of truth in that. This book then focuses not on the what the Romans did for us philosophy, but on what made the Roman Empire so devastatingly powerful their ruthlessness and also the entertainment they enjoyed. So basically what we have here is a brief account of the rise of the Roman Empire, and a long account of the Games that the bloodthirsty Romans enjoyed. Like most cultural developments, at least part of the idea for the gladiatorial games was borrowed from an older culture (in the case the Etruscans), and the book goes into some detail about how this may have taken place. There is a little general information about the Romans in addition to specifically dealing with the Games.
Despite this being designed for kids, the average adult who isnt a history professor will find this book both entertaining and educational. For instance, do you know why the famous Coliseum is so named? It has nothing to do with its size in fact, its rather small for a Roman arena. Thought you knew a lot about the gladiators? Its very likely that a lot of what you thought you knew isnt actually true. There are a lot of accounts retold in this book from various people, including Caesars, gladiators, trainers, slaves, and Christians who were about to be thrown to the lions. The bloodthirstiness of the Romans seemed to know no bounds. Their methods of execution and cruelty were both savage and ingenious, and showed contempt for humans an animals alike. Not a bunch of people youd like to invite home for tea
The writing style is humorous and light-hearted, insofar as the material allows. Some of the scenes described are just too horrific (or the attitudes of the victims too noble) for jokes to be made of them, and there are a few appropriately more sombre parts in the book. (Most notably the author draws some undeniable but uncomfortable comparisons to our day.) Thats to say that some of the humour isnt what some people might call inappropriate given that its based on the Roman Games, most of the material is pretty awful if you actually think about it really having happened. Then again thats what the Horrible part of the books title is all about and kids are horrible, so they tend to like that sort of thing!
The text is accompanied by some cartoons (which are frequently very funny), and lots of techniques are employed to stop the book from becoming boring for kids, such as diary excerpts etc being presented on the page as if on a parchment. Its visually very easy on the eye but the style doesnt stop the points from getting across in fact, if anything it enhances the impact of what you read (even, perhaps for an adult reading). Sometimes the visuals actually make more of a statement than the text does, and some of the stories are told in cartoon-strip form. Martin Browns illustrations really suit this down to the ground.
I find the Roman Empire particularly interesting because at no point in history before or since has there been anything quite like it. I already knew a fair bit about the Romans but definitely learned some interesting facts from this book. On the other hand, there were one or two points that I found to be somewhat spurious, though to be fair the book itself admits the fallibility of history books and they not everything in them should be trusted!
One of the other reasons that I found this book interesting was that I could see how much real history was included in the film Gladiator, or at least historical events that provided the inspiration for some things in the movie. Many of the events and characters in the movie were inspired by things that really happened, though not surprisingly a certain amount of creative licence was used in the film!
Though its designed for kids, adults with a passing interest in history will enjoy this book, and though its a quick, light read, theres a lot of information packed into its 128 pages. Not necessarily a book to eat while having dinner though as it does get a little gory at times
Text as always was by Terry Dreary
Illustrations this time were by Martin Brown
My copy is not going to win any prizes for production values, though I do wonder if part of the reason for the cheapness of the set I bought was because it had lower-quality printing than usual. Its clear enough to read easily and see the detail however, so Im not complaining.
I havent yet read all of the ten Horrible Histories I got from The Book People for £10, but of those Ive read so far, this one is the most interesting, best written, and most visually appealing of them. Some history textbooks tend to be rather alienate the casual reader, giving the impression that you should already be a professor to understand them, but no-one would have any problem whatsoever picking up a Horrible History and reading though it. Plus, of course, they are great for kids being designed for them but they dont talk down to the kids and for a bit of light yet informative reading, adults can enjoy them as well.
(Next Horrible History to be reviewed: The Angry Aztecs look out for it soon on Dooyoo!)
If you want to buy The Ruthless Romans individually, it costs £2.99 on Amazon (new RRP £4.99), which is better value than getting it second hand on the Marketplace. Id still advise getting a set with at least 3 Horrible Histories books for better value though.
Ruthless Romans reveals the grim truth behind the greatest empire of all time - from the terrible twins who founded Rome to the evil emperors who made murder into a sport. Read on for the gory details about the cruel Colosseum and the people and animals who were massacred there.