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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rome certainly wasn't built in a day!
Holland's narrative style means that even those with little, or no, previous knowledge of Roman history can soon find themselves totally engrossed, and enriched, by the story of the Republic's rise and fall.
It is not just the people and personalities that come to life in this book, but the nature of Rome itself. The reader is not just taken on a journey through the...
Published on 2 July 2004 by Mr. Gavin P. Brooks

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Rubicon was a let-down for me after the reading the praise it has received from Amazon reviewers and other critics. Holland's coverage of the topic is superficial, focussed on the "great men" of the period and never successfully penetrating the surface of the society or developing the characters. The analysis is weak and the same points are repeated throughout the book...
Published on 2 Jan 2006 by CFB London


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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rome certainly wasn't built in a day!, 2 July 2004
Holland's narrative style means that even those with little, or no, previous knowledge of Roman history can soon find themselves totally engrossed, and enriched, by the story of the Republic's rise and fall.
It is not just the people and personalities that come to life in this book, but the nature of Rome itself. The reader is not just taken on a journey through the personal aspirations of each player, but through the mindset and aspirations of Rome as a whole.
Holland is not afraid to include the small details, such as salacious gossip of the time, which helps to add to the colour and vibrancy and brings the ancient city back to life. While the violence can appear as a bloody reminder of how far civilisation may have moved on, the political machinations have a far more familiar ring to them.
The book is littered with reminders of how much today's society has taken from, and owes to, Roman times. However, this is not done in a preachy pointed manner, rather the evidence is there for the reader to pick up on, and judge for themselves.
The main historical figures of the time, Cicero, Caesar, Pompey, etc, are the main focus of each section. Rubicon allows us to see the interaction and the power play between each of them. As the story of the alliances, oppositions and betrayals unfolds, the urge to keep reading is immense.
The book refers back to previous events in chapters, which serves to reinforce the readers understanding of events. There are maps that help to explain where places are, and their relation to Rome at the time.
Obviously, covering such a vast amount of time, and such an array of people, means that the book can only really scratch the surface of the period it covers. However, you are left with a genuine feeling that you have a better understanding of the Republic, both of itself, and the people who played a part in its history.
The book ends tantalisingly partway through Rome's history, as the Republic falls, and the Emperor's dominance begins. A subject you hop Holland will follow up with.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 2 Jan 2006
Rubicon was a let-down for me after the reading the praise it has received from Amazon reviewers and other critics. Holland's coverage of the topic is superficial, focussed on the "great men" of the period and never successfully penetrating the surface of the society or developing the characters. The analysis is weak and the same points are repeated throughout the book. Even more problematic is the poor writing style. Throughout the book the writer seems to be able to go on for long paragraphs or even pages using an unnecessarily confusing writing style and saying very little. The result of all of the foregoing is that the events are hard to follow and there is little insight provided into the many factors contributing to the collapse of the Republic. If anything, narrative history should read like a story and be enjoyable. I found Rubicon boring and uninteresting. I recommend you look elsewhere for a good narrative history covering this period.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you don't own it, buy it or rent it from the library, 25 Mar 2007
If you are unfamiliar with this period of history, this is perhaps the most accessible one-volume account published to date.
Having honed his narrative skills on dark `gothic horror' thrillers Holland has brought the trails and travails of the late Roman Republic to a new generation of readers. From the Gracchi to Marius, from Sulla through Caesar to Augustus, with incisive insight into characters from Pompey to Cicero.
All these names will become familiar to the new reader, whilst the pacey narrative will draw anyone with prior knowledge of this period along.
Superb!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction for the general reader, 1 Jun 2007
By 
Tristan Martin (Hertfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Hardcover)
Tom Holland's retelling of the blood-soaked decline of the Roman Republic certainly deserves the accolades it has thus far been awarded.

This book is thoroughly recommended for the general reader, who, like me, has no special grounding in classical history. Holland animates the legendary figures of whom we have perhaps heard so much and conversely know so little about; Ceasar, Sulla, Cato, Pompey and Cicero, amongst others, parade about the ancient stage, engage in empire building, wage violent and spectacularly bloody war and conspire in labyrinthine power politics.

As the author himself warns us, it is all too easy to take a revisionist approach to this era and see our own world reflected back on this alien landscape: the imperial doctrine of pre-emptive 'self-defence' against 'rogue/barbarian' states, the contempt for an open political process displayed by certain ruling elites, the blatant empire building rationalised as being in the best interests of those conquered et cetera. This interpretation of ancient history is self-evident and consequently, Holland wisely does not over-egg that particular cake. Indeed, in the interwar period of the twentieth century, when studies of the Roman Republic were in vogue, it was a popular interpretation of the time to see in Rome's war machine, a parallel with the ominous maneuvering of Germany..

Perhaps the only downside to this fine work is that it falls into the camp of the 'great man' view of history; what it was like for the average Roman citizen of this mighty city-state, Tom Holland does not really enlighten us, though there are occassional references to squalid, densely packed slums, slongside a thriving slavery business. However, the book does not pretend to be a complete overview of life in Rome, from top to bottom but focuses on what the author argues are the key events and characters from that period of history.

