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A detailed look at the people & actions of Rome - good, bad, & terrible. An insight into the mind set of Rome, it's behaviour & culture.

Although a detailed, & clearly well researched book, it remains eminently readable & enjoyable without descending into the dust & dryness of so many academic texts.
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It is rare that you come across a history book which is suitable for both readers who know a fair amount about the subject and also for those who know virtually nothing, but this is one of those very unusual books. To be fair, most people know something about the Roman Empire, but this book fleshes out historical characters that may be just ‘names’ and puts them in context.

The book begins with Julius Caesar about to take the supreme gamble of ‘Crossing the Rubicon,’ and then backtracks to show the reader why that was such an immense step to take. There is much about the establishment of the Republic, as far back as 509 BC, before explaining the importance of the Republic to Romans. As Cicero once stated, “The fruit of too much liberty is slavery,” and so, as the book unfolds, we hear of how the almost religious sense of community felt by Roman citizens and of politics and power in the history of Rome.

This book is full of famous names and events. Civil wars, assassinations, ancient patrician families, prestige and politics abound. As the book progresses we read of Sulla, Marius, Pompey and Crassus. Much of the bulk of the book tells the story of Julius Caesar – the young man of nineteen who was forced to flee Rome and who then stood on the threshold of history on the Rubicon. Cleopatra, Antony and Octavian all exist here, in a readable and understandable form. In fact, the author cleverly uses modern titles and sub-titles to help us understand the context of events – so you read, “The Winner Takes it All,” “Luck Be a Lady,” or “Blitzkrieg,” and know exactly where the author is expertly leading us..

“Rubicon,” covers a vast time period and a huge cast of characters. We travel from the establishment of the Republic in 509 BC to the death of Augustus in 14 AD and, as such, sometimes there is a lack of depth. However, as an introductory read, it would be hard to beat this. When Octavian faced Antony and won, it was clear how the Citizens of Rome were grateful for peace and a restored Republic. Understanding the Roman people – and the importance of re-branding – Octavian became Augustus and held power for forty years. I look forward to “Dynasty,” Tom Holland’s sequel to “Rubicon,” and his history of Rome’s first imperial dynasty. If it is anything near as readable, and enjoyable, as this, then it will be a great read.
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on 14 December 2016
The title refers to the decisive moment in Roman history when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and the fate of the Roman Republic was sealed. The phrase crossing the Rubicon is now part of our everyday language meaning passing a point of no return. That is an apt analogy for this book because it is hard to put down!

As well as being a classically trained scholar, Tom Holland is also an accomplished novelist and this explains why this book is so compelling. He weaves a narrative that reflects his award winning history writing ability with that of a storyteller. He combines the research skills and erudition of a specialist with the dramatic prose of a fine writer to create a dramatic and compelling narrative. In this regard he is perhaps more akin to Antony Beevor than Mary Beard.

I would recommend this book as an entry point for everyone. If you wish to probe further, Holland's extensive bibliography will help you find what you need. It is detailed and useful. He is adept at bringing characters to life which have been studied and wrote about for over 2000 years whether by Herodotus or Shakespeare, or in big screen epics or TV series. These people matter to us and this books brings a fresh lease of life to them. If you enjoy the USA TV show House of Cards then this book is for you as there are numerous similarities - only the names seem to change as plots and conspiracies abound, loyalties change at a moment's notice while the quest for power plays out.

There are plenty of colour and black and white illustrations and the maps are clear if lacking a little detail. Holland keeps us interested from start to finish and is the type of author you then want to read everything else they've written.

A great read and would make a good gift.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 January 2016
My understanding of ancient Rome came from watching and reading I Claudius, one a very an entertaining account of some of the more lurid aspects of the era and the other a far more sober, yet still fascinating, account of those events. But of course I Claudius gave us no account of what had happened up to when Augustus came to power. Reading this excellent book has filed in that gap for me.

The book starts with the usurping of Tarquin the Great, the last of the Roman kings, by a man called Brutus (It had to be didn't it). It then goes on to tell how the Roman people were determined not to allow a single person to rule over them again and set up a system of government, the Republic, to ensure their leaders were elected at regular intervals. After that Holland tells the stories of the men who tried to become the rulers over Rome and the three terrible civil wars that followed. He describes the lives of many of the great characters of this period of history, men such as Sulla, Pompey, Caesar and Crassus, who no matter how much power they had always seemed to crave more, Cicero and Cato who desperately wanted to protect the republic and of course Cleopatra. In amongst all this there are descriptions of huge, brutal battles, terrible murders, executions and the organised destruction of political opponents. Whilst reading this book it was interesting to see how despite 2000 years of history some things just never change as you read about men who have enormous wealth and power crave yet more wealth and power and how the business men of Rome convinced the Senate to wage war in the east to increase their own business opportunities.

