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Rome's Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar Hardcover – October 16, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Cato the Younger, who famously committed suicide in 46 BCE rather than submit to Julius Caesar, symbolized republican liberty to both contemporaries like Cicero, who wrote a lost panegyric, and American patriots like George Washington, who staged Addison’s Cato at Valley Forge. Suspecting that the actual Cato might not completely sustain the idealized version, Goodman and Soni set the Stoic senator amid the convulsions of the late Roman Republic. Summarizing Cato as “a lifelong project of calculated anachronism,” they show him upholding strict adherence to Rome’s constitution, inveighing against money’s corruption of elections and trials, and setting an example of probity in his management of the state treasury and the province of Cyrus. But in an era of populist tumult and riots in the Forum, Cato’s republican rectitude resulted in serial political defeats. It’s in private that Cato seems less perfect and more real as Goodman and Soni speculate about, for example, Cato’s divorce and remarriage to the same woman. Written in flowing, nonacademic prose, this biography suits the never-waning popular interest in the dramas of ancient Roman history. --Gilbert Taylor


“Effectively the first-ever modern biography of Cato. The writing is excellent, the stories unforgettable, and the lessons practical.” ―Tim Ferriss on FourHourWorkWeek.com

“[This] wise and lively book offers two lessons: first, knowing modern politics can yield insight into study of the ancient world; and second, Rome still has lessons to teach us today.” ―City Journal

“The authors succeed brilliantly in bringing this fascinating statesman to life.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“In a rare modern biography of Marcus Cato the Younger, a rival of both Caesar and Pompey, Goodman, formerly a Democratic speechwriter, and Soni (managing editor, Huffington Post) argue that understanding Cato and the many legends surrounding him will help readers understand both the current American political climate and contemporary notions of freedom...there are great moments here: Cato, struggling in Utica after the defeats at Pharsalus and Thapsus, is revealed in all his flawed humanity. Where others (e.g. Adrian Goldsworthy in Caesar: Life of a Colussus) are inclined to view Cato as a hypocrite, using his virture and stoicism as another tack to rise in the high-stakes world of late Republic Rome power politics, Goodman and Soni take a more nuanced approach, broaching many questions, never answering firmly. This makes for a more revealing portrait of a real man and demonstrates just how much a symbol Cato has become.” ―Library Journal

“Written in flowing, nonacademic prose, this biography suits the never-waning popular interest in the dramas of ancient Roman history.” ―Booklist

“This well-paced and dramatic book narrates the controversial life and political and moral legacy of Marcus Porcius Cato…They [the authors] give their account depth by closely grounding it in the ancient sources, and their experience in and knowledge of modern politics adds special value to their assessments of Cato… indeed frankly describing his flaws as a politician and a man….As the opening discussion shows and the main narrative confirms, there is indeed a lot worth thinking about in deciding what should be the lessons to draw from Cato's life and legacy.” ―History Book Club

“Well-crafted retelling of the life of Cato” ―The New American

“Goodman and Soni's examination of Cato the Younger--the Roman reactionary, Stoic, and enemy of Caesar--is the story of a harsh man in a violent age. With his pronounced British accent, Derek Perkins is a surprising choice for narration as this book seems directed at an American audience. But his voice is strong, and he sets the pace like someone leading a brisk, invigorating jog. The slightly cynical, skeptical edge of his tone fits the text, which refuses to take Cato at his own saintly face value or to respect the turbulent "banana republic" of Rome. His edgy take fits both Cato's troubled republic and (despite the accent) our own, which is part of the book's point. Perkins's vigorous performance helps keep this an absorbing program.” ―AudioFile (starred review)

“When the Roman Republic finally fell, the last man standing was Cato, staunch defender of old Rome's venerable legacy and enemy of Caesar's new world order. Thanks to Goodman and Soni, this rare creature--a politician of honor willing to die for his principles--steps out of the shadows into history again. Illuminating and timely!” ―Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University, National Book Award finalist for The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy

“Cato, history's most famous foe of authoritarian power, was the pivotal political man of Rome; an inspiration to our Founding Fathers; and a cautionary figure for our times. He loved Roman republicanism, but saw himself as too principled for the mere politics that might have saved it. His life and lessons are urgently relevant in the harshly divided America--and world--of today. With erudition and verve, Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni turn their life of Cato into the most modern of biographies, a blend of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Game Change.” ―Howard Fineman, New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteen American Arguments

“A truly outstanding piece of work. What most impresses me is the book's ability to reach through the confusing dynastic politics of the late Roman Republic to present social realities in a way intelligible to the modern reader. Rome's Last Citizen entertainingly restores to life the stoic Roman who inspired George Washington, Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale. This is more than a biography: it is a study of how a reputation lasted through the centuries from the end of one republic to the start of another.” ―David Frum, DailyBeast columnist, former White House speech writer, and New York Times bestselling author of The Right Man

“Cato's life always had epic dimensions in his own mind. His principled, gory suicide made him a symbol of liberty for two thousand years, the model for George Washington and many others. Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman have somehow given us a life of Cato that is neither hero-worshiping nor debunking. Instead, this handsomely written biography is vividly intelligent and valuably reflective. It is a very fine treatment of a life worth knowing, and a valuable meditation on how a life becomes a myth.” ―Jedediah Purdy, professor of law at Duke University, author of For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today and Being America: Liberty, Commerce and Violence in an American World

“Cato, an icon to the founding fathers, has become a neglected figure. In their spirited new biography--the first since Plutarch!--Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni give us his story, and explain why this Roman statesman meant so much to our political forbearers.” ―Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group and New York Times bestselling author of The Bush Tragedy


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; F First Edition edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312681232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312681234
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It is very suspicious that the most positive customer reviews of this book were posted within 24-hours of the book's publication. Most of the 5-star reviews were posted almost as soon as the book was released, suggesting some advertising is at work here.

