10 Books About Caesar
Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar
I recently rediscovered my fascination with Caesar and have been reading everything I can find on the subject. The list below contains 10 books (or series) related to him that I have read recently. I have also placed my thoughts on each publication below each item. My views are totally subjective and not any sort of critique on the authors. My thoughts are really about how I related to each work and what I got out of them and what I think their best qualities are. I have the greatest respect for these writers and anyone who can put together and publish meaningful work.
#1 Colleen McCullough - the "Masters of Rome" series
McCullough published the first of the 7 books in the series ("The First Man in Rome") in 1990 and published the last ("Antony and Cleopatra") in 2007. The vast amount of research she must have performed is evident in the richness and detail of the framework within which her fiction is created. The series is extremely engaging and worth more than one read. The series covers the late Republic from the rise of Marius to demise of Antony and Cleopatra and the success of Augustus. I had trouble putting these books down.
#2 Conn Iggulden - The "Emperor Series"
Iggulden published the first ("The Gates of Rome") of the 4 books in the series in 2003 and the last ("The Gods of War") in 2006. Iggulden has performed meticulous research, as McCullough has done, however, unlike McCullough, Iggulden paints an action packed picture that is not so tightly bound to accepted understandings about ancient Rome. A really fun read and a different take on the main players (Caesar, Brutus and Servilia).
#3 Adrian Goldsworthy - "Caesar, the Life of a Colossus"
Published in 2006, this work is a truly informative read. The way it is written made the information very easy to digest and I am lucky it was one of the first of the non-fiction works I read about Caesar. It is extremely comprehensive. If you don't know a lot about Caesar this work is an excellent place to start. If you do know a lot about Caesar, this book will add more.
#4 Cormac O'Brien - "The Fall of Empires"
I picked this book up at one of those $10 sales that Angus and Robertson periodically have. It has to be one of the best things I ever spent a $10 note on. The book provides information about 16 different ancient empires. It is a very general starting place for those wishing to get a broad overview of ancient history. It is well written and very easy to take in. What it helped me with was not so much the information about Caesar or Rome, but where, in the ancient history timeline, Rome and Greece fit in with other ancient cultures. Short chapters and good general information with excellent illustrations.
#5 Donald Dudley - "Roman Society"
This book was first published as "The Romans" in 1970. I picked it up second hand. It is an old university textbook. I have the 1985 reprint. What I love about this book is that it contains information that lets me see how deeply ancient Rome has affected modern civilisation. Also, Dudley divided his information up into chunk-sized logical sequences which made it easy for me to find what I want to know.
#6 Ronald Mellor (editor) - an anthology "The Historians of Ancient Rome"
Published in 2004, this text contains the 'highlights' of the original sources of the ancient world. Whenever I want to actually read what an ancient source has said about a subject footnoted or referenced in another work, this is very handy. Also it contains excepts of Caesar's 'Commentaries on the Gallic war'. Incredible to read the writings of Caesar himself. Freeman also provided useful information by way of biographies about each source.
#7 Charles Freeman - "Egypt, Greece and Rome, Civilisations of the Ancient Mediterranean"
Published in 1996, Freeman's work is an epic tome. It is a university level text some 713 pages long. Freeman describes how the three ancient Mediterranean civilisations interacted with each other in detail. This is a brilliant work for an introduction to the Mediterranean world over some 4 centuries. It provides an excellent overview of the fall of the Republic and Caesar's role.
#8 Christian Meier - "Caesar, A Biography" (translated by David McLintock)
Wow, what a read! Not for the faint-hearted, this epic is detailed and complex. It is not something that can be successfully managed without a fair amount of knowledge about Caesar and the Republic already on board. The first time I picked it up I had to put it back down again. I was not able to engage with the work at that time, I simply didn't know enough. I have since picked it up again and I love it. Meier provides information that is deeply psychologically analytical. He takes apart the characters and motivations of the main players (Caesar, Pompey and others) in the context of their careers and what little personal information there is on record. His views are believable and consistent with the sources. This work, while not the easiest publication to read, (perhaps because it was originally written in German) is far and away the most intense work I have read on Caesar. It is a big favourite of mine. It was first published in 1982 and has been described as the definitive work on Caesar.
#9 Anthony Everitt - "Augustus, The Life of Rome's First Emperor"
Published in 2006, this work is obviously not about Caesar, but it is impossible to understand Augustus without knowing about Caesar. I found a lot of useful information about the demise of the Republic in this work which was so closely connected to that topic. Sometimes understanding what came after provides perspective on what went before. The work is an easy read in terms of narrative flow. Everitt uses devices such as "a day in the life" stories to illustrate his points and I put this down feeling as though I knew what sort of man Augustus was. Having read this, I went out and got Everitt's "Hadrian" and that too is an excellent read.
#10 Tom Holland - "Rubicon"
Holland published this in 2003. It is the kind of unable-to-put-it-down read that I usually find in novels and not works of non-fiction. It read like a novel and consumed my attention from start to finish. It goes into great detail about the social proclivities of the time, not just the historical events. I enjoyed the way it was organised and the humanity Holland brought to bear in his pages. I really loved this book.
The Death of Caesar
Well, I enjoyed all of these works and as I said above have great respect for people who can produce this type of work. If I absolutely had to pick a favorite I don't think I could, as each work serves a different purpose and is written in a unique style. But in terms of which one I enjoyed the most, the answer is that I can't make up my mind between McCullough, Holland and Meier! Would love to hear your thoughts, would also love some tips on what to read next.
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© 2011 Mel Jay