In Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (Houghton Mifflin, $24), Cullen Murphy quotes an eminent historian who summarized in just three words the social evolution of imperial Rome over the course of five centuries: “Fewer have more.”
Perhaps you have to have achieved a degree of decadence unmatched since the days of Caligula to fully appreciate Barbara Holland’s The Joy of Drinking (Bloomsbury, $14.95), a cheerful whirlwind history of every kind of alcoholic beverage. If you’re worried about the hangover, Ms. Holland provides the cure: “Hair of the Dog is made with a tablespoon each of honey and heavy cream and an ounce and a half of Scotch, stirred with ice, strained and downed. People eager for quick results may skip the honey and cream.”
Drunk or sober, empire or republic—we are apparently unchanged since 1926, when Tony Sarg drew the two dozen bird’s-eye illustrations in Up & Down New York (Universe, $19.95). The busy Manhattan vignettes are disconcertingly familiar, even when the subject has long since disappeared (like the aquarium at the Battery) or been radically transformed (his Columbus Circle is crisscrossed by streetcars). As you turn the pages of this delightful facsimile edition, native pride does a two-step with nostalgia.