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Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician Paperback – May 6, 2003
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Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Clay Williams, Hunter Coll. Lib., New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Keeping with the spirit of a head-to-head competition, first let us consider the "tale of the tape." The paperback versions of both books are remarkably similar is structure, organization and length. That is, both are chronological narratives organized into seventeen chapters and just over 300 pages in length (it should be noted that the font and margins in Rawson are smaller, so "Portrait" is roughly 20% longer in terms of wordcount). Clearly, then, Everitt's relative weakness isn't excessive brevity or an unorthodox and ineffective approach to Cicero's life.
Much to my surprise, these books turned out to be just as similar in content as they were in size. Rawson certainly does a more thorough job of analyzing Cicero's philosophical works and her book ends with an excellent but brief review of Cicero's legacy, but overall Everitt's prose is more lucid and he excels Rawson in his ability to capture the pulse of life in Republican Rome (his descriptions of the traditional Roman marriage ceremony and assembly voting procedures are especially noteworthy). Rawson doesn't quote from Cicero's writings or letters to Atticus any more extensively than Everitt -- indeed, Everitt's choice of quotes are so precisely similar to Rawson's that it almost raises some suspicions. In sum, because these books are so close in every way I feel that Everitt's is superior simply because it is more readable (not to mention far easier to find and purchase).
In closing, I'd like to echo the frequent comment that this book isn't a deep and penetrating study of Cicero and his times, such as Meier's biography of Caesar. It wasn't meant to be. It is targeted to a wide audience and succeeds exceptionally well at bringing Rome and one of its most remarkable figures to the average reader. In a world where many of the liberal arts graduates of our leading universities never touch Cicero or Polybius or Livy or Thucydides and probably couldn't tell you whether the Greeks or Romans came first, I can't help but think that books like this are at least a step in the right direction toward stimulating public interest in the classics. Ideally, "Cicero" will inspire young students or the merely intellectually curious to read some of Cicero's writings or pursue more substantial works on the Republican Rome or the ancient world in general. As someone who didn't "discover" the ancients until graduate school and then developed a passion for them, I can only hope that books like this will make a few converts along the way.
For readers not particularly well versed in Roman history, Everitt does particularly well in quickly situating Cicero's life in the great events of his day, the context of an expanding empire, and the daily life of a Rome that had no city government as we would know it--little public security (private guards for the wealthy, nothing for the rest), sanitation, services, or urban administration. An accretion of checks and balances (so admired by our own founders) caused politic to deadlock, with each of the major protagonists offering solutions that either restored, or to circumvented, the formal primacy of the Senate and Rome's great families. Throughout, Everitt renders intelligible a bewildering tangle of events and human interactions. He shows Cicero standing at the center of these great events--with the exception of the plot to kill Caesar, of which he knew nothing (but you who know your Shakespeare will have known this as well...)--or, less charitably, desperately working the Roman public relations apparatus to "seem to stand," on firm Republican principals. At those times when when his cause fails--perhaps as a result of words or long harbored grudges that return to haunt him--Everitt's statesman retires to one of his well-appointed villas and the life of the mind, turing to his beloved philosophy and the composition of the writings that comprise his greatest legacy.
I dock this commendable biography a star for an insufficiency of documentation and the generally cursory handling of Cicero's ideas. Yes, yes, I recognize this is popular biography, but some particularly quirky looking passages beg for sourcing and don't get it, while other, better known material gets copious sourcing (and with endnotes, by page and passage, rather than with numbered end- or footnotes). As for Cicero's rich store of written ideas, the major works are dutifully listed, their contents for the most part cursorily described. I for one would have appreciated a broader, deeper discussion, but concluded that Everitt viewed his chapters on the works as necessary drudgery required by the life and legacy and as impediments to his narrative design (he does in fact refer to the authoritive scholarly studies in a bibliographic appendix). The author seems too eager to gallop off--perhaps to the cheers of most readers--on his thrilling, often bloody, tale. And so he does.
(And why didn't someone at Random House point out to the design people that the Coliseum, which graces the dustjacket, was erected more than a century after Cicero's death? A particularly shameless attempt to cash in on the Russell Crowe picture.)
This is nevertheless a very worthy book and a solid--and solidly entertaining--introduction to the timeless world of Roman politics. Highly recommended.
His detailed description of comon elements of Roman life, its overextended and patchwork government (laden with unbelievable corruption), and his fine description of the physical area of the Forum and its multiple functions - are fascinating and gripping.
This is an epic tale brilliantly told - a tragic but unavoidable outcome, enlivened with excellent primary source quotes which bring breath and life to the story.
You will be well versed of this critical period of history, and deeply appreciative of the cultural debt which Western Civiliazation owes Cicero after reading this book.