Penguin Classics Memoirs Of My Life Paperback – May 28 1984
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About the Author
Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794) was arguably the most influential historian since the time of Tacitus. His magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, first published in 1776, is a groundbreaking work whose influence endures to this day. Edited by Betty Radice
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In my review of Betty Radice's edition of Gibbon's Memoirs, I will begin with the negatives, which as you might guess from my five star rating, are minor and failed to distract from my enjoyment and education. However, take into account I am unacquainted with other editions or publishers, and chose this one solely based on what I read on Amazon. There may be better editions available; mainly I am reacting to Gibbon rather than this particular version.
Based upon fragments pieced together, his Memoirs have several instances where the same paragraph or sentence, mildly altered, is repeated a few pages forward. This is an annoying and unnecessary defect, but our editor shrinks from presuming to edit Gibbon, though I would say, in this case, courage might not have set the Master turning in his grave, and would spare readers needless confusion.
The very necessary (due to Gibbon's frequent obscure references) Notes which are not authored by Gibbon are unwisely located at the very end of the book, rather than at the bottom of the page where they occur. This necessitates flipping back and forth.
The Publisher, Penguin, used a small font which punishes the eyes, in order to spare the cost of an extra fifty pages or so. It is a sad commentary they held this important work in such apparent contempt, but probably it was not destined to sell many copies, with its lack of the requisite sex and violence.
With its depiction of a human being strangely specialized to be a pure intellect that, by deliberate choice, spends an entire lifetime working with thoughts and ideas, this book may fail to appeal to all readers, but anyone who loves, as I do, Gibbon's masterpiece, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," must be burning with curiosity about the author, which often happens when one finds a writer one really likes. Personally, I found the Memoirs fascinating and read every page with eagerness.
The author reveals his pecadillos: vanity, a disdain for physical exercise, intellectual elitism, and a disdain for representative government. But we also appreciate his virtues: courage, diligence, duty, intellectual honesty, loyalty, and not least of all, genius. If you paid over fifty dollars for the Decline and Fall, as I did, and really plan to read it over the course of a year or so, then why not lay out a few extra dollars for the Memoirs?
In this edition, Georges Bonnard provides a single coherent text free of the influence of the early alterations. By providing the full text of Gibbon's work with footnotes and appendices showing how he integrates the overlapping accounts, he allows readers both to read the story of Gibbon's life - his early years and education, his tours of Europe, and his time in Parliament - and see the changes the great historian made from draft to draft. Bonnard supplements all of this with endnotes providing the context of Gibbon's references and tying the text in with other relevant writings. Anyone who is interested in how this great historian wrote and lived will profit from Bonnard's labors, which have produced the definitive edition of a book as great in its own way as Gibbon's more famous work.