Gift ideas -- choicest new books for the holidays; Guide to ancient Rome; Atlas of the Roman World, by Tim Cornell and John Matthews. New York: Facts on File Inc. 240 pp. $35.

If you've ever wanted a concise, extremely well-illustrated introduction to ancient Rome, or if you need a gift for someone studying Latin or classical literature, this is the book.

Presenting a condensed history of a complex society is a challenging task, and the text suffers a bit. But this relatively minor failing is more than made up for by the overall good writing and by the maps, charts, and special features that detail Roman life. Among them are articles on communications in the Empire, town life at Pompeii and sections on the various Roman conquests.

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