This abridged edition (691 pages) concentrates on the centuries from the height of the Roman empire at the beginning of the second century AD to the fall of the empire in the West. It is very dense even without the footnotes (which were left out of this edition). Most of the Roman conquests were achieved under the republic, and the emperors that followed Augustus and his successors maintained the earlier expansions.
Gibbon examines contributing factors to the fall of the empire, including foreign invasions, wars, overextension of the empire, the corruption of Rome, and the growth of Christianity. The last chapter contains selections from the second half of the original work, covering the Byzantine empire, the rise of Islam, and the fall of Constantinople.
Gibbon’s history is famous for its prose and character descriptions. The most enjoyable was probably the account of Commodus (kind of horrifying, but fun to read)! It is in chapter four.
“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.”
“The desire of perfection became the ruling passion of their soul; and it is well known that, while reason embraces a cold mediocrity, our passions hurry us with rapid violence over the spaces which lie between the most opposite extremes.” (Chapter 9)
[The destruction of Metz and other cities in the German invasion of Gaul:] “This scene of peace and plenty was suddenly changed into a desert; and the prospect of the smoking ruins could alone distinguish the solitude of nature from the desolation of man.” (Chapter 15)