I had very little understanding of this period of history but after reading this excellent book I now feel that I have a full understanding of how Rome went from Republic to the rule of the emperors. If you have any interest in this period of history and like your history to be entertainingly written, if you like your political intrigue with a good measure of blood and guts and a bit of salaciousness then I recommend this book to you. I'm now reading the sequel Dynasty.
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on 4 July 2017
Tom Holland tells the story of the fall of the Roman Republic. Starting with Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon he moves back to cover the events leading up to that point, starting with the brothers Gracchi and then takes the story on to the reign of Augustus.

I didn't think this really added much to the numerous re-tellings of this story in fact and fiction. He could have done with an editor -- some sentences were so convoluted and distorted from normal grammar I had to read them twice to be sure what he was trying to say.
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on 27 June 2017
This book is, quite simply, excellent. Holland is able to place intensive research alongside a clear narrative voice which ensures that you do not lose track of the main events. I had never studied, or even read about, the history of Ancient Rome before I purchased this book and I could easily grasp the main concepts and turning points, therefore it is efficacious for acting as an introductory text for anyone pursuing a new-found interest in Ancient Rome. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future and I will begin reading 'Dynasty' very shortly!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 September 2012
Brilliantly written and packed full of vividly recounted incidents, this account of the rise and fall of the Roman Republic, ending with the first Emperor Augustus, makes full use of the cast of fascinating characters, including Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. It's narrative history at its best.

As Tom Holland acknowledges at the start of the book, the range of surviving evidence makes our knowledge of the times somewhat lopsided, dominated by the writings of a small number of powerful Roman men. It is as if writing a history of the Second World War "which relies solely upon the broadcasts of Hitler and the memoirs of Churchill". That warning is a healthy reminder that many of the vivid character sketches are based on what a handful of their enemies said of them; almost certainly some have been traduced by the narrowness of the historical record. Likewise, some of Holland's generalisations such as how "no friendship in Rome was every entirely devoid of political calculation" are somewhat heroic given quite how many people over quite how many centuries are caught up in those broad brush descriptions.

Evidence is plenty, however, to give us the broad picture including - what most caught my attention - just how violent the Roman Republic was, even during its apparently peaceful democratic days. The ability to marshal men to threaten or actually carry out violence was frequently the decider at key moments in the Republic's history rather than the outcome of the nominally semi-democratic elections for ruling posts.

The emphasis on the broad sweep of events - combined with some excellent writing - means the reader does not get bogged down in the details of numerous names of different minor figures.

The flip side is that this is very much a top line history of the biggest events and the most famous people. It's not a detailed analysis of conflicting historical interpretations or of social, economic and technological trends. A fabulous introductory history, great for people with little more pre-existing knowledge than picked up from fiction on TV or in the cinema, rather than the definitive detailed work.

One thing to note about the audio version of the book: although the narrator's voice is excellent, the production qualities are rather less so with background noises present more than usual in a top flight professional audio book. There are also some odd pauses, especially in the first half, that suggest editing done not quite right.
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on 1 September 2017
I bought this book after reading Robert Harris' trilogy of novels (Imperium, Lustrum, Dictator) which covers the same period but from the perspective of Cicero. I found the novels hard to put down and was pleasantly surprised to find that Holland's factual, historical account was equally gripping. But, unlike in the novels, Cicero does not come out of Holland's work very favourably, appearing as a somewhat vacillitating and indecisive character.
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VINE VOICEon 7 January 2013
It is hard not to like this book: it is informative, entertaining history with enough of the common touch to ensure that it is never dry and keeps up a good pace. It touches, accurately, on source material and reads like a novel. Actually, if you read Roman History by the writers of the time, this book and theirs are of a similar vein - written to describe and explain and to be convincing. Rubicon does all of that and condences a hundred or so years of history into a story that flows and never fails to interest the reader, or to inform. While it might be described as history with a light touch - making it accessible, really - it is not lightweight: a great way to enjoy history combining the facts with asides and gossip, essential humanity with its greatness, frailty, winners and losers. Intelligently written and a good read.
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on 2 July 2004
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 personal aspirations of each player, but through the mindset and aspirations of Rome as a whole.
Holland is not afraid to include the small details, such as salacious gossip of the time, which helps to add to the colour and vibrancy and brings the ancient city back to life. While the violence can appear as a bloody reminder of how far civilisation may have moved on, the political machinations have a far more familiar ring to them.
The book is littered with reminders of how much today's society has taken from, and owes to, Roman times. However, this is not done in a preachy pointed manner, rather the evidence is there for the reader to pick up on, and judge for themselves.
The main historical figures of the time, Cicero, Caesar, Pompey, etc, are the main focus of each section. Rubicon allows us to see the interaction and the power play between each of them. As the story of the alliances, oppositions and betrayals unfolds, the urge to keep reading is immense.
The book refers back to previous events in chapters, which serves to reinforce the readers understanding of events. There are maps that help to explain where places are, and their relation to Rome at the time.
Obviously, covering such a vast amount of time, and such an array of people, means that the book can only really scratch the surface of the period it covers. However, you are left with a genuine feeling that you have a better understanding of the Republic, both of itself, and the people who played a part in its history.
The book ends tantalisingly partway through Rome's history, as the Republic falls, and the Emperor's dominance begins. A subject you hop Holland will follow up with.
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