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on 25 April 2016
I Claudius is a work of recreated autobiography, telling the life story of a reluctant Roman emperor, who introduces himself as “Tiberius, Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles).” As a story it’s a compelling read, starting in the relatively sunny days of the rule of jovial Augustus – Claudius’s grandfather - where we meet the young Claudius, a shy boy with a limp, a stutter and a love of reading, writing and history. We then follow Claudius, protected by the fact that everyone thinks him a harmless fool, through the increasingly cruel reign of Tiberius, into the demented period under Caligula. Then finally, following Caligula’s assassination, a terrified Claudius, stuttering his reluctance, finds himself hoisted shoulder high and proclaimed emperor himself.
As well as a good story, the book is also a reflection on what history actually is – a record of past events, a story built out of past events, and the use of the past to bolster the narrow interests of the present. It’s also a book about politics, with much to tell us about our own times. One of the characteristics of the benign period under Augustus, for example, is “freedom of the press” – a reluctance to punish writers or comedians who make the emperor the butt of their criticism or jokes. Modern Europe could take note.
Above all, I loved the ending. Claudius was primarily a writer, and if you were a writer who finds himself becoming emperor what would go through your mind? Robert Graves, another writer, realises you would be thinking, “ah well, at least I can get people to read my books now.” I would be thinking the same.
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on 21 October 2014
This reads like conversational history book. It's wonderfully detailed and Graves carefully and diligently spans on the main historical sources for the period, Tacitus and Suetonius. But it's dated historical fiction - compare this with Robert Harris's Imperium and Lustrum novels on Cicero and it is easy to see that this way of writing historical fiction has had its day. This is not to say the book is not enjoyable on its own terms but just because it has the status of a 'modern classic' does not mean to say that there are not other equally good or even better novels on Rome, including the early Imperial period, than I, Claudius. A fair three stars is my score for this book as I think it is good for its time but has aged somewhat in its style and manner of writing historical fiction and in its depiction of Ancient Roman society. Also it may be preferable, if one is to read classic books, to read Tacitus directly, though that is not doubt a drier affair than Graves' book.
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on 7 October 2014
I bought the kindle version to re-read this book whilst on holiday in Rome. I have the original paperback from years ago. The dramatisation of the Roman Emperors from Augustus to Nero makes visiting the actual sites much more exciting and vivid. I'm not sure how accurate it is as history - I have to read the Suetonius Seven Caesars to get a contrast. Mind you that is not as I understand it totally reliable. If you like soap operas you'll love this if you can manage the huge cast of characters and who is related to whom. Claudius is the narrator and tells a credible story of intrigue, lust, murder and dynastic politics. It's a great read and you will find yourself believing it actually happened. Robert Graves is worth pursuing by reading the sequel Claudius the God, the later Roman epic, Count Belisarius and the autobiographical Goodbye to All that. THe BBC series is available on DVD and the two go well together - it doesn't matter if you read or watch first.
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on 18 May 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - all 395 pages of it, but I have to admit that the most thumbed pages were those in the back which contain a few maps, but more importantly, a detailed family tree. I found it difficult at first to remember how the characters were related to each other as they constantly employ the same names through the generations. Much of the book contained background family history, often referring to Agrippa, Agrippina and Agripinilla in a short space, not to mention those who had a given name but were called something entirely different!
However, having mastered the family tree, the story itself is a masterpiece. Having read 'The Twelve Caesars' by Suetonius, it is clear where Graves obtained many of the facts, but they are woven into the story quite effortlessly. The descriptions of Roman life, seen through the eyes of a young Claudius almost convinced me that it was an exciting age to have lived in, as the Romans seemed to be organised, disciplined and a no-nonsense people, but beneath the surface was a total disregard for anyone who got in the way, including many members of the Imperial family who were poisoned, stabbed or exiled if they failed to live up to expectation or were perceived to be traitors.
Claudius himself, never wishing to be a great leader, is content to be a writer and keep out of everyone's way. In this role, Graves allows him to be a commentator on the Senate, the games, the triumphs and the fall of many characters he lived alongside. His disabilities made sure others more important ignored him, little realising that Claudius had, in fact, a quick mind and was very observant.
The book ends as Claudius becomes Emperor and neatly steers the reader towards 'Claudius the God'. If you are interested in Roman history,'I,Claudius' is a good place to start.
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on 16 April 2014
I first read this some 40 years ago and thought it about time I re-read it now. I had forgotten that it is quite a laborious read but having said that, it is well written and keeps a certain amount of tension going.
These days we are used to more action in our historical novels whereas this book relies more on relating facts; it takes a bit of mind juggling to keep up with all the Roman names and the lineage. However, as a history of that Roman period it is masterly and a deserved classic.
Will start on Claudius the God as soon as I finish this one.
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on 8 July 2011
It's good to have this excellent 'historical novel' in the Kindle format and especially as the publisher has reduced the price a little in recent months.

However, the publisher (Penguin) really has let the reader down. There is no active table of contents and the last third of the book contains quite a number of typo's: 1's instead of I's, misplaced symbols '-', '*' etc, and ocaasional words together without a space inbetween.

Overall these errors do not detract from the reading enjoyment but at the end of the day Penguin should have done a better job with the text and customer ease of access to individual chapters.
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on 7 August 2013
This is a great, great book. Telling the story of the early Roman emperors, it's a gripping page-turner of a thriller.

If you have any interest in historical thrillers, and political machination, then this is a book that will interest you.

The only downside is the extortionate price for the Kindle version. I think that the publisher needs to get a little more realistic, because with a lower price, this book could really sell. After all, Graves makes Dan Brown look like a novice author. And I enjoy Dan Brown's books!
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on 23 July 2016
Bringing ancient Rome to life, with believable motives and characters in this fascinating period of history this is a book that can change your life. It is told from the point of view of a member of the imperial family when life expectancy was short and political murders were rife.
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on 17 June 2012
this book and its sequel are quite simply my favourite books of all time. and i have read a lot of books across many genres.

this book is so strongly and convincingly written that it will actually skew your view of the actual history of the period.

indeed, many reviewers here have fallen into the trap of believing that the account of the early history of the roman empire given in the book is entirely authentic. it is not it contains massive distortions of both characters and historical events.

that so many readers fall into this trap is testimony to the gripping realism of graves' work.
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on 20 July 2017
Very well written book,and I first read it over thirty years ago. Now wanted to add it to my library at home - pity about the cover
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