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Augustus: A Novel Paperback – November 9, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400076730
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400076734
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Augustus is a masterpiece.” –Los Angeles Times

“One is drawn deeply into a world whose complexity, luxury, political cynicism, public gullibility, and violence seem very much like our own.” –The New Yorker

“Williams has immersed himself in ancient history, its figures, its conflicts, its complicated intrigues and its often primitive turmoil. In his vivid panorama, The Golden Age sparkles with an eloquence, at times, approaching the poetic.” –The Plain Dealer

“Out of the events surrounding one of the pivotal moments in Western history . . . John Williams has fashioned an always engaging, psychologically convincing work of fiction.” –The New York Times

Augustus is a vividly imagined re-creation of classical Rome, but its intuitive grasp of the experience of immense power makes it an unusual, and superior, novel.” –The Boston Globe

“Novel or history, this is an excellent book. . . . a superior work of the imagination.” –Playboy

“It would be easy to over-praise this novel; but there does not seem any adequate reason why this temptation should be resisted, especially as Mr. Williams in his turn resists the obvious one of allowing irony too prominent a part in the proceedings.” –The Economist

“A pleasure to read. . . . A most polished performance.” –Boston Herald Traveler

“Strong and striking. . . . Intelligent and intuitive, this excellent historical novel makes the world of Ancient Rome a place in which we feel instantly at home.” –Publishers Weekly

“A novel of extraordinary range, yet of extraordinary minuteness, that manages never to sacrifice one quality for the other.” –The Financial Times

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.

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Customer Reviews

The well researched historical aspects of the novel were greatly appreciated.
Louis Roller
John Edward Williams won the 1973 National Book Award for 'Augustus' and deservedly so.
Douglas S. Wood
The novelist assumes some familiarity with the main characters and events of that time.
a reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood VINE VOICE 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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40 of 43 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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28 of 29 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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