Natalie Haynes - The Ancient Guide to Modern Life (3 stars)

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Natalie Haynes - The Ancient Guide to Modern Life

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With a rich broth of war, patricide and incest tales to draw upon, comedian Natalie Haynes champions the Greeks and Romans as role models and warning oracles for coping with the 21st century. A passionate authority on the classics, this book is nevertheless an intellectual exercise in drawing parallels rather than a practical basis for self-help. Indeed, it might more accurately have been titled A Modern Guide to Ancient Life, because as a readable primer, it brings alive emperors and orators without offering too much insight into their artistic, political, and hoi polloi counterparts of today.

Comparing Cicero’s use of litotes to those of The Fast Show’s Patrick Nice raises a smile. And Haynes generally employs an admirably light, understated humour. Frequently, though, she gets bogged down in negotiating cultural relativism and her worthier moments sometimes border on patronising for all but the most ignorant pleb.

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