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The Twelve Caesars Hardcover – 1 May 2012
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Matthew Dennison is one of those rare marvels, a historical biographer whose work has reached the bestseller lists... For his latest work, Dennison has chosen a larger canvas. Taking as his starting-point The Twelve Cesars by Suetonius, he has built around that definitive text a humorous, intelligent, highly personal stroll through the careers of the first 12 men who ruled in post-republican Rome... Each story is told with humour and personal interpretations of the facts. Then there's the glory of language: Dennison is in love with the English language, and it shows. --The Independent
The author's prose style - epigrammatic, swift, and spiced with humour - is like Tacitus in translation. Which is meant as a compliment. His relish for his material shines infectiously through his sentences. --Thomas Hodgkinson, Spectator
Dennison's series of impressionistic pen portraits are compelling and imaginative. --Sunday Times
An unforgettable depiction of the Roman empire at the height of its power and an elegantly sensational retelling of the lives and times of the 'twelve Caesars'. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
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caesars are very comprehensively told with a short bio of each at the end also with a small story of how each one fits into the whole.
If you wish to find out about some of the fascinating characters of Ancient Rome then this is the book for you.
However, the structure of Dennison's book was incredibly difficult to follow and far from being a good introduction makes many assumptions of prior knowledge. Frequently Dennison will summarise the characteristics of an emperor and then say 'and we all know what this led to.' No. No, I don't. That's why I was reading what has been billed as a good introduction to the subject!
Dennison leaps backwards and forwards chronologically and offers interesting snippets of events that never go far enough. I realise covering twelve emperors is a big ask and he is limited in what can be included, but all this book has provided me with is an indication as to which of the twelve Caesars I would now like to find informative, lucid books on! I also found that he didn't always make contradictions in the sources clear enough. He would present something as a fact and then several pages later say the opposite! Why not just clearly mention that the sources disagree?
This book must be aimed at an extremely niche market. I certainly would not recommend it to anyone who wants a good introduction to the subject! On the other hand, anyone who already knows about the Caesars is unlikely to find this very informative - although you may at least stand a chance of following Dennison's ramblings!
Ultimately, something is very wrong when a booklover like myself finishes a book by resoundingly slamming the pages shut and shouting, 'finished!' so loudly that I scare my cats.
I has hoped that this book would allow me to learn much more about each of these first 12 emperors and their times, and it did...but it is such hard work. The author seems to assume the reader's preexisting knowledge, and although he says that his purpose in writing the book will be fulfilled if just one reader subsequently reads the account of 12 Caesars written by Suetonius around AD 117 (on which much of this book is based), it is hard to understand this book without having read Suetonius first.
The reason that this is so hard to follow easily is the frequent jumping back and forward in time within the account of each Caesar, and across the 12 accounts as well. The author certainly likes to use obscure words, and occasionally this doesn't make it any easier to understand.
The mixed feelings are because much of this book was enjoyable to read, although hard to follow, and that if you concentrate there is much to learn. Personally, I would have preferred a more 'birth to death' account of each of the Caesars, which looked at their actions and impacts more chronologically, than all the jumping around which takes place in this account.
The subject matter is fascinating, but the writing style didn't really work for me
The book takes as its starting point Suetonius account of the lives but develops its own themes and opinions based on other primary and secondary sources. It does seem to presume significant background knowledge of the lives but I found it entertaining and informative even with limited knowledge of many of the lives.
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