Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice

February 29, 2004|By Michael Pakenham

X-Treme Latin: Unleash Your Inner Gladiator, by Henry Beard. Gotham. 112 pages. $17.50.

Henry Beard is a national treasure, if you like that sort of thing. For readers drawn to the Latinate, he has previously written Latin for All Occasions and Even More Latin for All Occasions, which between them have sold more than 200,000 copies. For a broader audience, Beard is the founder of National Lampoon magazine, and has produced more than 30 other books -- including the joyful Miss Piggy's Guide to Life, of which I am one of the more than 1 million purchasers. Precious few students, I am told, now study Latin, which was more or less obligatory when I was a boy. I don't remember regretting my bouts with Caesar and Cicero, though I probably did then. And I cannot be sure how Beard's entertainment will ride with readers unschooled in Latin. But there's fine stuff here. There's no possibility of picking a favorite, though I do love "Omnes auxiliatores nostri nunc emptores alios furiant" -- which means, of course, "All of our representatives are currently driving their customers crazy." Does the whole idea strike you as abysmally obscure? Heed: "Circumspice -- Lingua Latina se pandit ubique tanquam toga vilis." Huh? "Look around -- Latin is all over the place, like a cheap toga."

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