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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still more addictive than crack cocaine
This novel is a continuation of the "Rome" series of books, of which this novel is the second. The first was "the First Man in Rome". Again, and with feeling, this is the best series I have ever read in my entire life! The words compulsive and fascinating are simply too flat and characterless to do justice to this series. If I was ever stranded on a desert island with...
Published on July 14, 2005 by Colin P. Lindsey

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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pros and Cons
This book has good points, and not-so-good points. The good first.
Mrs. McCullough has definately done her research on the late Roman Republic. Her cast is huge, within Rome and without; senators, knights, slaves, rebels, and foreign despots. Keeping this all straight while reading should have been difficult, but Colleen succeeds in giving each character a voice...
Published on June 28, 2004


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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still more addictive than crack cocaine, July 14, 2005
This novel is a continuation of the "Rome" series of books, of which this novel is the second. The first was "the First Man in Rome". Again, and with feeling, this is the best series I have ever read in my entire life! The words compulsive and fascinating are simply too flat and characterless to do justice to this series. If I was ever stranded on a desert island with only one thing to read for the rest of my life it would be this series of novels, they are that good.

This novel continues where the first left off and covers the decline of Gaius Marius, both in power and in faculty, and the meteoric rise of Sulla to the heights of power, and the titanic struggles that these erstwhile comrades ignited in the Roman world as their relationship slowly shifted from allies to enemies as each began to seek his own self-aggrandizement at the expense of the other. This is a fabulous book, and I found Sulla every bit as interesting as I did Marius, particularly since he was a more complex person with his difficult and impoverished youth, his cunning such a youth created, his difficulty with interpersonal relationships, his homosexuality, and the way he had to absolutely sublimate all of this in his quest for power.....and yet at the end, despite his more unconventional beginnings than Marius and his personal traits and habits (despised by most Roman senators), he is the far more conservative of the pair. Marius is born of rural and conservative roots but becomes a demogogue and populist, while the homosexual party-animal Sulla evolves into a rabid conservative along the lines of a Pat Buchanan. It's a lot of fun!

One of my very real epiphanies in reading this was how similar the politics of Rome were to our politics today. I think anyone reading this will be similarly struck and it is not hard to envision dropping the Roman senate down in Washington and not seeing any real change in our daily lives. The headlines would all be the same, the debates as sharp, the slandering and pandering, the demonizations, and the partisanship and bickering would go on without the slightest flicker of disruption!

I first read these books about seven years ago, and then read them all over again last year when the last installment came out. After I finished reading them the second time I nearly started over again at the beginning for a third go round, but decided instead to go and read other works relating to Rome and some works of the ancients themselves, including Caesar and Cicero.

These novels cover the period of Rome from about 110 BC to roughly 40 BC, a period of great change and upheaval for the republic that eventually led to the empire (sounds a bit like the star wars series, doesn't it? I think George cribbed a lot of notes from Roman history). This is a grand book, with characters that seem more alive and more real, than many flesh and blood people we deal with in our daily lives. The character development McCullough achieves is nothing short of mind-bending and indeed may make you a pickier reader in the future. I would whole-heartedly recommend this book, and the entire series, to any reader. It is difficult to pick a favorite out of the series, and I don't think I could, but I really, really enjoyed this first novel as much as any of them.

