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Page: 1
by Adrian Goldsworthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sound analysis of a very interesting period of history, 27 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Caesar (Paperback)
For those who do not know much about Adrian Goldsworthy, he is a reputable Professor of Ancient History who earned his PHD from the University of Oxford. So this is certainly a book that is suitable for those interested in academic study if that it what you are looking for. However, it is also suitable for anyone who is interested by the period. I bought this book after reading 'Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire' because I wanted to look at an area of Roman History that was far more specific and covered in a more academically rigorous way and, naturally, the most famous Roman of them all seemed a good place to start.

The book charts the entire 56 years of the life of Caius Julius Caesar from his childhood, through his impressive rise to the pinnacle of Roman Politics and his famous us campaigns (including a civil war) to his assasination on the Ides of March 44BC as the sole and undiputed 'master' of the Roman world (but never emperor in title). Proffessor Goldsworthy is a very good historian whose knowledge and analysis of the sources, literary and archaeological, is very sound. At the same time he also has a talent for combining this with a thrilling narrative which makes great storytelling. Overall, this is a marvellous account which really accelerates from page 70 and keeps building until the assasination at the end of the book; it really does bring the fascinating subject matter to life.

Goldsworthy begins by giving the reader the appropriate background context of the late Roman Republic; it covers the period immediately before Caesar's birth in 100 BC/BCE in which the oligarchy of families which ran the Republic oligopolised the land in Italy and beyond by buying up vast swathes from poor farming families, most of whose menfolk had been slaughtered while fighting Rome's wars against Carthage. This sparked a situation which, long story short, led to a constitutional crisis and the murder of a nobleman. Goldsworthy writes that 'Already, before Caesar was born, the Republic had been confronted by a number of crises and it had not dealt with them well.' Goldsworthy then provides an intriguing insight into Roman society and the political culture of the elite (patricians) who governed Rome during Caesar's formative years - one which swung in a near schizophrenic manner from relative calm (but with the threat of rivalries amongst noble families always lurking beneath the surface) to violent civil war. It was in such a context that Caesar received his political education and in which the man that later came to dominate the Republic learned how to climb the 'greasy pole' of Roman politics. The account covers not only a narrative of such political events, but attempts (successfully in my view) also to provide a representation of how the political system worked insofar as the fragmentary primary sources enable such an endeavour. The private life of Caesar, his wives, his passions and, as far as possible, the development of his personal convictions are also chartered.

Then, of course, the campaigns in Gaul (modern day France) are covered with great mastery of detail and, as always, a very engaging narrative which provides a view not only of Caesar's exploits but the very nature of war and the craft of the general in the Ancient World. The Civil War, fought in Spain, Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Egypt and Africa across four years, in which Caesar wrested control of the Roman State are also covered with a skilful combination of narrative, an insight into the mind of the man and, of course, a wider insight into the nature of Roman politics and culture. The final section of the work covers Caesar's period of personal rule as the Emperor of Rome in all but name (he never took the title of King or Emperor for political reasons) until the 44 BC/BCE assassination that ended his life and once more threw the Roman world into turmoil.

Overall, it is an impressive study in terms of the difficulty of making use of the primary material available, which can often be scarce or of poor quality, and in terms of what Goldsworthy sets out to achieve - a suitably complex and rounded representation of a complicated human being living in an alien society and culture in extraordinary times. This is, as the product states, the life of a man, a general and a politician, but it is also a image of the society that produced him.

If you're not sure, buy it,

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire
by Simon Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For what it is - very good, 27 Oct. 2011
I bought this book about a while ago because I knew hardly anything about Roman History and eagerly wanted to know more about the facinating civilization whose influence is still so significant today. In giving an introductory overview into a vast period of history spanning over a millennium from the founding of Rome (the precise date is unknown but it could have been as early as 1000 BC/BCE) to the fall of the civilisation in 476 AD.

The book balances a very engaging narrative and sound historical knowledge with dynamic which makes it perfect for anyone who is interested in, or looking to start learning about, Roman history. It is also ideal for anyone looking for a fun and enjoyable book that also educates. Baker does leave out some interesting areas and is brief in his description of some figures such as Septimus Severus, Julian, Constantius III and Flavius Aetius. Furthermore, the book is a coverage of political history and so, if anyone is looking for economic or social history or an insight into the life of 'ordinary' Romans, this is not the book for you; for that you would be better off reading something by Mary Beard, Adrian Goldsworthy or a more rigorously academic piece, e.g. some brilliant pieces by e.g. Oxford University Press.
However Baker's book charts a vast peroid of history, covering the (in)famous men like Caesar, Augustus, Nero, Scipio, Trajan, Constantine and many more with excellent insight and storytelling.

Ultimately, this is a great read for those who are interested in finding out about the period or for students who wish to begin their study with the basic overarching political narrative, but it is not an extensively detailed study and it isn't supposed to be. For what it is - a general overview of a fascinating era of human history - it is perfect.

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