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Augustus (John Williams Collection) Paperback – March, 1995

148 customer reviews

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Paperback, March, 1995
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews


"Weir's sympathetic and detailed biography reassesses the life of a woman whose role in public life...has been underrated by historians" New Statesman "The finest historical novel ever written by an American" Washington Post "It would be easy to over-praise this novel; but there does not seem any adequate reason why this temptation should be resisted" Economist "A novel of extraordinary range, yet of extraordinary minuteness, that manages never to sacrifice one quality for the other" Financial Times "Williams has fashioned an always engaging, psychologically convincing work of fiction - a consistent and well-realized portrait" New Yorker --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Williams was born on August 29, 1922 in Clarksville, Texas. He served in the United States Army Air Force from 1942 to 1945 in China, Burma and India. The Swallow Press published his first novel, Nothing But the Night, in 1948, as well as his first book of poems, The Broken Landscape, in 1949. Macmillan published Williams' second novel, Butcher's Crossing, in 1960. After recieving his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Denver, and his Ph.D from the University of Missouri, Williams returned in 1954 to the University of Denver where he taught literature and the craft of writing for thirty years. In 1963 Williams received a fellowship to study at Oxford University where where he received a Rockefeller grant enabling him to travel and research in Italy for his last novel, Augustus, published in 1972. John Williams died in Arkansas on March 4, 1994. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: John Williams Collection
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arkansas Press; 4th Ed. edition (March 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557283435
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557283436
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,151,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on January 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
John Edward Williams won the 1973 National Book Award for 'Augustus' and deservedly so. This amazing piece of literature masquerading as historical fiction (and I like historical fiction) draws the reader into the world of Gaius Octavius, later to be Augustus, first emperor of Rome.

Williams tells his tale by the unusual technique of presenting letters, journal entries, and memoirs. By this method he allows the reader to gradually enter, indeed become immersed in, the world of Augustus, his family, friends, enemies, and most important, his Rome. 'Augustus' traces his rise from the vulnerable adopted son of Julius Caesar through a steady accretion of power as he becomes first a triumvir (with Mark Antony and the nonentity Lepidus), and then settles in as emperor of the world.

The historical record for Augustus's life has gaps that challenge an author and Williams grasps the challenge deftly, just as Augustus grasped power. We see Augustus as an aloof, cold and calculating politician whose assiduous pursuit and cautious exercise of power allows him to hold that power for over four decades, but always using that power for Rome, always for Rome, his Rome.

Yet many people suffer from their close contact with this man - his equally calculating wife Livia, for one, his dear friends Maecenas and Salvidienus, to name two more, but none more so than his daughter Julia. The last third or so of the book focuses on the break between Augustus and Julia. Williams presents an interesting and shocking explanation for Julia's exile - at least an explanation that Augustus believes or claims to.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Berger VINE VOICE on May 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
This complements the better known "I, Claudius." Comparing the two has me wondering what's actually known about that era, and I will probably read more about it as a result.

Williams, for example, portrays Augustus' third wife Livia as maneuvering coldly and relentlessly, but within the bounds of propriety, to position her son Tiberius as Augustus' successor.

Graves, meanwhile, shows Livia in a darker light, responsible for numerous deaths in so doing while somehow maintaining her image of virtue. And he makes her the central character.

Williams does a better job than Graves at capturing Rome as Augustus found it - rotting and a republic in name only, controlled by a few families - and the Rome that Augustus fashioned, economically healthy, at peace, with the most powerful families held at bay, an orderly government that citizens of all classes could depend upon, and led by an emperor who himself led a plain life as a moral example. I didn't realize so many of the key names of Latin literature - Livy, Horace, Vergil - lived at that time and were intimates of Augustus.

"I, Claudius", seen through the eyes of Livia's grandson, perhaps does better at portraying the shocking and lurid decadence marking the beginning of the empire's decline. But "Augustus", starting earlier with Julius Caesar's assassination and Octavian's rise to power, does better with the broad sweep of Augustus' life and detailing this peak period of the Roman Empire, before the real decline began. It's more upbeat. Williams does a nice job using Julia to capture the tragic contradictions at the heart of the period.

The format, with the story being told through letters of various characters to each other, can be a bit disjointed.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Charlton Griffin on May 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
For me, the greatest interest in this novel was the explanation of how Augustus came to power at such an early age. Like most educated people, I , too have read histories that cover this period in detail. And yet, descriptions of events that historians gloss over with one sentence statements are not really enlightening. Here's an example of such a description from a typical history book: "Augustus, using the power of his uncle's name and money, soon became a force to be reckoned with in Rome." Well, excuse me, but there is a lot left out of a statement like that. And history books are full of such examples. Precisely HOW could an eighteen year old kid persuade enough people to have confidence in him so that he could effectively challenge a military veteran and street fighter like Mark Antony? This is where John Williams shines. He gets into the interstices of history and demonstrates the human element at work in ways that can be understood. Step by step, we follow a callow youth as he becomes the most powerful man in the world.

The plot does tend toward some confusion as a result of the device of using correspondence to carry the story. This means that digressions in the plot must take place in order to make the letters, diaries, etc. seem realistic. However, once you're accustomed to this device, the story manages to maintain its own velocity...PROVIDED that you are interested enough and knowledgable enough about Octavian to want to know the kind of details that emerge. If you are like me, you are absolutely dying to know.
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