One of a small number of historical texts that have become classics, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire demands and deserves the kind of attention readers habitually grant to the classics of fictional literature. In Lionel Gossman's thematic and rhetorical study of Gibbon's masterpiece, the foundation of authority is seen as the historian's chief concern. The central problem of the work - the foundation of political authority - also appears in another form, Gossman contends, as a central problem of the work - that of the authority of the historical text itself.
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