Sunday, September 6, 2009

Philip Matyszak

Philip Matyszak teaches ancient history in Cambridge. His books include Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual, Ancient Athens on Five Drachmas a Day, Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day, and The Classical Compendium: A Miscellany of Scandalous Gossip, Bawdy Jokes, Peculiar Facts, and Bad Behavior from the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Last week I interrupted his holiday and asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Usually I have several books on the go at once ... my current crop consists of:

The Breath of Hades by Gregg Loomis - I wanted something light and trashy for reading by the lake, and certainly got trashy. This horribly predictable 'thriller' is riddled with factual errors and bizarre right-wing views. There's a hilarious two-page anti-Canadian rant which is totally irrelevant to the plot, but which the writer evidently needed to get off his chest. It's a library book, but I might still do future readers a favour and drop it in the lake when I'm done.

The Man from Pomegranate Street by Caroline Lawrence - Yes, it's a kid's book, but a fun read for adults too. The adventures of Flavia Gemina and friends combine rock-solid research with a good plot and interesting characters. I count Caroline as a friend, and we often exchange extracts of ongoing projects for comment and review. At the moment Flavia is accused of treason and on the run from the authorities. I can't wait to see how it all ends up. It's my bedtime read, accompanied by Charlie Parker and Johnny Walker.

The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton - British science fiction at its best. This is one of a series of Hamilton's books set several centuries from now in a strange world of long-lived humans, digital personalities, and in this case a race with strange psychic powers who live at the heart of the galaxy. It's an epic read, and best approached by those who have read the earlier books in the series.

Vote for Caesar by Peter Jones - The sub-title is How the Ancient Greeks and Romans solved the Problems of Today. This idiosyncratic little book is by a dyed-in-the-wool classicist who has little patience with the self-inflicted problems of the 21st century. On taxation, water supplies and crime and punishment, Dr Jones has views which are forthright - verging on curmudgeonly - and invariably thought-provoking. For example, after a guilty verdict in ancient Athens, defence and prosecution presented alternative punishments, and the jury voted for the one they thought most appropriate.
Visit Philip Matyszak's website and blog.

See: The Page XCIX Test: Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day.

--Marshal Zeringue