The Poison King

  • by Adrienne Mayor
  • Narrated by Paul Hecht
  • 15 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A National Book Award finalist for this epic work, Adrienne Mayor delivers a gripping account of Mithradates, the ruthless visionary who began to challenge Rome’s power in 120 B.C. Machiavelli praised his military genius. Kings coveted his secret elixir against poison. Poets celebrated his victories, intrigues, and panache. But until now, no one has told the full story of his incredible life.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Rip Roaring Read

There are very few audiobooks that can hold my attention the way this presentation did. I listen to each four hour section at one go; with a small break in the middle. The history flows and the story moves at such a furious pace that is hard to break away.

Adrienne Mayor delivers a history that dashes along like a best selling novel. The story is absolutely riveting. The biography has an arc that is cinematic, and in a good way. In the right hands I can see this history becoming a Hollywood blockbuster.

Granted some of the biography is speculative, a what if scenario. But Mayor always warns you when hard history ends and where speculation begins. Mayor is ever the helpful tour guide, and Counter-factual History does add depth to a history lacking in primary sources.

Mayor does an excellent job of dealing with the issues of Ancient History in general and how they deal with the subject of the book, Mithradates. The primary sources are lacking and what few have survived suffer from the biases of the Roman authors. Recasting these ancient histories for a modern audience is real minefield for any serious author. Mayor deftly navigates this mine field, and delivers a gem of a narrative for the lucky listener.

A word or two on the actual narration. Overall it is solid. It is a well delivered journeyman performance. The performer never gets carried away. He never laps into monotony either. He lets the story tell itself, getting out of the way of narrative as much as possible. Pacing is spot on. The actual presentation is buttoned down and pitched properly.

This audiobook is a triple threat, if you are lover of ancient history, this is your audiobook. If you are lover of biography, this is your audiobook. Finally if you are a lover of finely crafted literature, of the Novel, this is your audiobook. The audiobook has love, betrayal, murder most foul, slaughter, dark experiments, glittering riches and a central character many times lager than life. And its all true; it is story of real man who lived in a real time, and did real (sometimes awful) things. It is a worthy addition to any listeners collection.
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- James

A Cruel Man in a Cruel World

Perhaps the best thing about this book is how well it is written. I think that's necessary in this case because not that much is known about Mithradates (and much of what is known comes from his Roman enemies), so the author has to try to fill in the details like a historical novelist. The author focuses quite heavily on Mithradates historical reputation as a poisoner and a concocter of antidotes. This leads to delightful details in the book such as poisonous honey from bees that drink rhododendron nectar.

I think it's useful to compare Mithradates to Cleopatra -- both Hellenistic-style monarchs who threatened Rome and therefore got trashed in (Roman) historical sources as weak, depraved, easterners who tried to conquer Rome through dishonorable, unmanly methods such as intrigue and poison (Cleopatra was reputed to be a poisoner as well). The author tries to right the balance a bit, but even she doesn't deny that Mithradates could be cruel and paranoid. You do have to look at the times -- being a "friend of Rome" was like being friends with a hungry lion -- sooner or later you end up on the menu anyway.

I agree that it helps to be into ancient history to enjoy this book -- there is a lot of recounting of internecine political intrigues and the marching of various armies around the eastern Med, but I think (hope) there is enough in here to appeal to a somewhat more casual reader as well. Think of it as Cleopatra, but with less sex (admittedly the biggest selling point) and more poisoning.
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- Steve

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-28-2011
  • Publisher: Recorded Books