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51 of 54 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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3 of 3 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its best!, 1 April 2012
This is history at its best - it delivers a lot of detail, but keeps you gripped like a novel. For this reason I would recommend 'Rubicon' over Robin Lane Fox's 'The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome'.
I would also recommend 'Rubicon' over Holland's subsequent `Persian Fire', since the better sources allow him to really get into the detail of Rome, and because of the added enjoyment of re-discovering stories which are sometimes vaguely familiar from school.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rattling Good Read, 31 May 2011
I've been a fan of Roman history for some time and have built up a reasonable collection of works on the subject. When I bought 'Rubicon' I expected a good history - what I got was one of the best books ever written on the subject in my humble opinion. In parts this reads more like a thriller than a history book. The level of detail shows a historian at the very top of his game. I enjoyed this book so much I immediately began re-reading it for the details I may have missed or simply read past too fast. I can unhesitatingly recommend this book - if you have any interest at all in the Roman world you will find this impossible to put down. Wonderful work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, accessible recounting of the rise and fall of the Roman Republic, 8 Jun 2009
While I'm a fantasy kid at heart, I'm a historian by formal training and I've always had a deeply-ingrained love of history. For a long time I was something of a medievalist, with the Wars of the Roses a particular fascination, but gradually it's the ancient world that has become my main interest. The Romans have always fascinated me so I thought I'd better remedy the huge gap in my knowledge of them and their world.

Rubicon of course isn't suited to anyone wanting to learn about the entire Roman story, as it focuses solely on the Roman republic (509 - 49 BC), not the later Roman empire. Over the course of his book, Holland reveals how the Roman republic grew from being a regional superpower into the greatest power in the Mediterranean - and a it's a truly fascinating story.

It's certainly not a simple task to tell the tale of the Roman republic, but what Holland manages to do so well is to take an ungainly cast list and imbue each figure with real personality and resonance. With such an extensive number of participants, it would be all to easy to write a history of the republic where the names are just words and little more. Holland however manages to flesh out these great public figures - Pompey, Caesar, Cato, Cicero, etc - and restore them to life within the pages of his book.

Furthermore, Holland writes with a real wit and verve, spinning an absorbing tale that never lets up in pace or gets bogged down in detail. Sometimes you do feel that he's barely scratching the surface of certain issues (for example, the uprising of Spartacus is dealt with in just three or so pages) but given that he's covering a period of some 450-odd years, this is entirely understandable. What he does manage to do extremely effectively is paint a vivid picture of life for the Patrician classes in the Roman republic, and explain exactly how the politics of Rome worked. Rubicon is a political study first and foremost, because it was the politics (for politics, read backstabbing, open violence and even murder) that occurred in the Senate, rather than heroics on the battlefield, that really defined the republic.

The sheer intensity of Roman politics was what really enthralled me - reading Holland's accounts of all the political heavyweights squaring up to each other was simply fascinating. Modern politics might be seen as something of a cutthroat business, but it's nothing compared to the politics of ancient Rome. We're talking of an environment where alliances changed on an almost daily basis, where corruption was rife (almost anyone could be bought off) and where some members of the senate - quite literally - got away with murder. Political success and prestige was what every high-ranking Roman most desired and the force that drove them on. Failure simply wasn't an option. It was this collective desire for glory - and the fear of defeat - that enabled the Roman republic to become so great...yet also caused its downfall, as the old traditions got trampled beneath the power wielded by certain individuals.

Of course, ancient history wouldn't be ancient history without some nasty deaths, and there's a fair few in Rubicon. The young woman that killed herself by swallowing hot coals from a brazier deserves a special mention, but my favourite by some distance is the fate afforded by one Roman official (I can't remember his name). Said Roman official decided to instigate an invasion of Pontus - a kingdom in modern-day northern Turkey - simply to swell the coffers of the republic (and his own). When the invasion backfired, the official was captured by Mithridates, the King of Pontus, and had molten gold poured down his throat - so he literally choked on the very gold he had wanted to seize. Very droll, those crafty men of Pontus. You can also draw a parallel here with the fate of one of George R. R. Martin's characters...

