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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the best.
Re-reading old favourites has become a bit of a habit with me lately - simply because there are few new authors with half the talent of Robert Graves.

As one reviewer points out, quite rightly, this isn't history, but the reader can't help but wish it to be true. The character of Claudius is so well drawn and accounts so well for the paradoxies evident in the...
Published on 19 April 2008 by Iphidaimos

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Captures the brutality and sophistication of the Roman Empire
A fine historical novel that gives an entertaining overview of life in the Roman Empire, written in the first person by Claudius, grandson of the emperor Augustus. The story captures the intrigues and plots, the sophistication and brutality of life in this ancient society, and brings Roman times vividly to life. Claudius is dismissed and overlooked by his family due to...
Published 7 months ago by BookWorm


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always Worth Reading, 23 Mar. 2014
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: I, Claudius (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Over two novels, this being the first, Robert Graves managed to give us the fictional autobiography of Claudius that is scholarly as well as at the same time being speculative, and a thumping good read. As with any leader at this time so far back in our history there is of course rumour, propaganda and hearsay thus although we know certain facts but not everything Graves definitely had room to play about with his characters and certain events. This did give him a certain freedom to some extent, but even so you can see that he was a man who had done his research and knew a lot about the era he wrote of.

In what was a very turbulent period in Roman history with regards to its leadership, Claudius was an ideal person to use, as he lived through some major events, and due to his infirmities managed to avoid assassination unlike a lot of his relatives. After all an Emperor doesn't want family and others around him who could usurp him with legitimate claims to the throne.

In this book Claudius takes us back to before he was born so that we get a feel for the age, and then after his birth he shows what was going on with all the political and family machinations. By using modern place names this makes it an easy read for those who aren't as well versed on the history of the period as others, and whether you are quite well informed on the era or not this makes for some great reading. Although there is a lot of plotting and killing here this is also full of comedy and is a joy to read. We are taken up to the assassination of Caligula and Claudius being announced Emperor, with what happened next coming in the second volume `Claudius the God'.

I would say that with this you don't necessarily have to be into historical novels or know much about the period as Graves creates such a rich and colourful world that it is easy to lose yourself in this. The great thing about this as well is how you see that the machinations, the spin and propaganda that went on centuries ago is still with us, as we all see what politicians do and say. So although this is about a period of history centuries apart from our own, it still feels very modern.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting reading from the first to the last page!, 12 Aug. 2013
This review is from: I, Claudius (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The book `I, Claudius' by Robert Graves is a paragon of historical fiction, which immerses the reader in the atmos-phere of ancient Rome with all its sins, cruelties and hedonistic debaucheries, veiled by the glory and glamour of the Eternal City. The book is written in the genre of autobiography with the future emperor Claudius as the narrator.

The novel constitutes the first part of a duology devoted to the life and deeds of Emperor Claudius (10 B.C. - 54 A.D.). The storyline starts with events preceding Claudius's birth (mostly intrigues in the imperial family) and lasts to the assassination of his insane nephew Caligula (41 A.D.), after whom Claudius assumed the throne.

Suffering from several illnesses since his very birth, Claudius had never been considered a serious contender by his relatives vying for the title of emperor, which allowed him to remain mostly an observer rather than to become a par-ticipant in endless intrigues and conspiracies, or to fall a victim of remorseless political purges. In this capacity Claudius unrolls before our eyes a gallery of his family members, who were of great prominence at his time, including his grandmother Livia - a cunning and villainous empress, who resorted to dagger and poison to deal with her enemies, his uncle Tiberius - a paranoid, vice-ridden emperor, who appeased the Moloch of his cruelty with innumerable terrifying executions, and his infamous nephew Caligula, who in his insanity proclaimed himself a god, granted his steed the senatorship, and is still remembered for the unprecedented atrocities he committed.

The `black list' of characters cannot be limited, however, to the three mentioned: they had plenty of partners-in-crime either from the aristocracy or common people: for instance, priestess Urgulania abetted Livia in all her crimes, praefectus praetorio (guard commander) Aelius Sejanus used Tiberius's paranoia to orchestrate several tides of political repressions, in which he removed his rivals.

Yet, not all the characters of the novel are hardened criminals or psychopaths: Claudius finds many words of praise for his grandfather Nero (not to be confused with emperor Nero, who allegedly burned down Rome in 64 A.D.), as well as his father and brother, both named Germanicus, who are all described as epitomes of immaculate morality and scrupulousness.
Those three are not the only ones to counterbalance the nefarious members of the imperial family and their numerous supporters - Claudius describes warmly the first Roman emperor Augustus - a man who had run the empire for more than forty years and was able to retain his charisma and strength of character in spite of all family problems, political tempests and military challenges he had to face, and historians and philosophers Claudius interacted with while a private person (including Titus Livius, Asinius Pollio, and especially Athenodorus - Claudius's mentor) - the most sagacious and learned people of his age.

