Lacking personal particulars, Boin paints a richly detailed portrait of the world in which Alaric maneuvered, defined by the thrashings of an empire in turmoil ... It is by now common wisdom among academics that the Germanic peoples whose incursions contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire were seeking to be part of it, not to destroy it. Boin conveys this scholarly insight to general readers in a cogent, readable text that vividly conveys the fear and confusion that surrounded the issue of immigrants’ rights in a period of declining Roman power. He draws the contemporary parallels with a freedom that teeters on the brink of overstatement, but his handling of the relocated Gothic boys’ deaths is characteristic of his bold yet scrupulous reading of ancient sources.
... a smart book for the general reader ... It is hardly Douglas Boin’s fault that the balance in his narrative between 'the man' and 'his times' is no balance at all. The scales tilt heavily toward Alaric’s times—a rich subject in its own right—and Boin renders the confusion of the era without replicating that confusion in his prose. Alaric can never emerge as a fully three-dimensional figure, but in Boin’s hands he is lifted convincingly from the realm of brutish caricature ... not a polemic. It never invokes modern times explicitly. But the linguistic anachronisms are inescapable. Intended perhaps to be slyly allusive, they come across as winks.
Without his thoughts having survived, the subtitle, An Outsider’s History, feels more aptly applied to sixth century, medieval, and eighteenth-century historians who used Alaric’s deeds to bolster their criticisms of Rome as well as the modern reader peering at a world so far apart but not so unlike our own, in which bigotry, inequity, and hedonism war with ideas of inclusion, freedom, and equal aspirations for all. Anyone who appreciates vividly detailed stories of the past or is morbidly curious about the dying days of a wealthy, self-important, diverse, autocratic global power should pick this up.