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Review: Amo, Amas, Amat, and All That …, Harry Mount

Mount has declared that Latin is fun and is using this book to show the rest of us the way. It’s a quick Latin primer, designed to take the casual reader or lapsed Latin learner through the paces of the language, up to the point of translating a small passage at the end. Interspersed with the tables are a lot of amusing stories about Latin and the appropriate hints of what you’ll begin to understand once you actually can read Latin. Mount decries the falling trends in Latin learning and explains, convincingly, why Latin is indeed a worthy language to learn.

In many ways, Mount is preaching to the crowd with this book and me. I have taken Latin, both at undergrad and graduate levels, but it has slipped out of my mind in the past two years. I don’t want to get too rusty, as I do want to do a PhD, so I have been trying to find ways to improve and refresh my Latin without actively sitting down and devoting hours to it. This was a fun way to do so and reminded me of all the Latin I used to know (thanks Professor Johnston!). Plus, I adore languages. I ascribe my general ability to understand grammar and my wide vocabulary (not usually evidenced around here) to the fact that I’ve studied five – even though I speak none but English fluently, they’ve taught me an insane amount about my own language and codified the intuition I’d picked up from reading everything in sight.

Latin in particular is surprisingly fun, and that’s one of the best parts of this book. Translating Latin into English is like doing a puzzle; you first have to find all the pieces and then put them together in a way that makes sense. I’m probably crazy for thinking that’s fun, but it truly is if you’re armed with the knowledge to do so. The not-so-great part of this book is that it’s too speedy. It’s easy to just skip the charts and move on to the next bit of English. It’s a nice refresher, but I couldn’t imagine actually learning any Latin from the book, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to translate the bit at the end.

Regardless, Mount reminded me of how much I love to study languages, and his goal to encourage others to learn them too is nothing short of inspiring. He laments ‘the good old days’ a bit too much, but his intentions are excellent. I immediately decided to learn French, too, and actually bought myself a beginner’s course. In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose – why not learn both languages I need to at once?

Anyway, Amo, Amas, Amat, and all that … is a fantastic choice for the lapsed Classicist and an interesting book for the rest of us, too, giving us a peek into the history of a civilisation and a language that has influenced a huge amount of what we do today. Highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my library.

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