Customer Reviews: Augustus: Introduction to the Life of an Emperor
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on July 26, 2012
In addition to Schiff's Cleopatra and Freeman's Julius Caesar, I will happily add Galinsky's Augustus to my list of recommended Ancient Rome reads. The biography is an interesting tale of a sickly small town boy thrown into a political mess who rises to the occasion, with the drama and flair of ancient life, naturally. I was impressed by the amount of primary source references, quotes, and pictures, which assisted in my visualization of this 2050 year old man. Most importantly, this biography transforms Augustus the statue to Augustus the living human being, a mark of an excellent biographer. Galinsky has created a wonderful read for Ancient Rome expert and enthusiast alike.
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on July 23, 2012
Sometimes, people who work on ancient history forget that everyone else does not -- and some of the most fascinating looks at the past fall through the cracks because the subject remains dauntingly incomprehensible, pitched to insiders. Ever wonder how, why and when the empire of Rome became the Roman Empire? Or who helped bring it there, who helped and when? Well, Augustus is the figure who stands at the crossroads of 1 BCE/1 CE (a centrally important date, all things considered) and Galinsky's book brings that time in the Roman world back to life through this succinct biography. Working with the ease of someone who knows the material inside and out, Galinsky has given a wider audience an immensely readable book about a key figure in Rome's history who might even have some lasting lessons for today.
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on July 30, 2012
This is an excellent, up-to-date treatment of Rome's first and greatest emperor, and it is an enjoyable read. In fact, this book is so engaging that you will find it hard to put it aside, once you have read the first page. As a winner of several teaching awards, Karl Galinsky knows how to communicate with a non-specialist audience on a very high level. Abundant in detail and yet never overwhelming, this very informative book offers so much more than just a retelling of Augustus' life, amazing as it was. A great asset is the boxes, which offer a rich and lively array of contemporary sources, ranging from Augustus' birth sign to Livia's prescriptions for nervous tension, and even analogies with American global culture. Yet what makes this book really unique - and a great deal more accessible than many others - is the combination of expertise, wit, and engagement that are constantly on display. Comments like the one on Horace's bed are priceless. And so are some of the section titles. Augustus left a huge mark on world history, and this superb book makes us understand him and his times. Karl Galinsky's introduction to Augustus belongs in the hands of anyone interested in ancient Rome and in great figures of world history.
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on July 30, 2012
Galinsky's book is a terrific introduction to the personality of the first Roman emperor. The book is incredibly readable - the author sprinkles humor and references to the modern world throughout his text to make Augustus come alive. From the very first chapter, where we get to know more about Augustus' upbringing than many would think possible, the reader is introduced to Augustus as a person, not merely as a figurehead who transformed Rome into an empire. The text boxes are a terrific addition, with little tidbits about Augustus' horoscope or witty exchanges between the emperor's teenaged granddaughter and her mother. The text is easy to read, but never simplifies - Galinsky always recognizes how challenging the topic is and how many controversies there are, and yet never lets the book get bogged down in these controversies, but provides his readers with a clear and sensible narrative. If you are interested in the ancient Romans, this book is a must read!
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on July 23, 2012
The title of this review, which borrows a witty subheading from a section in the first chapter of this exciting new book, is an apt description of what Karl Galinsky has done in a mere 186 pages of text: made Augustus come alive for the 21st-century reader! What is especially impressive is just how accessible this book is to non-specialist audience. Every potentially unfamiliar concept and term is glossed and explained. And yet, this little book goes deep, and presents a vivid picture of Augustus' life and political career, taking into account all available ancient evidence. Thus the specialist reader would find much to learn here as well.
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on January 15, 2013
The book is an excellent overview of the reign of Augustus and covers many aspects of this fascinating person. Although thorough, it is never stuffy or "scholarly", making it an easy read for anyone not acquainted with Rome's first emperor's achievements. It can be a stepping stone for further reading.
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on July 29, 2012
The transition from Roman Republic to Empire was not a smooth one; it had its share of potholes and detours, red tape and strikes. Galinsky, however, is a superb guide and leads us on an intricate and fascinating journey in this well researched, extremely accessible, and thought-provoking ride. As an experienced driver behind the wheel, Galinsky is careful to point out all of the events, people, and institutions that influenced Octavian/Augustus and does so by merging sources (textual, art historical, and artifactual) seamlessly into his narrative. The complex map that emerges is not simply one that leads us from point A to point B, but rather shows all the winding paths, shortcuts, and intersections that took place along the way. Galinsky is also the perfect tour guide, witty and ready to share a tale straight from the ancients that further brings to the fore the good, the bad, and the ugly of Rome and Augustus. The end result is a voyage that is highly manageable and thrilling for the frequent traveler, the first time visitor, and even the accidental tourist. This is one trip into the ancient world worth taking.
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on August 10, 2013
Superb summary of the life and times of Augustus. A collection which does not really take either side of the Augustan debate overall and simply presents the information in an accessible and crystal clear many. Excellent book.
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on August 7, 2012
This is an excellent, up-to-date treatment of Augustus, and it is a thoroughly engaging book. Karl Galinsky is one of the foremost experts on Augustus, and this time around he present a rich, layered history of Augustus' life in a compact volume. And it's so much more than just a retelling of Augustus' life (e.g., Galinsky has written several recent treatments Augustan Culture on Augustus). Consistently, his insights and wit enthrall the reader (scholar, student, layperson), and he demonstrates effectively the continuing relevance of Roman history and Augustus through references to our contemporary world. Galinsky's newest publication introduces the man and his impact on Rome and western civilization.
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on December 30, 2012
To compose a thorough, balanced biography of a figure so significant and complex as Augustus in just 186 pages is a daunting task. Karl Galinsky, a foremost authority on Roman history and an expert on the Augustan period, has succeeded brilliantly. This book is an extraordinary resource for focused study of Rome's first emperor, and also for a more general study of the political and cultural history of the early imperial period. Written in a concise and engaging style, Augustus: Introduction to the Life of an Emperor is both highly informative and a pleasure to read.

