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Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038550313X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385503136
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After a palace coup demolished the reign of King Tarquin of Rome in 509 B.C., a republican government flourished, providing every person an opportunity to participate in political life in the name of liberty. As Holland, a novelist and adapter of Herodotus' Histories for British radio, points out in this lively re-creation of the republic's rise and fall, the seeds of destruction were planted in the very soil in which the early republic flourished. It was more often members of the patrician classes who had the resources to achieve political success. Such implicit class distinctions in an ostensibly classless society also gave rise to a new group of rulers who acted like monarchs. Holland chronicles the rise to power of such leaders as Sulla Felix, Pompey, Cicero and Julius Caesar. Some of these leaders, such as Pompey, appealed to the masses by expanding the republic through military conquest; others, like Cicero, worked to reinforce class distinctions. Holland points to the suppression of the Gracchian revolution-a series of reforms in favor of the poor pushed by the Gracchus brothers in the second century B.C.-as the beginning of the end of the republic, providing the context into which Julius Caesar would step with his own attempts to save the republic. As Holland points out, Caesar actually precipitated civil wars and helped to reestablish an imperial form of government in Rome. With the skill of a good novelist, Holland weaves a rip-roaring tale of political and historical intrigue as he chronicles the lively personalities and problems that led to the end of the Roman republic. Maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ancient history lives in this vivid chronicle of the tumultuous events that impelled Julius Caesar across the one small river that separated the Roman Republic from cataclysmic civil war. With the narrative talents that have established him as a prominent radio personality and novelist, Holland pulls readers deep into the treacherous riptide of Roman politics. To show how Caesar eventually masters that tide--if only temporarily--Holland first traces the bloody career of the ruthless dictator Sulla, who rescues an imperiled Republic even as he breaches its founding traditions. Those breaches deeply disturb the moralist Cato, but the indulgent luxury of a post-Sullan world suits Caesar well enough: a popular favorite, he sets the fashion in loose-fitting togas--and waits for his fated opening. Recounting Caesar's eventual seizure of power in pages as irresistibly cadenced as the legionnaires' march, Holland probes the tragic ironies that quickly expose the bold conqueror to idealistic assassins, who themselves soon perish in the rise of the Augustan Empire. Not a work for scrupulous scholars, but a richly resonant history for the general reader. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

For a history book to be commissioned, I think the editor looks at writing ability just as much as technical ability in history.
Y. Li
Rubicon being the first contemporary scholar's work I read on Rome, Holland's style is easy to read, engaging, and gives enough depth without droning on & on.
The Usher
Hollands narrative history flows and entertains like a fiction, his depth of knowledge and research bringing the characters intimately to life.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood VINE VOICE on January 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
Tom Holland takes the reader on a detailed, readable trip through the last decades of the Roman Republic in the last century B.C.E. 'Rubicon' provides a an excellent overview of that climactic era. Holland deftly paints the main players in colorful detail from the original dictator Sulla to the first emperor, Octavian (Augustus) and in between we meet the war hero Pompey the Great, the temporizing orator/politician Cicero, the slippery Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, and the exotic Cleopatra. And Cato, dear inflexible, unbending Cato, trying to hold these Romans to their best traditions, and of course ultimately failing.

Holland also gives the reader a strong understanding of the things that motivated the Romans - and they were highly motivated - glory, honor, tradition, military valour, and duty, but ambition, superstition, and avarice, as well. In the end, the unimagined wealth brought home by military conquests from the new imperial possessions allowed the concentration of too much wealth, power, and military might in too few hands. Once unstoppered, the pull of absolute power was too great to resist.

The end of the Roman Republic, more so than the much later fall of the Roman Empire, is a tale worth pondering. Tom Holland has made this experience exceedingly enjoyable, not to mention educational.