One cautionary note, since some of my friends are ancient history buffs, is that while the known "facts" in McCullough's series are extremely accurate and she did an incredible amount of research for these books (will someone give her an honorary doctorate please?), people's personalities and their daily lives between the big, recorded facts of history are not as well established. I love McCullough's impression and interpretation and I think few could gainsay her much in her works. Her Caesar and Sulla though may get more favorable treatment from her than other commentators and novelists might elect to award. That, however is one of the greatest things about these books: after the compulsive reading is over comes the compulsive conversations, the debating with friends about this or that, and the further exploration of one of the most facinating periods in history.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A top-notch effort from the author of the best book series, January 25, 2000
"The Grass Crown" is a wonderful novel. It describes the events after Gaius Marius' sixth consulship in 100 BC: his political eclipse and the hunt for the seventh consulship promised to him by the prophetess Martha. Standing in his way are his failing health, disturbed mental state, and, of course, Sulla. "The First Man in Rome" and "Caesar's Women" are slightly better novels that "The Grass Crown", but "The Grass Crown" is better than "Caesar".
In order to get a complete picture of what Sulla is like and how he came to be what he is, I think it is vital to read "The First Man in Rome" first. "The Grass Crown" does not have spectacular character development. For example, more needs to be said about Cornelia Scipionis and Mamercus, especially the latter because he becomes important later on. Pompey Starbo and Young Marius require more attention because they are too one-dimensional.
The most engaging story involves Marcus Livius Drusus, who had gone through a transformation in "The First Man in Rome". In "The First Man in Rome", I did not sympathize with Drusus but in "The Grass Crown" I grew to like him and care about what happens to him. Livia Drusa's story is also quite compelling, but I wish that the author would provide a better characterization for Cato Salonianus. His presence is not at all memorable and his love for Livia Drusa is hard to believe and appreciate because there seems to be no source for it.
I thoroughly enjoyed Servilia and Caepio. While in "The First Man in Rome" Caepio was pitiful; he becomes completely loathsome in "The Grass Crown". Servilia is an interesting character and the book provides a great background for her behavior in later books, especially "Caesar's Women". Other characters that I enjoyed are Aurelia (fascinating as always), Cicero (his military career is described with gritty realism and hilarity), Publius Rutilius Rufus (his letters are one of the best written sections in the novel), and Gaius Marius (he is not perfect and at times deranged but it is hard not to root for him).
The best part of the book involves Sulla and his son, Young Sulla. The story of their journey East and Young Sulla subsequent death and its devastating effects on Sulla is the most poignant of the four books of "Masters of Rome" series that I have read: "The First Man in Rome", "The Grass Crown", "Caesar's Women" and "Caesar".
My biggest grievance about this novel is that the last hundred pages, which are the most interesting, are not enough to provide adequate attention to the subject of Marius' and Sulla's power struggle. Everything led up to this moment but instead of savoring it, the author quickly blows over the events. Marius' madness has been hinted at in "The First Man in Rome" but in "The Grass Crown" he just goes mad without any elaboration or focus on the process of his going mad. It would only be fair if the last hundred pages can be spread over 200 pages, at least.
Final note on errors: In "Caesar's Women" and "Caesar", they are prevalent throughout these novels and are extremely annoying. They are present in "The Grass Crown" but not to such an alarming extent.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes a great book, be it historical or otherwise. But PLEASE READ "THE FIRST MAN IN ROME" FIRST.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars another fabulous peek into Rome, June 19, 2002
By 
Robert J. Crawford (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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This sequel continues the story of Marius, one of the greatest generals that Rome had ever known, and his student and rival, Sulla. Julius Caesar is also a child prodigy in it and the familiar cast of characters from the first volume are back as well. As far as new characters go, there are the brutal "oriental" despot Mithradates, Ciciero, and the ambitious Pompey family. They are all believable and very interesting as well as embodiments of possible roman futures in a way that most history books do not explore. The characters also evolve, which adds a depth that makes it all the more believable.
It is about a very sad era in Rome, with the republican institutions in precipitous decline as powerful generals rise, whose troops are more loyal to them than to the Roman Republic. The descent into barbarism is horrific and brilliantly delineated by McCullough, who has done a superb job of historical research. Just as Marius' star is waning - and his decline from the great and far-thinking man he was makes for depressing reading - so Sulla's time has arrived.
I do not know of a better way to live in a different era than historical novels. This series is so masterly, so fascinating in detail, and so fast-moving in plot and action that it is one of the best that I have ever read. Warmly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Think Roman history is dull?, March 19, 2001
By A Customer
You'll change that opinion once you're immersed in "The Grass Crown". Better yet, start with "The First Man in Rome" in order to fully appreciate the grandure of Colleen McCullough's series. I've been reading historical novels all my life, and been disappointed by many. But for sheer quantity of details, I've never seen the like. It truly feels like Ms. McCullough was there. It reads like an eye witness account. I especially liked her description of Caesar's mother, and the world she created and inhabited. But the story deals primarily with Sulla. His progress through life reminded me of "The Picture of Dorian Gray". His deeds and misdeeds are etched on his face and body. What a warning we receive from this description of a dictator who gained power due to the apathy of his fellow citizens. They let him have too much power and died regretting it. Think about that the next time you're tempted not to vote. These are long novels, but I couldn't get enough. Some have compared this to "I, Claudius". Not a good comparison. As much as I enjoyed "The Grass Crown", it can't compare to Robert Graveses wit and lyrical style. Still, it has charms aplenty of its own. Read it, you'll be glad you did.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clash of Giants: Marius vs. Sulla., October 12, 2005
By 
Ms McCullough has done a profound historical research in order to write her "Roman Saga" started with "The First Man in Rome" in 1990 and continues with "The Grass Crown" (1991). There are four installments more.