The novel will doubtlessly attract not only historically inclined readers, but also the general public, since it reads very well and keeps the reader's attention until the very last page. Yet, a word of warning must be added: although the book does not contain any particularly graphic descriptions, it should be read with caution to children, given the violent nature of Claudius's age. In all other respects I have no reservations in recommending the novel to anyone either for entertainment or for instilling interest in ancient history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I, Claudius, Robert Graves - Historic fiction at its best, 2 Feb. 2011
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: I, Claudius (Paperback)
Why bother going to the trouble of inventing a decent plot and characters when history has already done it for you? The reigns of the Caesars in ancient Rome were full of memorable people and weird and wonderful occurrences driven by the power lust, greed and pure madness of the ruling family.

Telling the tale from an insider's perspective, this book tells the family history of Claudius, the stuttering `idiot' who managed to survive the rather bloody politics of the day long enough to become Emperor himself. Populated with memorable characters such as the mad Caligula, the paranoid Tiberius, the scheming Livia and the quick tempered Augustus, Claudius has a family history full of murder and intrigue. In order to survive he plays up his image of the amiable idiot, never quite important enough to be worth killing. But behind the mask was a quick and observant man, fascinated with establishing the truth for his history books.

Robert Graves provides Claudius with a compassionate personality, ill suited to his times. But this makes the narrating voice one with which we have much sympathy. The story is put forward in a clear and compelling fashion. Covering almost 200 years, and with a host of characters, it is epic in scale, yet centres around a very human story of just one man. Graves draws each character well, and provides them with distinctive mannerisms and voices, making each stand out clearly.

This first book details the Claudian family history and the events leading up to Claudius being proclaimed Emperor. An equally worthy sequel, `Claudius the God' tells the tale of his rule, his demise and some of the future of the Empire under the rule of Nero.

This is an absolute classic of English literature. Erudite, beautifully written, but also an enthralling adventure story that is highly accessible. Highly recommended to all.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, exciting..., 5 Feb. 2002
This review is from: I, Claudius (Paperback)
This historical book, in the style of an autobiography, is basically extremely interesting. The actions and events described seem incredible until you realise that Robert Graves did indeed base this book's content on a wide range of historical sources describing the actual events of the Roman Empire, with not one character being 'made up' by the author.
The style is engaging with the use of propheshy and the sense of climax making the book very exciting. It's hard to put down once you've dipped into the glorious but cruel world that's described by Graves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning from history, 29 Aug. 2011
This review is from: I, Claudius (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Although I was aware of the celebrated BBC adaptation, I had never seen it and only became interested in the book after the writer Michael Dobbs recently named it as one of his top ten political thrillers.

As the title suggests, it is an account of the Roman Empire as told in the first person by Claudius. Firstly, it is a great story. Claudius, whilst being physically frail is, in reality, a shrewd and quietly effective operator who eventually ascends to the top job in Rome. The book is of course entirely fictional but it is based largely on actual historical events and is laced with accurate day to day detail. Even if it isn't true, it might as well be. On top of all that, it is written in a fantastically accessible style.

And, as it turns out, Mr. Dobbs is absolutely correct. Robert Graves understands that the motives, methods and mistakes of those who seek power are universal human truths, regardless of what point in history or walk of life you care to look at. I'm pretty certain that we don't live in such criminally cruel world nowadays but you will delight in recognising these truths as the story unfolds.

