Yet I had never really read a completely comprehensive history of the empire.
That is, until 2009 when I picked up How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy. It's not a definitive history of the empire, but it is quite the extensive history from around the time of Marcus Aurelius died in 180 AD until it finally fell in 476 AD (though the date of the ending is still debated, and depends on what you consider the Roman Empire to begin with, I think).
The book is a very detailed history of all the ups and downs in the empire, the sixty years in the 3rd century where 65 men were claimed as emperor, the rise of the military as a king-maker (or emperor-maker, I guess) and all of that.
If you like your Roman history, or just ancient history in general, you can't go wrong with this thick tome. It's extensively researched and it's also very readable. It's not super-dry like some history books out there.
I still find myself picking this book up and thumbing through it when I'm trying to figure out something. For example, I saw this really odd movie, The Last Legion that supposedly begins with the last Roman emperor being spirited away from Rome from exile, taken to England and eventually (MAJOR SPOILER becoming King Arthur MAJOR SPOILER DONE).
While I knew it was a fantasy, the beginning of the movie did seem based in fact. The name of the emperor was correct, for example. So I picked up Goldsworthy's book and re-read the last part to see what actually happened. Needless to say, liberties had been taken, though it was closer than some movies are.
Goldsworthy has a wonderful writing style that I really enjoyed.
The review's on Curled Up With a Good Book.
Here's a snippet for you:
"Goldsworthy begins with the most important question: just how did Rome fall? Was it barbarian invasions? Societal decay and corruption? Opinions are divided on this issue, but Goldsworthy seems to see it as a combination of these things. Ostensibly, the Empire fell in 476 A.D., when the last Roman emperor who ruled from Italy was deposed by a Germanic invader. However, some see the Empire as having already fallen even before this date, with pretenders to the throne ruling before this. The Roman emperors since Marcus Aurelius died in 180 were much weaker for the most part than those who had preceded him. Throughout a period of 60 years or so in the third century, there were 65 claimants to the Roman throne, some lasting only days. Some say this internal strife is essentially what eventually killed the Empire, with the barbarians just being the executioners, and Goldsworthy seems to agree with that viewpoint."I encourage you to check it out. It really is a great book!
Goldsworthy is also author of the excellent Antony & Cleopatra history.