More to the point: this book has problems that reduce its value. In the first place, it is not very different from Pamela Marin's book "Blood in the Forum" (2009)--Goodman and Soni use the same basic structure and discuss the same points as Marin, but they make more errors of fact and interpretation.

Second, the authors (who are not historians) don't seem to have a very good understanding of the sources they use. As a result, they too often take the words of Cicero, Plutarch, Appian, and others at face value and do not give adequate attention to analyzing the many biases of these authors. The authors don't seem to have familiarized themselves with the commentaries that would help lay out the biases of each source. Cato was too polarizing a figure to take evidence on him at face value.

As a side note, Goodman and Soni obviously use English translations of ancient Greek and Latin sources, but they don't give credit to the modern translators of those sources. It is very rude (perhaps borderline plagiarism?) to present other people's translations as your own work (a footnote crediting the translator is all that is needed).

Third, there are simply too many errors of fact and interpretation in this book, suggesting an incomplete understanding of Roman history. Too often, the authors describe something as `unprecedented' that actually had perfectly good precedents from earlier periods in the Republic, and many things they call `the greatest' actually were not.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The end of the Roman Republic is a story that has fascinated people for over two thousand years. Most contemporary histories focus on the struggle between the two "great men" of the era, Caesar and Pompey. Cicero, Cato, Hortensus, Crassus and Cataline are usually just supporting actors in their struggle. Goodman and Soni hit upon a great idea in shifting the focus by placing Cato at the center of their narrative. The value of placing Cato at the center is that his contribution to creating the crisis becomes clearer.

"Rome's Last Citizen" is great example of high quality popular history geared towards the reading public. It is well written and thought provoking. Some of the negative reviews of this book place too high a burden on Goodman and Soni. They judge a popular history by the standards one uses to judge an academic history. Some of these reviews are pedantic in nature and are more geared to showing off the reviewers esoteric knowledge than they are to informing a potential reader of this book. I thought this was a first rate book and I highly recommend it.
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I wanted to love Rome's Last Citizen, had been looking forward to it for a couple of months before I had a chance to read it. It is an account of the life of Cato and, as far as conveying facts, the authors do a great job. However, the writing is often dry, relies too much on simple facts, and is inconsistent.

Reasons to read Rome's Last Citizen:

* You will learn about Cato, one of the most interesting figures in Rome. This was the main reason I bought the book, and I did learn many facts about his life.
* Your interest in Rome will grow.
* You will learn about Cato's influence in early America, Christianity, and politics overall.

Reasons to skip it:

* Often reads like a dictionary account of Cato's life: first he did this, then this, then this. Then this person said this [original source snippet].
* You learn many facts about Cato, but walk away not really knowing who he was. I think in the author's attempt to tell a factual story without inserting their opinion, they sacrificed too much. At times Cato is a fascinating character. At other times, he is an odd person with little below the suface of his actions, good or bad. Would have loved more "life" in this history.
* The two parts of the book that I found the most interesting were personal stories about Cato (like the marrying off of his wife) and the influence of Cato on other leaders. Unfortunately, these pieces were too short and too few.

The authors of Rome's Last Citizen did an admirable job of trying to write a serious, scholarly account of Cato's life that would still appeal to the masses. But, in the end, this book will not appeal to scholar's because of its novel format, nor the average reader because of its dryness. I enjoyed parts of this book, but cannot think of anyone that I would recommend it to personally - no one that I thought would actually read it all the way through, anyways.
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Format: Hardcover
This book gives a good account of Cato's life, but a less than fully satisfying account of the Roman Republic's fall. The author's are not classicists, so rather than present a novel analysis of Cato, they use a wealth of primary and secondary sources to add meat to the bones of the timeline they present at the end of the book. The narrative proceeds methodically without many pauses to consider broader themes or provide larger context. This is not to say the writing is dull, just that the authors rarely go deeper than, "Cato did this; then Caesar did this; then Cato did this." There are a few places where editing mistakes seem to have been made. On page 152 for example "Ptolemy" is used when Cato is actually meeting with Auletes.

The authors do provide some material on Cato's life that I had not encountered elsewhere. For example, Cato's forced mission to annex Cyprus was covered well and the image of Cato vigorously assessing the seized property was a lasting one. If a reader is less interested in Cato and more interested in Roman history, then I recommend Tom Holland's "Rubicon" instead of this book. Cato still appears in Holland's book albeit less frequently, but all the other characters from "Rome's Last Citizen" are also there, and Holland covers the same events in smoother writing and crisper detail.
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