You will also end up rooting for Claudius. He is sometimes forced to lie and betray to ensure his own survival but he is basically a decent man with noble intentions - and these are quite rare qualities in this wonderfully gripping story!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fear and loathing in Classical Rome., 30 May 2011
This review is from: I, Claudius (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I first read this in 1976-77,just after the first broadcast of the BBC production of "I Claudius".The TV series was fine,but as ususal,the book is so much better,
It spans the period from Octavian/Augustus taking over after the end of the Civil Wars after the death of Julius Ceasar to Caludius ascending to the purple.Graves paints a great picture of the Imperial family,their insane jealousies,lust for power,total lack of scruple and in some cases their sexual degeneracy.Plenty of material for any novelist to work from,and Graves does not disappoint.
He uses a variety of sources,Suetonius and Tacitus most obviously,but like any good novelist,he doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.What is incredible is that Graves thought of "I Claudius" as a "pot boiler" which he knocked out in a hurry as he was skint-it certainly does not read like that.
You won't be able to stop yourself buying "Claudius The God"-which takes the story of Claudiius' emperorship and death as it's theme-and if you can,try and hunt down a Penguin paperback that contains both novels in one volume.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Dynamite, 23 Nov. 1999
This review is from: I, Claudius (Paperback)
If you look for intrigue,murder and mystery in a book then look no further than I Claudius. This book can sometimes be a little hard going, however it is more than worth the effort. This novel brings Roman culture and it's people alive, laying bare their relationships, achievements, faults, aspirations and on occasion their madness. I would recommend this book to anyone, take the time and try something different. Claudius speaks loud and clear just as prophesy once decreed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction at its best - Superb!!,, 31 Dec. 2005
This review is from: I, Claudius (Paperback)
Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" is one of the most superb works of historical fiction I have ever read. It goes without saying, (but I will say it anyway), that the author is renowned as an extraordinary poet, novelist and essayist. Here he paints a most realistic portrait of Claudius (Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus), the weak and sickly boy who lived to reign over the Roman empire; Augustus Caesar and his wife and "co-ruler," the venomous Livia Augusta; and Emperors Tiberius and Caligula, as well as their family members, senators and others who peopled "the center of the world" in the 1st century AD. Graves used classical source material when writing this book - Livy, Plutarch, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus.
The novel is presented as an autobiography with Claudius narrating in the form of a "confidential" written history in which he reveals the "real scoop" of the years prior to his reign - not the expediential version of history usually documented by those afraid to be crucified...literally. Claudius was in an excellent position to write such a tell-all. He was born with numerous visible physical defects. He was lame, stammered, his head twitched, and he was partly deaf, so no one thought him capable of understanding their conversations, plotting and political intriguing and so spoke freely around him. In fact, many thought he was an idiot. However, he was quite intelligent and what these folks said and did makes for a fascinating, if somewhat diabolical read. In the Rome of Claudius' day, public speaking and the ability to behave with utmost dignity were crucial if one was to hold high office. Unable to meet this criteria, Claudius was left out of Augustus' and Livia's, (Claudius paternal grandmother) plans when preparing members of the imperial family for public positions. Thus he led a quiet life, devoting his time to writing histories instead of attending the Senate or commanding legions. His handicaps actually saved his life. While those around him warred over power and position, Claudius was virtually forgotten. Consequently, he was the only male member of the imperial family alive when Caligula was murdered, and was therefore the only royal candidate available to become emperor.
In order to give readers a more complete picture of the times, Graves does not begin this fictional autobiography with Claudius' birth in 9 BC, but goes back to cover the earlier reign of Augustus, and when necessary even further than that. Roman history is not at the top of my list of favorite topics, but I was really riveted to the page with this compelling account. The period covered is a tumultuous one, apart from the royal family's intriguing and inventive ways of eliminating one another. There were wars, uprisings and even rebellions at home. Christianity was on the rise as was persecution of Christians. Tiberius initiated a reign of terror with spies everywhere, numerous treason trials and executions. And Caligula was totally decadent and completely mad. It was also a time of cultural vitality, splendor and extreme excesses.
I highly recommend "I, Claudius" and its companion novel, "Claudius The God." They exemplify outstanding historical fiction.
JANA
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic book spoilt by numerous typo's, 8 July 2011
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It's good to have this excellent 'historical novel' in the Kindle format and especially as the publisher has reduced the price a little in recent months.

However, the publisher (Penguin) really has let the reader down. There is no active table of contents and the last third of the book contains quite a number of typo's: 1's instead of I's, misplaced symbols '-', '*' etc, and ocaasional words together without a space inbetween.

Overall these errors do not detract from the reading enjoyment but at the end of the day Penguin should have done a better job with the text and customer ease of access to individual chapters.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Et tu, Claudius?, 27 Dec. 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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'I, Claudius' is actually part one of a two-part set, the second volume of which is 'Claudius the God'. The story is set in Rome at the time of the institution of Augustus, the first emperor, up to the accession of Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian line of emperors (after this time, the imperial seat was more of a political prize to be fought for than a family bequest).
Robert Graves intriguing use of the vernacular language and the extensive research, following largely the histories of Suetonius (a gossipy historian) rather than Tacitus (the formal, more official historian), gives a rather racy and juicy insight into the flamboyant lifestyle of the early imperial family, as seen through the eyes primarily of its most unlikely heir, Claudius the stammerer. Claudius escaped much of the political intrigue and was seen as a harmless outsider due to his physical impediments, which helped mask his intellectual capabilities and cunning insight into the actions of others.
Grave's recreation is well-done, but a bit too sympathetic to his hero Claudius. Claudius was not the intellectual saintly character protrayed in theses novels--true, he wasn't nearly as bad as his predecessor Caligula or his successor Nero, but he had shortcomings that are often ignored for lacking the glamour of the evils of the two emperors who bookend his reign.
Graves' use of language is interesting to note. Instead of translating historical scenes into formal, high-academic English (as a classically-trained Oxbridge scholar might be inclined to do), he put things into what Alistair Cook called the everyday language of the English aristocracy, a social class accustomed to the easy exercise of world-domination power, politically and socially. This makes it an engaging work that avoids the pitfalls of academic histories.
Derek Jacobi's performance in the BBC production is stunning; what the novel leaves out in way of historical accuracy to detail (Claudius was married more times than would Graves' books attest, for instance) it more than makes up for by way of being an entertaining introduction to imperial Rome. Make sure to get both volumes!
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