Serious history buffs will appreciate the new perspective on the decline of the Roman Empire offered in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (Princeton, $35). While experts and armchair historians have spent years debating the human causes that contributed to the downfall of the great empire, Kyle Harper argues that it was brought to the brink of destruction by a larger, less manageable force: nature. He demonstrates that the Roman Empire was able to flourish due to an ideal climate, but when climate stability began to decay so did the fortunes of Rome. And while the Romans benefited from increased migration, travel, and trade, these factors also permitted the spread of a variety of deadly diseases. The author is clearly an expert in his field, and he makes a compelling case by drawing on modern developments in fields such as DNA sequencing, epidemiology, and climate science. As Harper lays out in his book, perhaps the Romans’ greatest mistake was holding on to the belief that they had “tamed the forces of wild nature.” These environmental factors, along with human error, helped to bring about the destruction of one of the greatest empire’s the world has ever seen.
Women Artists in Paris: 1850-1900 (Yale, $65) edited by Laurence Madeline, former curator at the Musée d’Orsay, is a must-own for art lovers, historians, and feminists alike. This stunning exhibition catalogue presents over eighty paintings by thirty-seven different artists. Paris in the late nineteenth century was considered the place for artists to train, and people came from around the world to develop their technique. This catalogue is a testament to the exceptional and varied work produced by the women who journeyed to Paris to pursue their artistic ambitions. These artists fought to achieve recognition at a time when artistic talent and creative genius were thought to be reserved for men, all the while also trying to adhere to the social norms that governed the lives of respectable women. They persevered in the face of rejection and condescension, and created masterful works of art in the process. The scholarly essays that open the book are fascinating and well worth the read, but the catalog of full-page color reproductions that follow are what readers will find irresistible. Here you will encounter works by household names like Mary Cassatt alongside those by artists still waiting to achieve the widespread public recognition they are due, such as Marie Bashkirtseff and Cecilia Beaux.