Whilst this book is a serious read, crammed with detail, personalities and events, it is written more in the style of a work of dramatic historical fiction; to some who prefer a more 'pure' reading of the subject, this narrative history will be a debased and vulgar approach to a classical epoch, to others, myself included, who have no particular background in this discipline, such a style allows for a great volume of information to be more easily comprehended. If this book encourages a wider audience to be more curious about a fantastic era of European history, then Tom Holland will have admirably succeeded in his goal.
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73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I Dream, And Have Long Dreamed, Of Seeing Alexandria", 20 Oct 2003
By 
Bruce Loveitt (Ogdensburg, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Hardcover)
The above is a quote from Cicero. High praise indeed, for he mostly thought that any place which wasn't Rome was "squalid obscurity." But, as Tom Holland points out, most Romans thought of Alexandria as the one city that could compete with Rome as the centre of the world. Alexandria was the first city ever to have numbered addresses. It also had slot machines and automatic doors. Perhaps most importantly for the Romans it contained two other things: the tomb of Alexander The Great and the greatest library in the world. The library "boasted seven hundred thousand scrolls and had been built in pursuit of a sublime fantasy: that every book ever written might be gathered in one place." Mr. Holland's book is very good for several reasons. Firstly, it is well-written - both in terms of style (he has a background as a novelist) and also because it is written in the language of today rather than the language of 2,000 years ago. That statement may offend purists. If it does, I'm sorry, but I'm just being honest. For someone who is not a classical scholar, like myself, it makes the material much easier to read. The book is also good because Mr. Holland doesn't just describe historical events - he also gets into the Roman psyche and culture. Thus, we learn of the inherent conservatism of the Romans, which was always in conflict with ambition and ego. Men such as Sulla and Pompey, when implementing changes, always made an attempt to justify their actions by saying they were really trying to turn back the clock - that other people had disregarded precedent and they were only trying to restore tradition. We learn how important public service was to the Romans. You were frowned upon if you retired to the country and tried to live a life of idle pleasure. To do that was to shirk your responsibility to the community. Community was extremely important to the Romans. (Mr. Holland mentions that the Romans constructed "high-rise" buildings and, unlike today, the top floor was considered the worst place to live. That's where the poor people were put. The reason? The higher up you lived, the more "cut off" you were from the streets - and the community - below.) Another example of Roman conservatism was that there was a general suspicion of young people. Young people were too frivolous - too interested in clothes and food and sex. (This was why the Senate was made up of middle-aged men. Indeed, the word senate comes from "senex" - meaning "old man.") Proper Roman women were not supposed to show much interest in sex. Hence the saying, "a matron has no need of lascivious squirmings." (Leave that to the courtesans.) Regarding politics and "dishing the dirt," Mr. Holland shows us that things haven't changed so much in 2,000 years - we learn that Julius Caesar's enemies sniggered that he was "a man for every woman, and a woman for every man." Aspects of appearance and personality are brought to the forefront on almost every page: Marc Antony, despite his bravery in battle, was looked down upon by many people because of his reputation as a "party animal."; when Julius Caesar crossed the Rhine he thought it would be undignified to do so by boat. So he had a bridge built. After teaching the Germanic tribes to have some respect for Rome, he crossed back into Gaul and had the bridge torn down; if her image on ancient coins was anything to go by, far from looking like Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra was actually "scrawny and hook-nosed." (That didn't stop her from having a son by Julius Caesar and twins by Marc Antony.) This book is a very good study of many aspects of Roman society - political, cultural, military, psychological (the fascination with omens and deities)- with everything held together by interesting and charismatic personalities. I did get a little confused by trying to follow some of the political maneuvering engaged in by the various factions, but I attribute that to my lack of previous reading in this area rather than to any fault on Mr. Holland's part. I found "Rubicon" to be a very rewarding read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History made fun for non-historians, 15 May 2009
I've never really gotten into roman history, other then through documentaries and such. I've always been kind of threatened by history books as they usually assume you have a PhD in the subject or your striving for one. The Rubicon was an easy read and kept it simple, especially when it came to names. I know there's probably tons of other significant romans at the time maybe worth discussing, but would most likely end up confusing the general reader.

History buffs will be bored by this book, seeing as Tom Holland only skims over the top of this period, and mentions only some of the key events and people. There's no deep historical analysis of any kind to be found here, so don't expect to find anything "new" here, just the same "old" Caesar and Pompey.

Thanks to this book I've started to fall in love with the Roman Republic and have just started reading The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146BC (Cassell Military Paperbacks), soon I'll be one of those history nerds who'll criticize Rubicon for being "shallow and barely historical", but for now I'll conclude with it being a magnificent book, especially for us looking for a door into ancient Roman history.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introdution to Roman history, 21 April 2006
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My interest in Rome was recently awoken by a trip around the great city it's self and realisation that I new relatively little about such a huge period in human history. For those of us who attended school in the 1990s, and whose history classes mainly focused on Hitler or the feelings of the English peasantry under the Tudors, then this is a great introduction to the magnificence of the ancient republic. Starting with the founding of the city of Rome under Romulus to the death of the mighty Augustus Caesar, this is a great piece of narrative history.

