Last year I essentially superglued myself to the idea that I was going to read as much about early American history as I could. It started early last year when I saw historian Joseph Ellis talking about his book, "His Excellency", which was a biography on George Washington. The talk was compelling (thanks C-Span!) enough for me to spirit away the book out of my father's library (I don't think he missed it; it was returned in due time) and dig in. Ellis mentioned that despite the fact that though Washington is the most well-known of the Founding Fathers, he is also one that people know the least about, save the apocryphal stories about chopping down the cherry tree and that he had wooden teeth. (He didn't; he wore dentures made of others human teeth...a story in and of itself.) After reading his book, I found out that I, too, knew very little about Washington the man. Thus started a cycle of non-stop reading about our Founding Fathers: John Adams by David McCullough, 1776 by David McCullough, Alexander Hamilton, American by Richard Brookhiser, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, and to finish off, The History of the American People by Paul Johnson. In between I managed to squeeze in Neil Peart's Traveling Music just to take a break in the American history theme, as well as How To Think Like Da Vinci(which was interesting)...and Keith Emerson's autobiographical Pictures of an Exhibitionist. A good year for reading!
This year it is all about Rome. I started off the year with Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, seguing into Suetonius' Twelve Caesars. And how did I wind up reading about this Roman stuff? Believe it or not, HBO's series of the same name. What has struck me about the death of the Roman republic is how terribly its demise set back the progress of republican democracy for a thousand years. Granted, Rome was more of a plutocracy than democracy, but it still had democratic leanings, coming as it did after the rise of the Athenian democratic model. But with Julius Caesar's single act of crossing over the Rubicon and entering Rome under arms (a predecessor, Sulla, had done the same thing, but he in the end relinquished all power and retired), he destroyed republicanism as a means of government for close to fifteen hundred years, leading to a Roman imperium, then with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, feudalism and monarchies that dovetailed into the whole "divine right of kings" concept fostered by the Roman Catholic Church. Not until the Age of Enlightenment did European thinkers take up the cause of democratic republicanism, and not until the founding of the United States as a republican entity did the concept once again take hold.
One thing about history. You never know where it will find its relevance to today's world.