The only real complaint I had with Rubicon was the lack of an appendix - it would have been extremely useful to have a list of all the figures to remind the reader who they are, as it's difficult to remember who is who at times, as the Romans seem to have had a real penchant for naming their sons - and daughters - names beginning with 'C.' Subsequently there were times when I found myself unable to remember who certain people were, but this is a reasonably minor complaint.

All things considered, Rubicon is an absorbing, accessible recounting of the rise and fall of the Roman republic, and offers an excellent oversight of the politics of the era, and the personal fortunes of all the major players of the Roman world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 22 Sep 2008
This review is from: Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Hardcover)
Today we tend to think of 'The Roman Empire' with little thought to its two distinct stages. A republic and the transition to empire. This book is a lively read about the events leading up to Caesar being declared dictator, paving the way for his adopted son Augustus to sweep to power as the first emperor.

As is Holland's style he makes sure he gives us all the background we need to fully understand the main events. Although Augustus was skimmed over at the end. I understand however the book has to end somewhere.

This is basically as good as History gets. So readable, so engaging.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written and Highly Readable, 2 Sep 2008
By 
D. Evans - See all my reviews
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I first read Rubicon at least a few years back, and some of its facts and anecdotes are still fresh and vivid in my mind today, which is what most history books attempt (and fail) to do. When I first brought it I was looking forward to getting into it, considering the high amounts of praise showered upon Holland's prose and my own love of Roman history.

At first I was slightly disappointed, as the book didn't live up to my expectations. I basically thought that the book was supposed to be a narrative history of Julius Caesar's age, and I was a bit put off with all the initial historical background to the Roman Republic.
But as I continued to read it, Holland's wonderful writing drew me in, and I realised I couldn't put it down.

Holland takes the reader on a journey through the history of the Republic, and does an excellent job of explaining the Republic's background in government and society.
With the Background set, Holland then takes us on a tour of the last few decades of the Republic, from the days of Marius and Sulla, to the age of Antony and Cleopatra.
Holland's great strength is his ability to makes these historical figures come to life. He describes their appearance and personality, and in so doing he creates a vivid portrait of the person. His description of Julius Caesar, grand military strategist and shrewd politician, as a bald-headed dandy, who loved to wear loose belts and was very self concscious about his appearance, will no doubt surprise those who have come to base their opinions of him from old films and television shows.
He's also very adept at describing the enviroment, and he can therefore explain the reasons for the Republic's fall, as well as narrating the events and characters of the age.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who's interested in Roman history. It might not be a great piece of historical scholarship, and it doesn't really present any groundbreaking new assessments of Roman History in the vein of Ronald Syme's 'The Roman Revolution'. That aside, what the book does do well is create a lively and fascinating trip through the last years of the Republic. Ancient History buffs will enjoy this, while newcomers and those who have no knowledge of the period will no doubt find it a good read. Highly Recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The age of heroes, 30 May 2008
I read this hoping for a bit more political analysis, despite the sales pitch that it is an unashamed return to narrative history. I really wanted to know, a bit simplistically, why did Rome rise and then fall? What you get is better: the sheer awe-inspiring drama of the heroic characters of the republic. Pompey, Caesar and Octavian the high achievers; Cicero the trimmer and the orator, and finally brave in death; the uncompromising Cato, unkillable soul of the republican ideal. In the end the bitter personal rivalries became so caught up in the enticing rewards of empire that they could not be contained. Ambition found its outlet in violence and legitimacy perished. Forget the management and leadership gurus, or even the diaries of Alastair Campbell. Better lessons about leadership and political rivalry are in these pages. You will also learn much about how the Romans thought and how all this amazing stuff looked and felt to them. Surely volume two and the empire will follow?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 20 Jan 2008
Buy this book if you want to learn how all those great Romans you have have seen in films and TV series and heard about at school lived, died and influenced their world. Buy it if you want to be royally entertained. But buy it also if you want to understand the world of ancient Rome and the mind set of the people that made it supreme and enabled them to dominate the known world for centuries. This is a great book , but then it does tell a great story that will sometimes, literally, make your jaw drop. 2000 years is a long time, but reading this, somehow, it seems like yesterday.