She delivers an accurate picture of the late Roman Republic, bringing to life historically characters with amazing detail.
The author follows and reveals step by step all the intricacies of that rich and complex era.
Does this mean that the book is boring? By no means, Ms McCullough is able to show daily life, dressing, feeding, religious rituals, political and social structures in a magnificent fresco and at the same time construct an engaging story that will trap the reader for hours.

The story starts in the year 99 BC, following the careers of Marius and Sulla as they step by step draw away from each other and start a bitter confrontation.
The backdrop is the "Social War" (uprising of the Italics against Rome), the invasion of Greece and Rome's Asian province by King Mithridates and the harsh clash of plebeian and patrician.

Ms McCullough gives also numerous anecdotes about different great Romans as Marcus Livius and his sister Livia Drusa; Marcus Aemilus Scaurus and his very young wife Dalmatica. Their stories crisscross the entire novel.
Almost inadvertently Gaius Julius Caesar is introduced in the story giving his first steps as a boy and a pre-teenager of outstanding intelligence and sensibility.

Last but not least the author has drawn beautiful busts of the main characters; detailed maps of different ancient scenarios where action takes place and a very complete glossary.

I recommend reading the first volume of the series, but even if you don't do it, you will no be at loss as the author gives some flashbacks in the first pages.
I strongly recommend this book to any serious history aficionado!
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rushing to Power, Roman Style, June 12, 2002
This review is from: The Grass Crown (Hardcover)
"The Grass Crown" follows up on the themes first played out in "The First Man In Rome"--political pre-eminence, alliances and betrayals, the worsening relationship between Rome and her Italian allies, and, of course, love, marriage and infidelity.
As Gaius Marius ages and loses influence with the Senate, Lucius Cornelius Sulla rises and attains power simply by being in the right places at the right time. McCullough paints Sulla as, paradoxically, the invisible man--his peers support him for his high birth while knowing next to nothing about the man or his motives. And Sulla keeps his secrets well, in spite of his attempts--and failures--to keep his darker impulses in check. McCullough does an excellent job of portraying Sulla as a sociopath who manages to camouflage himself so well in civilized society.
Gaius Marius starts out strong in the beginning but swiftly goes downhill after suffering his second stroke during the War of the Allies, his mind and his ethics succumbing to his desire to fulfill the prophecy of his own greatness. Caught in this desire are the fates of his son, his wife, and his nephew, a young boy named Gaius Julius Caesar.
The characters are better drawn here than in "First Man"; there is greater depth to people like Marcus Livius Drusus the reformer, Servilius Caepio, and Pompeius Strabo, but at least one, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, suffers a softening (which is really too bad for fans of the feisty old man). McCullough does a good job with the children as well--Servilia, Livia Drusa's neglected daughter, is a thoroughly unlikeable, but not completely unsympathetic character, and Young Sulla and his sister Cornelia are wonderful, spirited young people.
The end of this book is bloody, gruesome, and gives a sense of how horrific this period was for Rome, patrician and pleb alike. The changes of fortune are swift and well-told, but McCullough can't resist long pages of barely-broken paragraphs and anachronistic language, even though she throws in a few more Latin phrases and expressions to make her dialogue more authentic. Still, it's a faster and more exciting book than "First Man," which is all to the good.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Series Continues With Worthy Second Novel, May 20, 2004
By 
Scott Schiefelbein (Portland, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
It's difficult to categorize "The Grass Crown" as a sequel to Colleen McCullough's first novel of ancient Rome, "The First Man in Rome." It's more of a continuation of an epic, which is the collapse of the Roman Republic, due in no small part by the great weight of the titans striding across Italia in those days.