Octavius (who eventually was given the honorific title Augustus) was eighteen years old when thrust into the tumultuous and dangerous military and political events that followed the assassination of his great-uncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar. Galinsky begins his book by considering Octavius' youth and family circumstances, thus giving the reader a sense of the person who was suddenly to gain prominence. Octavius endured thirteen years of civil war before defeating Marc Antony in 31 BCE and becoming Rome's first emperor. Galinsky relates this harrowing rise to power without embellishing or glossing over Octavius' various shortcomings. He applies this same evenhanded approach to the emperor's 45-year reign, helpfully critiquing as overly simplistic the notion that this was a "Golden Age."

This is not to say that Galinsky diminishes in any way Augustus' many positive qualities and achievements. On the contrary, the emperor's skillful means and steadfast perseverance are on display throughout the book. His special ability to appropriate longstanding cultural traditions for the purpose of fortifying the empire, and therefore his rule, comes across clearly and in a manner that provides the reader with an extraordinary overview of Roman culture of this period. For example, on two occasions Galinsky explores the relevance of Vergil's Aeneid. Readers will marvel at Galinsky's paragraph on the poet's "bold experiment to modernize Homeric epics" (p. 145)--a model of concise, informative, and provocative scholarly analysis. This is complemented later in the same chapter by a similarly compelling section on Vergil's portrayal of Dido (pp. 157-8).

For the reader seeking a sound general study of Roman culture, the book provides brief but highly informative explanations of many topics, including: attitudes toward children; astrology; life expectancy; the place of women; adoption--and all of these by the end of the first chapter. The summary explanation of the comet of late July 44 is the best I have ever come across. The same goes for the treatment of Cleopatra and the "Egyptomania" that she helped foster among the Romans. Important technical terms like "Augustus," princeps, auctoritas, and potestas are explained straightforwardly and with a keen sense of relevance for Augustus and his reign. Another nice feature involves comparison to aspects of modern culture, such as in Boxes 7.5, "Global Cultures," and 8.3, "Augustus Today: A View from Outside Academe."

Many other boxes, inevitably placed at just the right point within the narrative, feature excerpts from ancient texts, affording the reader a clear sense of sources from which historians derive their perspectives. The book also includes several helpful apparatuses: "Note on Major Ancient Sources," maps and site plans, a genealogical chart, a timeline (with just the right degree of detail), and numerous illustrations with clear explanatory captions.

These various features are complemented by a writing style that is pleasing and enticing, drawing on current phrases and cultural allusions and implementing a good dose of humor. The book is a masterful summary treatment of one of history's most intriguing and influential figures. Notably, it complements rather than reduplicates the author's earlier book, Augustan Culture (Princeton, 1996), itself a remarkable and highly admired scholarly achievement. Augustus: Introduction to the Life of an Emperor further evinces Karl Galinsky's unsurpassed knowledge of Augustus and his period, along with his formidable skill in presenting history in an accessible and engaging manner. All readers will be grateful for these attributes and for this excellent book.
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