What We Are Reading Today: Ravenna; Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin

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Updated 29 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Ravenna; Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin

At the end of the fourth century, as the power of Rome faded and Constantinople became the seat of empire, a new capital city was rising in the West. Here, in Ravenna on the coast of Italy, Arian Goths and Catholic Romans competed to produce an unrivaled concentration of buildings and astonishing mosaics. For three centuries, the city attracted scholars, lawyers, craftsmen, and religious luminaries, becoming a true cultural and political capital. Bringing this extraordinary history marvelously to life, Judith Herrin rewrites the history of East and West in the Mediterranean world before the rise of Islam and shows how, thanks to Byzantine influence, Ravenna played a crucial role in the development of medieval Christendom.

Drawing on deep, original research, Herrin tells the personal stories of Ravenna while setting them in a sweeping synthesis of Mediterranean and Christian history. She narrates the lives of the Empress Galla Placidia and the Gothic king Theoderic and describes the achievements of an amazing cosmographer and a doctor who revived Greek medical knowledge in Italy, demolishing the idea that the West just descended into the medieval “Dark Ages.”

Beautifully illustrated and drawing on the latest archaeological findings, this monumental book provides a bold new interpretation of Ravenna’s lasting influence on the culture of Europe and the West.


What We Are Reading Today: The Best Writing on Mathematics by Mircea Pitici

Updated 25 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Best Writing on Mathematics by Mircea Pitici

This annual anthology brings together the year’s finest mathematics writing from around the world. Featuring promising new voices alongside some of the foremost names in the field, The Best Writing on Mathematics 2020 makes available to a wide audience many articles not easily found anywhere else—and you don’t need to be a mathematician to enjoy them. These writings offer surprising insights into the nature, meaning, and practice of mathematics today. They delve into the history, philosophy, teaching, and everyday aspects of math, and take readers behind the scenes of today’s hottest mathematical debates.

Here, Steven Strogatz reveals how calculus drives advances in virology, Paul Thagard argues that the power of mathematics stems from its combination of realistic and fictional qualities, and Erica Klarreich describes how Hao Huang used the combinatorics of cube nodes to solve a longstanding problem in computer science. In other essays, John Baez tells how he discovered the irresistible attractions of algebraic geometry.