Top positive review
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Turbulent times indeed
on 24 August 2012
This is a great book; compressing a very complex year of betrayal, murder, ambition and Roman politics at its most tortuous into 300 or so pages must have taken a fair bit of work. The book triumphs also in that it is extremely readable; not a dry, scholarly tome, but a highly enjoyable read which races along at a fair pace through these eventful times. Even making sense of all the characters in these sorry tales is handled brilliantly.
Morgan begins in the Introduction with an explanation as to why he chose to write this book; he refers specifically to the three earlier English studies published in the last century, by Henderson, Greenhalgh and Wellesley - and then proceeds to explain why these, for reasons of their own, fall short of what he feels is a more definitive `truth' which needs to be told.
Also in the introduction is a retrospective of Tacitus as an historian, and some words on Suetonius. At the end of the book is a section on the main sources - Josephus, Plutarch, Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio, as well as `the common source' and the memoir by Vipstanus Messalla. These are all referred to in the narrative, and clearly the author has attempted throughout to rationalise and clarify these sources to sew together a `reasonable' interpretation of the events of which they are the primary sources.
I confess to finding it odd that a book of this nature offered very little in the way of citing of more current sources, or any explanatory notes. Clearly the complexity of the material would make for a very confusing and many-paged book if all the doubtful or interpretative matters in the story were dissected to their ultimate end, but I would have expected some acknowledgment of other authors' works, and even some discussion (perhaps relegated to Appendices) on some of the more contentious matters. Even some intriguing details were not expanded upon; why, for instance, is the sentence on page 76 concerning marriage of Vitellius' brother Lucius to Triaria, and their lack of children, concluded with "a nondevelopment for which those who knew Triaria should have been profoundly grateful". I wanted to know! But alas I had to search out other material to find out why that may have been the case.
This book really piques the interest of the reader, and, eager for more, I naturally would look to a Bibliography or a list of Further Suggested Reading to find out more about the people, the period, the times, and the whole series of events covered in this book, and before and after these events. But there were no such listings in this book; a shame in many ways, and the only thing that detracted, for me, from a totally fantastic overall experience.
A great read; a most informative and entertaining as well as enlightening read; and highly recommended for anyone wishing to learn more about the tumultuous times of Galba, Otho and Vitellius and the ultimate victory of Vespasian.