Regular price: $27.97
Buy Now with 1 Credit
Buy Now for $27.97
This is an accessible, interesting survey of the first family of the early Roman Principate - the Julio-Claudians. As the Republic breathes its last, Octavian, grand-nephew of the assassinated Julius Caesar, himself still a teenager, rises from the ashes of a civil war to become the first man in Rome. Through careful managing of his family's "brand", Octavian, known to history as Augustus (the great one), forges a demi-godlike family mythos which more than anything is his legacy. Two thousand years later, we are still intrigued with the Julio-Claudians and wonder "what might have been?" had his heirs been as astute as he and Fate been a bit kinder.
There was little new in this book to me fact-wise, however, I very much enjoyed how Mr. Holland sets the back-drop of the Empire. He explains Rome's history, its political climate, and how the Romans see themselves in relation to the rest of the world. This is a huge factor in why and how the House of Caesar rose to such prominence and why their mythology still has a hold on us today.
What I found even more fascinating are the digressions the author takes as he discusses the Roman world in the first century and the problems the Empire faced, especially in regards to immigration. It truly helped to parallel their world to ours.
Sadly, despite all his careful planning, Augustus was not able to force the rest of his family to adhere to his vision for it. In the end, despite being the blood of the "divine Julius", his family are only human after all. Greed, treachery, hubris, paranoia, and plain old bad luck wreak havoc on Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and their various family members, until the line is extinguished in the last scion of the Julio-Claudians, Nero.
I also appreciated that when he goes into some of the more scurrilous and scandalous stories about the family, the author often gives reasonable explanations as to why those stories may have arisen without treating them as either absolutely true or negating them completely.
The book reads very much like a novel and as such is quite an easy read. I would definitely read more by this author and would be very much interested in a book of his focussed on the women of the dynasty.
Unfortunately, I was not thrilled with the narrator. He had some peculiar pronunciations that irked me for some reason. He was serviceable but I couldn't shake the feeling that someone else could have/would have been a better choice. No idea who that someone would be though.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
Author Holland is not bashful. He knows how to move a story along. He leaps nimbly into minds and characters and motives of every kind, noble or sleazy, all the while staging the scenes with countless colorful, telling details. The sweep moves from grand to petty and back again effortlessly. If he is presumptuous, and I'm not historian enough to say he is, the characters' choices make sense, within their own spheres of irrationality and increasingly bizarre turns of events.
Each society, and perhaps each individual and institution in it, must walk a line between the elegance of enlightened self-interest, with a measure of healthy fellow-interactions, and the path which by increments becomes, potentially, an ugly hall of mirrors of self-absorbed vice and cruelty. This is all served up here with a brio that makes me queasy at moments (and I suppose, very un-Roman in displaying such weakness). A true history buff shouldn't shy from the details that actually happened, right? And should be edified and learn from them? Learn from this I did, a little heartbroken though. Maybe I'm getting old, or ate the wrong thing for lunch. But past a point, the graphic madness here (blighting the world and trashing countless lives), the nose-thumbing insouciance of these privileged brats curdling the ancient world into a sick and feeble parody of itself, finally got to me.
Thanks Tom I'm a huge fan (and will avidly re-listen to In The Shadow of the Sword and Rubicon), but this is enough of this. I can only hope we are preserved from our own system blundering into a train wreck steered by elite narcissists, anything like this tale depicts.
Now, I surely understand why Rome, culturally exhausted by excesses like this, turned to Christianity.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful