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Caesar: A Biography

4.0 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465008957
ISBN-10: 046500895X
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

James Boswell called him ‘the greatest man of any age’. As politician and diplomat, writer and lover, but above all as a military genius, Julius Caesar is one of the most perennially fascinating figures in history. Christian Meier’s biography is the definitive, modern account of Caesar’s life and career, and places him within the wider context of the crisis of the Roman republic. Written specifically for a general readership, this authoritative, stimulating book serves, amongst other things, as a reminder to those who believe that men are mere servants of historical forces that the great individual still has an unarguably significant part to play.

“Meier’s is a compulsively readable, scholarly, imaginative, and almost poetic account.”
PETER JONES, 'Sunday Telegraph'

“A subtle and complex inquiry into the nature of politics and power in the late Republic … Meier builds up a convincing portrait of a man with a restless need for achievement but no master plan … His 'Caesar' goes well beyond the confines of biography to present a radical analysis of a political system in decline, and the opportunities it afforded one of the most brilliant and unscrupulous individuals of all time.”
JOAN SMITH, 'Independent on Sunday'

“This book of Meier’s … has become a book of great historical importance and literary glory, portraying the most fascinating ruler of the ancient world in his historical context, and in all his humanity, against the background of a Rome shattered by civil war.”
INGE FRESE, 'Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung'

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Christian Meier is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Munich. He is one of Europe’s leading authorities on the Late Roman Republic and is the author of The Greek Discovery of Politics and The Political Art of Greek Tragedy.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 31, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046500895X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465008957
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having some familiarity already with Roman history, I probably did not suffer as many may do reading this book if they do not know already the outlines of the era. Meier has the weaknesses of the Germanic intellect: he is longwinded, dense, and fuzzy at the edges, sometime rhapsodizing incoherently for pages about Some Big Concept he has contrived to explain Caesar's force and character. On the other hand, some of his ideas are compellng, especially his elaborate (and thematic) treatment of The Outsider as exemplified by Marius and Sulla, both of whom later served as models for Caesar.
But certain things are just fudged over, and left unclear. I only discovered by reading at the same time in Finley Hooper's "Roman Realities" (o.p.; get it out of the library) that Clodius, who was a wild man and sometime ally/enemy of Caesar, as well as Cicero and others, was the same Clodius who forced Caesar to divorce his wife Pompeia when Clodius allegedly tried to seduce her by dressing as a female slave and infiltrating Caesar's house. This is only symptomatic. The whole Catilinarian conspiracy is similarly befogged with intrigue, which of course it was at the time; but it is the duty of the historian to clarify such events.
All in all, I much prefer Michael Grant's book on Caesar, which is now o.p. too. However, it was shorter, more succinct, and not as rich in speculation as Meier's. This book is very thought-provoking at times, but don't rely on it to give you a coherent picture of this time. For Caesar's remarkable personality, though, it's probably the best.
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By nto62 on November 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Caesar, by Christian Meier is a no nonsense treatise on the life of Julius Caesar and the political maelstrom which surrounded it. Here, Meier strips the veneer away to show a man truly great, but also truly flawed.
From Caesars birth to the inevitable Ides of March, Meier educates, analyzes, and explains the person, the time, and the place with remarkable skill and detail. This isn't an edge-of-your-seat sort of reading experience. Instead, it is a comfortably patient, thought provoking book of tremendous scholarly value. Meier artfully avoids a teleological viewpoint striving successfully to explain what Caesar, Cicero, Cato, Pompey, et al, thought and saw then. We note clearly that their experience was much different than what we might see through 2000+ years of reflection.
Of particular interest is the juxtaposition between the Republic of Rome and Caesar. His thirst for recognition and the weakness of the Senate to shunt it presents paradox after paradox as Caesar struggles to control the political game. In the end, both Senate and Caesar submit to an undesired civil war. From there, the power struggle continues as does the edification of the reader.
Though the book may plod in places, these instances are brief and rare. It is well worth the time of any serious reader interested in early Rome and one of the most famous men in recorded history.
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Format: Paperback
Meier writes a good book with, for the most part, many facts about JC and Rome and that era.
However he goes off on these tangents where he wants to prove some points. He declares that JC was an outsider and the republic was bound to fall. Yet he does not bring any proof of these 'facts' to this book. He uses the fact that the republic fell to show that what he said was true. I found this a useless part of the book and skimmed over many paragraphs of his rhetorical questions - Why would Caesar do this? Did he not know? yada yada yada.
I love facts. Give me names, dates, places, events. Leave your opinions in separate sections of the book not interwoven in the bio.
The main point Meier makes is that JC was an outsider to Rome's politics. While in fact he was the opposite. JC was as close to the inside as any of the others in the senatorial class. Meier fails to show a typical insider to contrast with this supposed outsider. Cato, Cicero, Pompey were no different than Caesar with respect to any question of a right to be in Rome or in the Senate. Meiere also fails to say exactly why he thinks JC is an outsider.
Another thing I did not like is the fabricated scenes Meier describes. Here is a bit where he talks of Caesar crossing the Rubicon (page 3 already) "There Caesar halted. He hesitated. Once again, beside the swiftly flowing river swollen by heavy rain, he reviewed the various arguments, then reiterated his decision. For a moment he once again took a detached look at the plan he had already embraced; what he had begun to set in train step by step now appeared to him as an awful vision. All the possible consequences of the enterprise presented themselves in their full horror. Contemplating them, he may have felt dizzy."
I think Meier is dizzy.
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Format: Paperback
First and most important- do not read this book if you haven't already read a biography on Caesar. This book skips or glosses over several sections of Caesar's life, mostly Caesar's battles and his time in Britain. To learn about Caesar's life, there are definitely better books out there (I highly recommend Goldsworthy's Caesar: Life of a Colossus).

But, if you want to learn about Rome during the time of Caesar, the great personalities of the time, and what potentially made Caesar into the man that is known throughout the entire world today, then I highly recommend this book.

This book isn't really a biography about Caesar, it's about the author's theory regarding what made the great personalities of the day and the fall of the Republic. To that end, the author has many sections where the "biography" (as defined by those portions of the book devoted to chronologically relating the events in the republic and Caesar's life) obviously stops and the author steps on his soapbox to discuss his theories. If this tendency annoys you, then I would not suggest reading this book.

Meier's primary theory is that Caesar was an outsider to the Roman political institutions which means that he was also an outsider to the Senators themselves. Meier discusses that Caesar became CAESAR due to this outsider status- he was forced to become what he did in order to survive. But, Meier does not let Caesar off that easy. Often, Meier points out where Caesar could have compromised with the Senate, Pompey, and Cato to avoid much of the bloodshed and hardship that his decisions forced upon the world. Meier does a good job of being fairly neutral on Caesar- he honors Caesar's greatness while also recognizing the horror the befell hundreds of thousands due to his decisions.
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