Weighing in at 8.5 pounds, with more than 850 large pages of main text and about as many illustrations, Fikret Yegül and Diane Favro's Roman Architecture and Urbanism is not just a book; it is a monument. Like a grand Roman building, it seduces and it overpowers. But it is also something of an enigma. A big book, like a big monument, may well provoke the big questions that small books tend to evade: What does it do, what is it for, and why does it exist?

I begin with the first question. This is a survey of Roman architecture and urbanism in toto, broadly comprehensive but decidedly not exhaustive or encyclopedic. It takes a flexible approach to the presentation of its subject matter, sometimes geographical, sometimes topical, sometimes chronological, as circumstances dictate. Though written for an educated reader untrained in the subject matter, it is obviously not a college...

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