- Paperback: 468 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (October 23, 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067972477X
- ISBN-13: 978-0679724773
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (682 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I, Claudius From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 (Vintage International) Paperback – October 23, 1989
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Having never seen the famous 1970s television series based on Graves' historical novel of ancient Rome and being generally uneducated about matters both ancient and Roman, I wasn't prepared for such an engaging book. But it's a ripping good read, this fictional autobiography set in the Roman Empire's days of glory and decadence. As a history lesson, it's fabulous; as a novel it's also wonderful. Best is Claudius himself, the stutterer who let everyone think he was an idiot (to avoid getting poisoned) but who reveals himself in the narrative to be a wry and likable observer. His story continues in Claudius the God.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Graves's legendary tale of Claudius, a nobleman in the corrupt and cruel world of ancient Rome during the rule of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula, is a truly compelling listening experience. Derek Jacobi returns to the role that defined his career when he starred in the 1976 Masterpiece Theatre miniseries I, Claudius. Jacobi is so strong in this role, it seems created especially for him. Jacobi's compelling voice demands his audience's undivided attention from start to finish and in doing so delivers an unforgettable performance as Claudius yet again. So incredibly personal is Jacobi's performance that listeners feel almost as if eavesdropping on someone's private life, which only draws us deeper into this gem of modern literature. (Aug.)
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Top customer reviews
While you did get all the intrigue surrounding Claudius, it wasn’t at the expense of the quality of information in this “autobiography” by Claudius. This book may be about Claudius’ life and his account of the major events and people in his life, but the wealth of information about Roman life is impressive. Through Claudius, Graves provided details of what happened behind the scenes of the Senate and the various Emperors that have reign during his life. You get insight into the culture and political scene of the times. Reading Claudius’ narrative, I was really drawn into the intricate web of lies and conspiracies that were prevalent and by those who were the main perpetrators such as Livia, Claudius’ grandmother. While this is a historical account of Claudius’ time, you never get the sense that you’re reading a history book. Having the book be an “autobiography” of Claudius’ enable Graves to tell historical events as if Claudius was telling a story. It prevented the book from having a stale and monotonous tone which would’ve made it difficult for me to keep my attention.
I appreciated the depth of information involved in this book. You can tell that time and research went into putting this book together. And to have it all told in such a way that you were able to learn while being entertained is what made this book an enjoyable read for me. With all the scheming and determined cast of characters, it’s easy to forget these are actual historical figures. I suppose it’s easy to read books such as these when those involved do things that make it difficult for you to turn away.
I first knew of Robert Graves for his poetry and for a marvelous historical work of his, The Long Weekend, which is among my favorite history books. When I came across this work of his, I was intrigued because the Julio-Claudians have always seemed to me to be the most interesting of Rome's dynasties. I think it's because of the dynamic women involved behind the scenes and not-so-behind the scenes.
What Graves has done here is to take incredibly well-researched history and turn it into a novel that is amazingly factual (he really doesn't make up much so much as he speculates a bit -- and frankly, his speculations are probably right considering his vast knowledge of the period) and yet also compelling and vivid. Claudius, one of the saner Julio-Claudians (this being the dynasty that brought us Nero and Caligula) is the narrator, telling the story of his incredible grandmother Livia and how she secretly was the true power ruling Rome -- and also, incidentally, an incredibly depraved and evil woman, too! It goes into the deep, personal stories behind a great many Romans with whom most people only experience a momentary grade school acquaintance. The writing style has a very appealing sarcastic humor at times, though most of the book is more of a drama than a comedy.
I would highly recommend this to anyone with even the slightest interest in Roman history, or just anyone who likes a really well-written narrative. Having taught high school for several years, I can also with confidence recommend this as a great book for teens and preteens. If you have a son or daughter preparing to take AP World History, this would be an excellent summer reading book to help him/her prepare to leap into the course (and, again, the vast majority of the book is actually true, so it can make great fodder for fleshing out an essay better in the heat of an AP exam).
I initially picked up the story as a pre-Italy vacation book. Now I can't wait to see the room from "Villa Livia" in the Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme). What a wonderfully monstrous character she was!
The beginning of the book flew by, then it got a bit bogged down until Caligula took power toward the last stretch of the book. He was worth the wait - what a terror. Some of the names are tough to follow. Lots of characters zip by, but the author does a good job of jogging your recollection of some of the recurring or important minor ones.
Having savored the completion of the book for a couple of days now, I think the things that will stay with me are:
--> how familiar tyranny is whenever it occurs in history
--> how interesting that this was written in the 1930s with fascism on the rise
--> Caligula was totally outrageous - but familiar at the same time
--> how remarkable it is that some people ever assume power -- perhaps few so remarkable as poor Claudius
--> wow - the power of poison