Too many books taking on great historical periods limply drag from event to event. What Tom Holland has achieved is a history that engages the reader with its vivid descriptions of the streets of ancient Rome and the great men who helped shape them. Those who criticise this book attack its writing style or lack of depth in some areas. Holland does have a rich writing style, which I found fresh, given the dry texts of many history books. The book does move at a hectic speed and the importance of the minor figures can be hard to follow but persevere and this book will be very rewarding. Rome is a huge historical period, and the lack of depth in some areas, only gives the reader an opportunity for further reading having equipped them with the basic facts of the republic.

For those how know the story of Sulla, Caesar, Anthony, Cleopatra and Octavian then buy some thing else. If you went to a school where roman history had long ceased to be taught then buy this book. It sets out the key events and reasons for the collapse of the republic, and as Holland subtly alludes to, the lessons of the great republic have resonance today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rome and her characters brought to life...., 16 Dec 2004
By 
Lei-Lei Jayenne (Leytonstone, London) - See all my reviews
What a superb book! Having only known Tom Holland for his book Supping with Panthers, I really had no idea he was so knowledgable about this period in Ancient History. I am hugely impressed with this book and it's vivid depictions of Roman society. But more importantly, I love the way Holland has brought these great characters to life. We learn about their personality traits and private lives, though never once drifting into 'soap-opera' territory. For instance, the chapters on Sulla, I found to be both page-turningly fascinating and, in points, hilariously funny. As a student of this period in history, I can only lament that this book wasn't around when I studied for my exams, it would have made a clearer counterpoint to the speeches and biographies of Cicero and Plutarch's Roman Lives.
I too cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you haven't delved into this subject before, this would be as good a place as any to get your introduction. If you've read everything you can get your hands on regarding this subject, then you should still read this book anyway, believe me it's worth the time.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roman History for the non-Latin scholar, 30 Aug 2004
I bought this book without having ever heard anything about it purely because I love History books and was very surprised to see this one in the top ten bestseller list in a Dublin Book Shop. I took a chance, but was rewarded by a great read written in excellent style by Tom Holland.
As a schoolboy who in a boarding school where the study of Latin was compulsory for my class, I was fascinated by the Roman Republic and later Empire. In fact this was the only part of the subject of Latin that I liked! The good news for Latin haters is that there is very little latin used in this book.
Holland's description of the Roman Republic, its main characters, lesser characters, and the politics of the time is well done - though at times a little more detail would have been useful (some sections gloss over events and people very quickly). For me, two characters (Caeser and Cicero) dominated the book and could easily form the basis of separate books. Cicero in particular would fit in today's political world with ease. He is known as a great orater, but this ability is only briefly covered in his earlier speeches at court trials. As political schemer, he has been seldom matched over the centuries since. Caeser would just be another dictator, though not in the savage mould of Hitler, Stalin or Saddam. In fact he gets sympathetic treatment from Holland for his several episodes of clemency to his enemies.
Jealously and power struggles are what the last century BC was about. However, it still seems incredible that a republic with democratically elected Consuls existed over 2000 years ago. Holland attempts to paint a "true" picture of the times and does not attempt to hide the savagery, rivalries and corruption that ravaged the Republic in its last days. Most of the main characters in this book end up suffering violent deaths.
Many of the photographs of busts and statues add little to the book and could have been left out without harming it (and lowering the price too). I also found that the number of characters is huge and sometimes hard to follow (no fault of Holland) - for example many names are similar (Catiline, Catulus, Crassus, Caelius). The timeline at the end of the book is a useful guide to events as a lot happens during this period of history.
As I write this there is a 20% discount with Amazon - excellent value. If you are new to Roman history, then this is an excellent place to start learning more. If you are an existing student of Roman History, then I think that more consistent application of detail would have been an advantage.
Thoroughly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roman history comes alive!, 14 Mar 2004
By 
Diana Swann (Portsmouth, Hants United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Hardcover)
If you sweated over Caesar’s Gallic Wars or Cicero’s speeches at school put aside your prejudice and try Rubicon. You will meet living, breathing characters whose behaviour emphasises that nothing changes in the confrontation between humanity’s addiction to power and belief in democratic idealism. Their story is told in a vivid short-sentenced narrative, as elegant as the folds in a Roman toga and personalities and events are imaginatively and plausibly fleshed out from 2,000 year-old sources. My reaction was ‘Yes, it must have been like this’ whether in the great set-pieces like Caesar’s murder or lesser known events like Sulla’s brutal treatment of prisoners and Cato’s bleak and harrowing suicide. Wit and irony jostle with tragedy, whether in the description of Cleopatra’s chequered love-life, or Pompey’s propensity to blushing and his pop-star-like cultivation of his quiff of hair. Indeed after reading this book I felt like answering Shakespeare’s ‘Knew you not Pompey?’ with ‘Yes I did – I’ve just read Tom Holland’s book’.
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Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic
Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland (Hardcover - 21 Aug 2003)
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