Where "The First Man in Rome" left off with Gaius Marius ascendant, thanks in large part due to the savage cunning and brilliant audacity of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, his right-hand man, "The Grass Crown" starts with these two friends growing apart. Their closest friend, Publius Rutilius Rufus, whose letters offer some of the most entertaining passages in the first two books, notes the growing rift between the two even at a pleasant dinner party. This gap is a sad foreshadowing of the chasm that will soon develop between these two.
Neither Marius nor Sulla is equipped to be second best at anything, and even though they share many traits, these two are too different to remain friends for long. Marius, even though he has suffered a stroke, remains convinced that he is the best general in Rome and is just insecure enough to need to prove it. Sulla, chafing at Marius's position as the First Man in Rome, is desperate to prove his place and to restore the patrician class (which Marius has undermined with his New Man successes and radical ideas).
Tragedy ensues as Sulla loses his beloved son and Marius suffers an even more debilitating stroke -- although this does bring the young prodigy Julius Caesar to Marius's side as an aide. Marius's insecurity becomes palpable when he grows resentful of the staggering potential demonstrated by Young Caesar.
Marcus Drusus, another hold-over from "The First Man in Rome," gets caught up advocating for the Roman citizenship for all Italians . . . this sounds odd to folks who aren't familiar with Roman history, but "Italy" as we now understand it is a modern invention. By advocating the extension of citizenship to all Italians, Drusus creates a firestorm among the Roman political class (the Romans were a remarkably arrogant people, and looked down with disdain even on those Italians who fought side-by-side with them against the dreaded Germans). This conflict drives much of the book, and its fall-out creates the military conflict that drives the book to its conclusion.
Both Marius and Sulla get involved in the Roman military campaign against the Italians, and Sulla manages to win the coveted Grass Crown, one of the highest awards in the Roman world. But still, Sulla feels eclipsed by Marius, and soon these two giants are at war. Sulla, violating centuries of precedent, leads his armies against Rome, and the bloody fall-out of Roman fighting Roman is almost too much to bear.
Through it all, McCullough writes with her usual straightforward brilliance. Rather than dazzle the reader with literary flourishes, McCullough paints an exhilirating world through precise descriptions and vivid characterizations. Her grasp of the scope of the Roman world is staggering, and her glossary and maps are invaluable.
Fortunately, McCullough pays as much attention to the female world of Rome as the male -- we get a fully realized Rome that reveals the political clout of the Roman woman even in a world that officially denied her so much power.
All in all, a heck of a read. However, this book really must be read after "The First Man in Rome," or you'll miss too much of the back story.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marius vs. Sulla, Two Leaders, Two Styles., November 2, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Grass Crown (Hardcover)
Ms McCullough has done a profound historical research in order to write her "Roman Saga" started with "The First Man in Rome" in 1990 and continued with "The Grass Crown" (1991).

She delivers an accurate picture of the late Roman Republic, bringing to life historically characters with amazing detail.

The author follows and reveals step by step all the intricacies of that rich and complex era.

Does this mean that the book is boring? By no means, Ms McCullough is able to show daily life, dressing, feeding, religious rituals, political and social structures in a magnificent fresco and at the same time construct an engaging story that will trap the reader for hours.

The story starts in the year 99 BC, following the careers of Marius and Sulla as they step by step draw away from each other and start a bitter confrontation.

The backdrop is the "Social War" (uprising of the Italics against Rome), the invasion of Greece and Rome's Asian province by King Mithridates and the harsh clash of plebeian and patrician.

Ms McCullough gives also numerous anecdotes about different great Romans as Marcus Livius and his sister Livia Drusa; Marcus Aemilus Scaurus and his very young wife Dalmatica. Their stories crisscross the entire novel long.

Almost inadvertently Gaius Julius Caesar is introduced in the story giving his first steps as a boy and a pre-teenager of outstanding intelligence and sensibility.

Last but not least the author has drawn beautiful busts of the main characters; detailed maps of different ancient scenarios where action takes place and very complete glossary.

