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Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperorby Anthony Everitt
Synopses & Reviews
He found Rome made of clay and left it made of marble. As Rome's first emperor, Augustus transformed the unruly Republic into the greatest empire the world had ever seen. His consolidation and expansion of Roman power two thousand years ago laid the foundations, for all of Western history to follow. Yet, despite Augustus's accomplishments, very few biographers have concentrated on the man himself, instead choosing to chronicle the age in which he lived. Here, Anthony Everitt, the bestselling author of Cicero, gives a spellbinding and intimate account of his illustrious subject.
Augustus began his career as an inexperienced teenager plucked from his studies to take center stage in the drama of Roman politics, assisted by two school friends, Agrippa and Maecenas. Augustus's rise to power began with the assassination of his great-uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar, and culminated in the titanic duel with Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
The world that made Augustus — and that he himself later remade — was driven by intrigue, sex, ceremony, violence, scandal, and naked ambition. Everitt has taken some of the household names of history — Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Cleopatra — whom few know the full truth about, and turned them into flesh-and-blood human beings.
At a time when many consider America an empire, this stunning portrait of the greatest emperor who ever lived makes for enlightening and engrossing reading. Everitt brings to life the world of a giant, rendered faithfully and sympathetically in human scale. A study of power and political genius, Augustus is a vivid, compelling biography of one of the most important rulers in history.
"British author Everitt begins his biography of Augustus (63 B.C. — A.D. 14) with a novelistic reconstruction of the Roman emperor's last days, offering a new spin on his murder at the hands of his wife, Livia. Everitt presents the death as an assisted suicide intended to speed and secure the transition of imperial power to his stepson Tiberius. Later, Everitt presents a careful historical argument for this theory — and, save for a few other shadowy incidents such as the banishment of the poet Ovid, he keeps guesswork to a minimum, building his narrative carefully on solid evidence. Everitt (Cicero) makes Augustus's rapid rise through Roman society comprehensible to contemporary readers, deftly shifting through the major phases of his life, from childhood through his adoption by his great-uncle Julius Caesar to the power struggle with Mark Antony that ended with Augustus's recognition as both 'imperator' and 'princeps,' or 'first citizen.' Everitt also neatly presents his subject's complex personality, revealing how Augustus secured a political infrastructure that would last for centuries while reportedly keeping up a highly active sex life, all the while fighting off longstanding rumors of cowardice in battle. This familiar story is fresh again in this lively retelling." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Once, when writing a school essay on Roman generals, I asked a teacher why we couldn't refer to perhaps the greatest of them as 'the late Julius Caesar.' That's the way people customarily talked about the dead. Why not Caesar? 'Because he is too dead,' came the amused reply. It wasn't only the gap of two millennia since Caesar's death that rendered the word 'late' unnecessary. To call a man of such... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) obvious greatness and fame 'the late Julius Caesar' would be laughably pedestrian. Caesar remains too dead.
Few majestic figures of the classical world will be more familiar than those two Roman mega-men, Julius Caesar and the Emperor Augustus. Their names still speak to us even when their deeds don't. Still, new books about preternaturally famous men always risk superfluity. The die of their biographies, it would seem, is cast. Barring any stupendous, revision-making discoveries in newly unearthed papyri or archaeological digs, one would think we've known for centuries pretty much all there is to know about them. But somehow, there is always more to say.As it turns out, modern books on Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus written for general readers are not all that plentiful, but two new biographies of these massive personalities now make creditable bids to become standard works. The authors differ in training and temperament but share a passion for enlivening ancient times for contemporary readers. Adrian Goldsworthy hails directly from the academy, with formidable works behind him — most notably 'The Complete Roman Army' and 'The Fall of Carthage' — while Anthony Everitt published a well-received biography of Cicero five years ago, once served as secretary-general of the Arts Council for Great Britain and has made himself an acclaimed journalist. Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) stands, in one sense, as history's great spoiler, the betrayer of republican ideals, the grand reminder that cooperative, democratic government is perpetually in danger of unraveling. It was he who, after earning success on the battlefield, launched his political career as a popular scion of a patrician family, patiently scaled the public ladder from quaestor to praetor to consul, formed the First Triumvirate with Crassus and Pompey, and, after more bloodshed — a million Gauls were supposed to have been killed in the conquest of their lands — took down the Roman Republic he had served and made himself its dictator. As with so many strong men since, it wasn't ideals that he believed in but power. Yet his life was not a brute victory of tactics over tact. The man who put in place the Julian calendar was among history's greatest practitioners of military strategy and political craftsmanship. He knew how to break an army, but he could also broker a deal. Caesar, as Goldsworthy exhaustively demonstrates, possessed a knack for recovery, a gift for adaptation that any resilient politician must have. That adaptability gets amply, episodically detailed from raw youth — his childhood and probable schooling are ably outlined — to his assassination on the Ides of March. We're shown the charm of the conspiratorial player-politician, but Goldsworthy, fundamentally a military historian, emphasizes Caesar the general over Caesar the statesman. (Lots of spears and lacerated limbs here.) While making judicious use of the findings of recent scholarship, Goldsworthy clings to original sources — including Caesar's own writings — which aren't abundant but are colorful and rich. He speculates, though rarely with great risk; this book is primarily a work of synthesis, not analysis. The author is sound not only on the facts but on the super-facts — the mythology — about Caesar, and both get their due play. Goldsworthy doesn't shine so well with talk about ideas and significance. His disinclination to engage in far-reaching conjecture can be a virtue in a work aiming to be nothing more than a chronicle of a man's life, though readers of a more ruminative bent may be left disappointed with the thinner point of view. Readers with a taste for polished prose may also find reason to balk, for his style is workmanlike at best. Goldsworthy is out to serve a large public, but one wonders if he does not often assume a bit too little of what intelligent people willing to tackle a lengthy biography of an ancient figure are likely to know ('The Julii were patricians, which meant that they were members of the oldest aristocratic class at Rome'). A spot of sensible, disciplined editing would have tightened this otherwise fine book and saved a couple hundred pages. A life of the Emperor Augustus (63-14 B.C.) presents a telling follow-up to a life of Julius Caesar. For whereas Caesar sought to gain absolute power through guile and force, his grandnephew Augustus had to consolidate that power among disparate lands and peoples and draw up new blueprints for a firm but flexible imperial authority. Augustus gave birth not so much to the idea of empire as to its techniques and trappings. He showed all to come how to wield power among far-flung lands. But he also showed how to temper and delegate it — no slight achievement. What he built lasted for nearly 500 years. He gave his name to the Augustan Age, a time of relative tranquility (after his opponents were dispatched), grand construction projects (from temples to aqueducts) in the classical style, and liberal provisions for trade — not to mention the lettered glories of Virgil, Ovid and Horace. Anthony Everitt's life of Augustus exhibits a fidelity to ancient sources every bit as scrupulous as Goldsworthy's (oddly, the available sources about Augustus' life grow more scanty toward its end), but his is less the method of the historian and more that of the novelist, neatly fitting in character-sketching with vivid historical background, giving us a life and times that are smoothly intertwined. Everitt makes pointed use of literary sources; lines of illustrative poetry dot the narrative to put the reader inside the experience of Rome during the early decades of the empire. All the stuff of adventure is here, from court intrigue to roving armies to shipwreck. Everitt tries not merely to recount action but to paint pictures, and some of them are exceedingly, pleasingly gaudy. That makes this biography fascinating and brisk to read. Each section flows like a breezy, informal lecture, chattily evoking time and circumstance to recreate the golden age of Roman life and culture. Yet what emerges primarily is not the portrait of an age but of one man — one who, despite his consequence, has been a surprisingly murky figure down the centuries. We get all the power and pageantry we could ask for in these two biographies, and both books garishly illuminate some of the greatest feats and bloodiest follies of history. 'Death is everything's final limit,' one Latin aphorism has it, but the lives of these two Caesars show that to be not quite true. Tracy Lee Simmons is the author of 'Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin' and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College." Reviewed by Tracy Lee Simmons, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Clear, concise, well-researched and reasonable — a sensible, healthful lunch rather than a Roman banquet." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] very readable biography of Caesar Augustus." Library Journal
The bestselling author of Cicero provides a spellbinding and intimate account of Augustus, the man who fashioned the greatest empire in the history of the world.
About the Author
Anthony Everitt, visiting professor in the visual and performing arts at Nottingham Trent University, has written extensively on European culture, has contributed to The Guardian and Financial Times, and is the author of Cicero. He once served as secretary general of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Everitt lives near Colchester, England's first recorded town, founded by the Romans.
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