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Caesar: Life of a Colossus Paperback – January 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The man who virtually defined the West's concept of leadership comes alive in this splendid biography. Military historian Goldsworthy (The Complete Roman Army) gives a comprehensive, vigorous account of Caesar's conquest of Gaul and his victories in the civil war that made him master of Rome. But he doesn't stint on the nonmartial aspects of Caesar's life—his dandyism, his flagrant womanizing (which didn't stop enemies from gay-baiting him), his supple political genius and the flair for drama and showmanship that cowed mutinous legionaries and courted Rome's restive masses. Goldsworthy's is a sympathetic profile. In his telling, Caesar's massacres and group enslavements, though "utterly ruthless," are considered and pragmatic, not wanton, and the conqueror seems to possess a moderation and magnanimity that sprang from the same idealized self-image that fed his ambition. The author's vivid portrait of the late Roman Republic that Caesar toppled is correspondingly jaundiced: its politics are about nothing except the personal ambitions of powerful men, and chaos, corruption and violence reign beneath the ritualistic niceties of republican procedure. More compellingly than most biographies, Goldsworthy's exhaustive, lucid, elegantly written life makes its subject the embodiment of his age. 16 pages of b&w photos, maps. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
One of the most recognizable names to the ancient and modern worlds, Caesar is one of the few figures from the Roman Empire--Cicero and Augustus are two others--susceptible to modern biographical treatment. Caesar, by Christian Meier (1996), was the previous portrait. Goldsworthy is a historian of the Roman army, a credential vital to assessing the career of Caesar, conqueror of Gaul, instigator of a fateful civil war, dictator, and would-be conqueror of Parthia (modern Iraq) but for the Ides of March. Leaning on Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, Goldsworthy exhibits strong explanatory skill about military campaigns and about Caesar's rising but precarious political status at Rome. Accepting that Caesar crossed the Rubicon to stave off personal ruination, Goldsworthy's account of the ensuing war nevertheless does not absolve his opponents, Pompey and Cato primarily, from responsibility for the political impasse behind the war. In any case, Caesar sealed his military reputation with a rapid victory. Eternally intriguing history readers, the end of the Roman Republic receives astute analysis and dramatic narration in Goldsworthy's life of Caesar. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The story written by Adrian Goldsworthy is an easy read, but also complex with explanations not just of Roman life, but of the ways of the Gauls and Germans as well as the native Britains, and much more. The political alliance commonly called 'the Triumvirate' is periodically followed, with each stage of the relationship changing as the events in Gaul and Rome, as well as in the near-east unfold.
If you are looking to learn about Caesar in all his military glory and his teeth-grinding gambles, then you will be more than pleased to read about much more than just that. You will read about his subordinates and allies, his commitment and unwavering loyalty to his friends in contrast to his utter ruthlessness to his enemies. The problems surrounding all of Rome tie in with Caesar, and so you will discover those as well. All in all, this is one of the best books I have read on Roman history, not just because it details the time surrounding the fall of the Republic, but because it ultimately follows the story of one man who managed to change the entire Roman world forever.
The middle part of the book on the Gallic wars and the expansion of Rome into the whole of Gaul is particularly well done. It sets the Gallic wars in their political and military context and provides detailed descriptions of the individual battles. Like Churchill after him ( who said that history would treat him well for he intended to write it - and did) Caesar wrote his own history, the Commentaries actually during his campaign in Gaul. Not only was he an outstanding general and statesman he was his own highly effective PR man.
The details which emerge of civilian and military Roman life are fascinating. Caesar piling up a vast debt to pay for games, festivals etc prior to his adventures in Gaul by which he was able to repay his debts and acquire enormous wealth. The litigious nature of the Roman polity. His predilection for pardoning his mortal enemies yet slaughtering towns which broke their word. His ability to capture the mood of the moment in the treatment of his Legions - the Tenth Legion appears to have been the best but easily manipulated. Like the Grenadier guards in the British Army they usually occupied the place of honor on the right wing of his battle formation.
Goldsworthy is a careful historian explaining where he is on solid ground and what can only be conjecture. For lovers of historical biographies this is an outstanding example.
It took me almost 3 months to finish this book. One cannot rush through a history book like some pedestrian novel. One needs time to digest the material in the book first, before they can proceed to next chapter. After every chapter, you tend to ponder over the web of Roman politics, it's similarities with the modern politics & the huge impact of Rome's legacy on the modern world. You realize that one cannot escape the shadow of Rome in our modern world. Julius Ceaser is indeed a Colossus among all the Roman Emperors. Ceaser had balls of steel to take the huge risks for high rewards(either for Rome or himself), unlike any other ruler or leader across all ages. I personally see him as a benevolent dictator, who always had the security and triumph of Rome on his mind. Of course, he was greedy. But, not greedy for money,sex or luxuries like other power lusty rulers of his time. Rather, greedy for respect of the people around him, which forced him to do the things he did. He was someone who saw everything that was broken in the Roman system and saw only one way to fix the mess. Which was to dilute the powers of the ever scheming senators(who were more worried about their pockets & fame at the cost of the republic), get stuff done and to make Rome a true super power.
I can go on writing about this book at a length. So, I will end this here. Just read this book to understand and learn as to what it takes to become a leader and a colossus. The very fact that we are still speaking of Julius Ceaser after 2000 years is a testament to the greatness of this personality.