I recommend reading the first volume of the series, but even if you don't do it, you will no be at loss as the author gives some flashbacks in the first pages.

I strongly recommend this book to any serious history aficionado!

Reviewed by Max Yofre.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pros and Cons, June 28, 2004
By A Customer
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This review is from: The Grass Crown (Hardcover)
This book has good points, and not-so-good points. The good first.
Mrs. McCullough has definately done her research on the late Roman Republic. Her cast is huge, within Rome and without; senators, knights, slaves, rebels, and foreign despots. Keeping this all straight while reading should have been difficult, but Colleen succeeds in giving each character a voice and an opinion. The result is that each historical character comes to life. She puts a face on men and women who have been dead for over 2000 years (literally in some cases, thanks to occassional illustrations). Not only that, she sifts the complex events of the time and gives plausable reasons and reactions. This in itself is a hugely daunting task, and I believe Mrs. McCullough has acquitted herself admirably on this field.
Now for the not-so-good. With such a profusion of characters, the author just does not seem to be able to shape a believeable dialogue. It Is not simply an attempt to "Romanize" her language. Indeed, her inclusion of technical Latin would cover this attempt by itself. Rather, her characters are always transparent and seem shallow while they describe their reasons and reactions to events as they unfold. And there are some gaps in her narrative as well. None are too big so as to totally ruin her credibility, but big enough to set off a reader who is paying attention and who wonders why and how her main characters justify the attrocities they commit or causes they take up. While her characterizations are always clear, which defends against getting characters mixed up, they are also pretty flat and single faceted; this character is greedy, that one is power-hungry, another is noble-minded, another is ruthless. When the rare epiphany occurs, it usually means a total reversal of personality. Mrs. McCullough does not persuade us that her characters are conflicted, or even wrong. They simply act out the part appointed to them historical fact.
Overall, Mrs. McCullough has done well in lending color and motion to the struggles of Marius, Sulla, and the Social War in Italy. However, her writing style did not satisfy me and I found myself disinterested in her text at many points. I do not recommend this, or any of its fellow novels, as an easy or enjoyable read to a novice of Roman history; however, I would recommend it to someone who is interested in seeing how this author chooses to portray the faces and events of a challenging and fascinating era.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful characterization, impeccable research, May 2, 2006
The second book in McCullough's "Masters of Rome" series, _The Grass Crown_ picks up where _The First Man in Rome_ leaves off, chronicling the slow decline of Gaius Marius, the main character in the first book, and the rise of his aristocratic colleague and rival Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Several other Romans, famous, infamous and obscure, also make an appearance, including the young Pompey, Cicero, and of course a very young Julius Caesar, already charming, intelligent to the point of genius, and utterly ruthless.

With the impeccable research that made _The First Man in Rome_ such a joy for lovers of historical fiction, McCullough also provides a richly detailed background for the careers of these well-known men. Roman history is such a vast subject, usually concentrating on the expansion of the empire and dry politics, that it is a treat to get an intimate glimpse into the Romans' personal lives, alliances and rivalries, as well as the larger but often overlooked conflict with the other Italian tribes known as the Social War. The strong women who helped make Rome great, although their political power was virtually non-existent, are not neglected here either. Marius' wife, Julia, and Caesar's mother, Aurelia, are two exceptional women who made their first appearance in the last book; introduced here, as a child, is the treacherous Servilia, who will eventually become the mother of Brutus. In addition, we get an extended look at Rome's great nemesis Mithridates, king of Pontus, and a glimpse of Egyptian dynastic politics before Cleopatra.

Although sometimes the details of troop movements and political maneuvering can be a little hard to follow, McCullough's real forté is characterization. Like those in _I Claudius_, her characters can take such a hold on the imagination that it can be a little disconcerting to read non-fictional accounts and find that for all the research and loving detail, her interpretations of personalities, motivations, etc. are just that, interpretations. To me, this is a mark of truly excellent fiction - to make us forget that it _is_ fiction and that we are not actually there, eavesdropping on history.
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The Grass Crown (Masters of Rome)
The Grass Crown (Masters of Rome) by Colleen McCullough (Paperback - August 7, 2003)
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