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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book!
This is a very interesting and readable book, a well-considered rehabilitation of a man whose crimes were not, by the standards of his times, worse than any other politician's. In fact, he showed restraint, much more so than other more lauded Romans. There is a certain amount of repetition but this is helpful and, mostly, not too intrusive. Another reviewer has taken...
Published 4 months ago by Caecilius

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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing and unnecessary
This book simply did not work for me because it is both unconvincing and unnecessary. Presenting Sulla as a kind of "victim" was always going to be a bit of an uphill battle, although it is perfectly correct that his reputation has been much maligned, mostly after his death when he was no longer able to defend it (and to bring retribution against his detractors). However,...
Published 8 months ago by JPS


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book!, 25 July 2014
This review is from: Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered (Hardcover)
This is a very interesting and readable book, a well-considered rehabilitation of a man whose crimes were not, by the standards of his times, worse than any other politician's. In fact, he showed restraint, much more so than other more lauded Romans. There is a certain amount of repetition but this is helpful and, mostly, not too intrusive. Another reviewer has taken exception to the attempt to diagnose Sulla's illness, but I have no problem with the author's very plausible theory, which is obviously based on a sensible interpretation of the evidence. Altogether, a welcome addition to the literature on Sulla.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing and unnecessary, 16 Mar 2014
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JPS - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered (Hardcover)
This book simply did not work for me because it is both unconvincing and unnecessary. Presenting Sulla as a kind of "victim" was always going to be a bit of an uphill battle, although it is perfectly correct that his reputation has been much maligned, mostly after his death when he was no longer able to defend it (and to bring retribution against his detractors). However, presenting Sulla as some kind of idealist and trying to argue that he was in no way motivated by his own interest seems to me both unconvincing and a step too far.

Contrary to what the author tries to assert, Sulla was not a paragon of all noble virtues, and not exactly a victim. Essentially, as Arthur Keaveney's biography of Sulla shows much better, he "gave as good as he got", or even more, as part of the usual Roman ultra-competitive behaviours between the ambitious contenders for the top positions. He was indeed extremely loyal to his friends, and just as vindictive to his enemies.

So, by arguing too strenuously and trying to defend the position that Sulla always had the interests of the Republic at heart over his own, the author manages to be very unconvincing and the book becomes rather counter-productive. There are many issues with this book and the very improbable thesis defended by the author.

One is the author's personal research seems rather shallow, as shown by the very list of references and some of them in particular. The book quite frequently reads as a paraphrase of Arthur Keaveney's "Sulla, the last republican", first published in 1982, particularly when explaining how Sulla's hand was forced into marching his army on Rome and into getting rid of his enemies through the proscriptions. It is also rather strange to find Colleen McCullough's four novels - however good the novels happen to be - listed as references to what is supposed to be a history book.

Another is the author's anachronistic tendency to draw parallels between Sulla and his times and Richard III and the War of the Roses, which is her favourite topic. While there may be some superficial elements of comparisons - both had their names quite systematically blackened after their death for instance - this is not enough to make an apt comparison. Amusingly, a more apt comparison would have been between Sulla and Mark Antony, but the author sees fit to portray the latter as "foolish", among other derogatory terms, without necessarily realising that she is relaying much of the character assassination to which he was also subject, but this time by Octavian (the future self-styled "Augustus Caesar").

A third point is that this book contains numerous and quite deliberate repetitions. This is because the author tends to repeat the same points several times across the book, as if this could help to reinforce the rather hard to believe case she is trying to make. Instead, it makes the book lengthier than it should be, not very credible and not as entertaining as it could have been.

The author's main contention - that Sulla was always acting in the best interests of the Republic and never his own - is where the author is the hardest to believe. First, this would have made him a unique exception within the Roman Senate and for at least the last two hundred last years of the Republic and a very improbable paragon of all virtue. Second, the author entirely passes over the supposedly fabulous plunder that Sulla brought back from his "Asian campaigns" (which in fact essentially took place in Greece). In this, he was no different than other Roman generals. So while he certainly was penniless at the beginning of his career, he clearly was not after his campaigns after Mithridates. Third, whatever the noble intentions that the author lends to him, and in particular that he never materially benefited from the proscriptions and cut off Crassus and had his own steward executed when they did, the reasons for this may have just as much to do with the two men abusing his authority and giving him a bad name, as opposed to being ascribed to a highly principled attitude only.

In fact, analysing to what extent Sulla's actions happened to ALSO fit his personal interests, and not only the values he was portraying himself as defending, would have allowed for a much more meaningful and less biaised comparison with Caesar. In both cases, the principles that they portrayed themselves as championing always happened to coincide with their own interests. Interestingly also, the author seems to be quite adept at applying "double standards". In contrast to Sulla fighting for a noble cause and wanting to re-establish the dominance of the Senate, Caesar is presented as pretending to act for the good of the people while in reality seeking to promote his own interests. The bias between the treatments reserved to the first man to march his army on Rome and his later imitator is so obvious that it largely discredits the author's excessive claims.

Finally, there are a couple of other points where a less biased comparison between Sulla and Caesar would have also been more valuable.

Lynda Telford praises Sulla for relinquishing power and claims that this is something that Caesar was both unable and unwilling to do. Here again, however, she is not comparing like with like since the former was ill, would die shortly afterwards and therefore had little to lose. Caesar was not ill. He had unfinished business (Parthia) that he wanted to attend to and maybe even needed to attend to if he was to cement his rule, present himself as the "saviour" of Rome and allow for the memories of the latest Civil War to fade away.

The other point is about the author claiming that, as part of Sulla's "idealism", he wanted to restore the traditional Republican regime by strengthening the Senate and emasculating the Tribunate of the Plebs. This he did, but his work was essentially reactionary and perhaps even delusional, if only because both the Senate and the Tribunes of the Plebs were increasingly dominated by a handful of men whose personal ambition was the main driver, however they chose to portray it, while the rest of the Senators were essentially driven by the preservation of their status, privileges and wealth. In fact Sulla's reforms started to be dismantled even before his death, as soon as he no longer had the power to enforce them.

I could have continued on, and on, and on, because there are a lot more questionable statements and features in this book. The ones I mentioned above, however, should (I hope) be more than sufficient to explain why I found this book both unconvincing and unnecessary. This is why it is only worth two stars for me. Also, it is quite unnecessary since Arthur Keaveney's book on Sulla, first published in 1982, has already made all the main points that are taken up in this book once again, and made them in a much more convincing and balanced way.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lively and well researched biography., 18 July 2014
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Mrs. P. Pogmore "yorkistrose44" (Sheffield England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered (Hardcover)
I read this book by Lynda Telford with great enjoyment. I certainly cannot agree with the review by JPS. This book is informative and well researched by an author who knows her subject. This account of Sulla's life moves with pace and clarity, something not often found in biographies and is definitely not boring. Like so many vilified historical figures it was high time someone wrote something positive about a sadly maligned character and Lynda Telford has succeeded in her task admirably. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Roman history.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very much enjoyed reading this book, 17 July 2014
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This review is from: Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered (Hardcover)
Very much enjoyed reading this book, easy to read and as it is the first book I have read about Sulla found it very informative.
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Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered
Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered by Lynda Telford (Hardcover - 17 Jan 2014)
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