Trust me, you won't be able to turn the pages quickly enough, and you'll find yourself thinking about Sulla, Cicero, Pompey, Crassus, Ceaser, the gladiators, the slaves and the unbelieveably savage bloody battles that the legions fought across thousands of miles of Europe and Asia. Holland brings it all alive and you'll love it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable ramble through Roman History up to Augustus' principate, 25 Oct 2007
By 
Geoffrey H. Moses (UK) - See all my reviews
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Narrative History usually gives a one dimensional view of events and eschews argument or controversy in the interests of clarity and readability. This volume following the history of the Roman Republic from the Gracci brothers to the elevation of Octavian (Augustus) as the first emperor is no exception. As an example of popular history it is superb, it achieves what it sets out to do ,which is to give a clear and above all extremely entertaining account of that period. It also achieves a nice balance of detail and narrative clarity. It covers quite an expanse of time and returns frequently to an exposition of the values and ideals of the Republic' putting the sucession of momentus events into that context.Highly recommended as an introduction to the period. For a more traditionally scholarly but possibly less detailed account of the period see Scullard's "From the Gracchi to Nero".
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Republic is dead long live the Empire, 8 Aug 2007
By 
A. J. Rabet "Rabs" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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In my view Tom Holland is one of those writers such as Anthony Beevor, Max Hastings et al who have made history enjoyable in the past few years by writing in a fluent narrative style almost akin to a novel. This has made history come to life as the books are no longer dry but full of life and zest. By doing this we also are more able to see the reasons why the parties acted in the ways they did for ourselves without been told why by someone else and we no longer sympathise with one person or another but we see there are shades of grey to each person's cause.

This is certainly true in this book as we can see that to a certain extent everyone involved in the collapse of the republic was power hungry and the only differences were whether they wanted power within the restraints of the republic (Cicero Cato et al) or whether they wanted to become an absolute ruler (Julius Caesar Octavian Mark Anthony et al).

A fascinating history especially when one sees how bloodthirsty the proto democracy of Rome was - all too often arguments ended with the brutal murder of one of the protagonists. So much for reasoned debate!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Favourite book of 2004, 14 Mar 2005
Had this book been on the history curriculum when I was at school, I would certainly have more enjoyed a subject that I otherwise found extremely boring. My memories of history lessons include the eating and dressing habits of Henry VIII and various other trivialities. I am sure Rome was touched upon at some point, but most of my ideas of the Roman empire/republic were founded on it's portrayal in the Asterix comics that I had read some years previously (sad). So in the end I stopped taking History lessons at 14 years old in order to devote time to something more useful, and ultimately more rewarding. Almost a decade later I have begun to discover the huge wealth of excellent publications available on history and am enjoying a personal renaissance despite being out of 'education' for 7 or so years. If books like Tom Holland's 'Rubicon' were used in secondary education I am sure more people would enjoy the subject. I am convinced that I would have.
Taking the fashionable form of 'Narrative history' this is pacey overview of the period that Rome enjoyed as a republic, from the last of the Kings, to the rise of the emperors. Not surprisingly this book focuses mostly on the last century BC where the names; Julius Caesar, Sulla, Cicero, Crassus, Spartacus, Cato etc... dwell. Tom Holland makes an excellent effort in bringing these characters to life and telling a complex story in a simple style.
Although I had a decent knowledge of the timelines, some idea of the overall story, and a fair understanding of the major players during this period beforehand I certainly did not feel that my time was being wasted here. Although condensing a period that could fill multiple tomes into one 400 page book, Holland has managed to provide an excellent overall picture without getting bogged down in minutiae or skipping over vast areas. Of course reading this book is not going to make anyone an expert on Rome and those who have read various publications on the subject already will have little to gain here, but as a introduction into the brutal, complex, and above all fascinating world of Rome this is a wonderful starting point.
From a material view point the maps are adequate and it could be argued that the three colour photo sections could be done away with to cut costs, but at little over 5 there seems little need to reduce the price of this book any further.
The biggest point in favour of 'Rubicon' is how easy it is to read, being almost like a novel in style. The downside is that there is not a book of this type for every period of history. If there was then I imagine a lot more of us would become history buffs. In fact a copy should probably be sent to many world leaders because there were lessons learnt in Rome 2 millennia ago that appear to have been forgotten now.
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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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