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Shouldn't this man be more interesting than that?
on 3 April 2011
This is a very scholarly, in-depth book on one of the more controversial Emperors in Roman history. For millennia he has been seen as an insane and murderous monster who slept with his sister and tried to make his horse a consul. But was he really as bad as the sources tell us? Not according to Barrett, and anyone reading the book is sure to find his explanations convincing. This book is hardly a whitewash however. The picture that one forms is of an arrogant and highly suspicious young man with a nasty sense of humor who was determined to see how far his powers could go. Hardly a flattering portrait, but not the demented maniac so familiar in popular representations. Barrett points out many points when he made intelligent decisions which match the best of Emperors. As a look at his basic character the book is a success in showing what was almost certainly the personality of this rather pathetic man.
Now for the bad side. The book is written in a dense and confusing scholarly style which is extremely difficult to follow. This wouldn't be so bad in a scholarly book except that at the very beginning he explains that his purpose is to write it for a more general audience. In that he utterly fails. As a scholarly work it works, though clunky, but as a popular biography it fails to impress. The majority of the book is dedicated to examining the minutiae of what Caligula did throughout his reign. His personality is covered mostly in the opening and concluding chapters. Throughout the rest of the book he seems to be just ahead of you, you follow what he does but you never really get a feel for who he was. Nonetheless, the man's life was interesting. It's just a shame that this book wasn't placed in the hands of a better writer.