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Julius Caesar Paperback – May 14, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Freeman (The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts) paints a flattering portrait of Caesar in this admirable biography, exalting his cunning, military skill, political insights and allegiance to the plebeian class. In fast-paced prose and detailed historical sketches, Freeman traces Caesar's life from early youth onward, covering his marriage and service as a priest (or pontifex); his election to pontifex maximus in 63 B.C.; his command of Roman forces in the Gallic Wars; his ascension to leader of the republic; and his famous assassination. Drawing on Caesar's own writings, Freeman portrays him as a brilliant military strategist whose defense of Roman land in the Gallic Wars extended the rule of Rome from Italy to the Atlantic. Caesar returned to Italy in 49 B.C. and became dictator three years later, seeking to improve the republic through civic reforms, including the taking of a proper census, the building of a library, the codification of Roman law and the conversion of Rome to a solar calendar. Although Freeman's biography reveals little new information about Caesar, his cultural and historical knowledge bring the emperor to life and humanize him in a way no writer before him has succeeded in doing. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The character and exploits of Gaius Julius Caesar continue to fascinate both historians and laymen, with good reason. His military conquest of Gaul spread Roman civilization beyond the confines of the Mediterranean Basin. His political reforms laid the basis for the imperium established by Augustus. His personal story is loaded with drama and adventure. Freeman, a classics professor at Luther College, has written a compact but thorough account of the life and achievements of this historical giant. He traces Caesar’s family background, his patrician upbringing, and his early public career as he strove to survive in the tumult of the political chaos and civil wars that plagued the republic in the first century BCE. As Caesar’s political career advanced, he became, Freeman argues, a consummate manipulator who was prepared to take huge risks by reaching out to the plebeian class. This bold and sometimes reckless approach is even more evident in his military campaigns. Ultimately, as Freeman indicates, his willingness to challenge powerful vested interests led directly to his murder. This is a fine biography best suited for general readers. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (May 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743289544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743289542
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on August 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
According to Philip Freeman's account, Julius Caesar may have been the most misunderstood man in history. He owed his military and political career to the plebians, the lower class Romans with whom he sided. By doing this he won the never-ending antipathy of the patrician families who controlled the Roman senate.

As a general Caesar led from the front. When he was in danger of losing a battle to the patrician forces in Spain, he charged the opposing line single-handedly, embarrassing his men into redoubling their efforts, snatching victory from defeat. We know as much as we do about Caesar thanks to his own account of the GALLIC WARS, which has survived, and Freeman quotes from it extensively. Perhaps Caesar's most impressive victory was the BATTLE OF ALESIA, where he fought a two front battle against the Gauls under Vercingetorix whom he'd cornered in the city, only to be confronted by 100,000 Gaulish soldiers in his rear.

We see Caesar rise from a poor patrician family living in the slums of Rome to work his way up from military tribune, to sequester, to aedile, to preaetor and eventually consul of Rome. One of his first official acts was to redistribute land to the plebians and the Roman soldiers, some of which was taken from the rich patrician families who controlled the Senate. On his way to becoming consul, Caesar was in charge of keeping the Appian Way in good repair. Caesar was not only a great general and politician, he was also an engineer, a great public speaker, and a lawyer.

We also get a good look at the Roman Civil Wars. At first, Caesar gained power through a triumvirate with the great general Pompey and Crassus a rich Roman senator.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was looking for a basic grounding in Roman history and customs and Caesar's exploits in the 1st century BC. It came down to Freeman's and Goldsworthy's biographies. This one is 400 pages and Goldsworthy's is 600 pages. In the end I decided to read both, beginning with Freeman.

Freeman's biography moved smoothly and succinctly along, pausing when appropriate to explore Roman mores and the rather strange (to the modern eye) interactions and motivations of Caesar, Pompey, Crassius, Cato and Cicero. It remained straightforward and interesting throughout with no pretense of originality or self-importance.

I was disappointed with Goldsworthy. He often seemed ponderous and verbose, as if trying to impress a scholar but offering a less well told story in an extra 200 pages.

Go with Freeman and skip Goldsworthy.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Countless books have been written about Julius Caesar. In many of them, anecdotes and rumors have crept in and masqueraded as facts. One of the things I liked about this excellent piece is that the author takes on some of these myths and documents the truth behind them. For example, there was a famous incident when Caesar declined to rise when he was approached by a deputation of Senators, as tradition and respect required. Caesar later put it about that this was due to his illness rather than his attempt to behave like a king. Some authors have adopted Caesar's alibi. Not so, according to Freeman, who provides sources showing that Caesar, indeed, wanted to be King of Rome in name as well as in fact.

I thought that the most insightful part of the book was the focus on Caesar's disdain and disapproval for many of the excesses of the Roman Republic. For example, (while still a mere Senator) Caesar introduced legislation that was intended to put a stop to the hallowed custom whereby a Roman Governor would plunder the province to which he was assigned. Caesar's law on this subject endured throughout the many centuries of the Roman Empire as a model of sound legal drafting. In point of fact, the author makes a convincing case showing that when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, surely knowing that the Republic would never be the same, he did so in the belief that the Republic had to be fundamentally restructured and modernized. Caesar rightly viewed the Roman Republic as an oligarchy designed to allow a small clique of rich Senators to maintain their dominance and plunder Rome's neighbors. The city-state government, satisfactory for governing Rome and the nearby environs, was completely inadequate to govern Rome's far-flung empire, or even just Italy.
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Format: Hardcover
Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about Caesar and next to nothing about the Roman Republic. This book certainly changed that. Personally, I'm a fan of history in its purest form: meticulously researched, free of romantic speculation, and presented as objectively as possible. However, even though this book is written more like an action novel than a textbook, I enjoyed it wholeheartedly. I couldn't put the book down and despite being a fairly slow reader, finished the book in 2 days. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to get started with Roman history and anyone else merely looking for a fast paced, action packed story of one of history's most incredible figures.
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