Highest recommendation.
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132 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on March 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Roman republic, the world of SPQR ("Senatus populusque Romanus), has always been for me a set of brightly colored slides, snapshots of highlighted moments in jumbled order: Spartacus' crucified army, Caesar stabbed in the Forum, Cleopatra dying on a barge in Atrium, Hannibal crossing the Alps, Cato and Cicero holding crowds spellbound orating about something or other, net and trident facing spear and shield in the gladiatorial circle. And of course, Caesar returning from long years in Gaul, on the bank of the Rubicon.
This compulsively readable book put it all together in one seamless narrative, and replaced my slides with a breathtaking movie that has it all: epic battles, dynastic soap opera, noble patriotism, eyecatching eccentricity, treacherously shifting alliances, scheming and backstabbing and dazzling hypocrisy, with the survival of a great democracy always at stake and always at risk. Holland pumps an incredible quantity of information into your head, with each personage and event so naturally connected to its neighbor that you don't feel surfeited. As a result, every component has the benefit of a richly detailed context.
What's best is the confidence with which Holland conveys the ethos of the Republic, which is surprisingly alien, yet has points of analogy with our own. Though plenty of plundering and graft goes on, only one major figure, Crassus, acts mainly out of pecuniary motives. Nevertheless, as our own capitalistic democracy's dynamism has been driven by the relentless competition for scarce monetary resources, the Roman republic derived its energy from a relentless competition for "glory", the scarce commodity of high reputation.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By David Roy on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What parallels might be drawn between the present-day United States and the Roman Republic before Julius Caesar took over? It's a fascinating question, and one that seems to be an inspiration to Tom Holland, as he mentions it in the introduction to Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Or, maybe it wasn't one, since this is the last time he mentions it. The reader is left to his/her own conclusions on this issue, but unfortunately the back cover draws attention to this aspect making you think that's what the book is going to be about.
Instead, he gives us a history of the fall of the Republic, from the late 2nd century BC to the death of Caesar in 44 BC. Holland covers all the wars, civil unrest and the decline of senatorial power as he shows us the events leading to dictatorship. The history is dotted with colourful characters (from Caesar to Spartacus to Cleopatra and beyond) and Holland brings them all to life, often in their own words. In doing so, Holland has produced a very readable account, meticulously researched, that will make anybody with even a mild interest in this time period clamour for more.
Holland begins (also in his introduction) by talking about the amount of information from this time period that we have access to, as it's one of the most recorded periods in ancient history. Yet even so, it's impossible to take everything written as fact, immune to different interpretations. Instead, it's a minefield where historians have to tread carefully.
"In short, the reader should take it as a rule of thumb that many statements of fact in this book could plausibly be contradicted by an opposite interpretation." Pg xx (introduction)
This is all well and good, and I'm glad that he warned us.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Cato on March 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
On one level, I loved this book. This book provides the most concise summary of the major historical events and personalities involved in the fall of the Roman Republic that I have seen. I enjoyed the author's narrative style immensley.

However, I also had many criticisms of this book.

1. There is an entire not-so-well concealed attempt to draw parallels between America and the Roman Republic. Not that I mind this, but if this was the author's thesis, he could have just come out and said so. Instead we get surreptitious innuendos that imply America is on the same path. Whether you agree or disagree with this premise is not the point. The point is that the author should have had the intellectual honesty to just incorporate this explicitly into his narrative. As he fails to do so, the book reeks of anti-American bias at points.

2. The 1st 1/4 of the book, while highly informative is not organized in any logical fashion. He jumps around between oysters and sea Villas to murders of politicians to slave revolts to major wars without ever trying to connect the events.

3. The author never really settles on a thesis. The narrative is a mix between the Romands became to "Greek" and lost their identity and the Romans became too Roman by elevating personal glory, murder, and power over anything else.

4. I wish the author would have spent more time examining the life of the average citizen, the small farmer, the tax structure, etc. and explore how this affected the events.

What we wind up with is a great, easy-to-read popular narrative of "what" happened, but a relatively weak scholarly analysis of "why" it happened.

In short this book was good, but very dissappointing because it had the potential to be great.

I would recommend this book if you are new to this era of Roman history as a good starting point. However, the academic or amatuer scholar will find this book frustrating.
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