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Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic [Paperback]

Tom Holland
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 8 2005
In 49 B.C., the seven hundred fifth year since the founding of Rome, Julius Caesar crossed a small border river called the Rubicon and plunged Rome into cataclysmic civil war. Tom Holland’s enthralling account tells the story of Caesar’s generation, witness to the twilight of the Republic and its bloody transformation into an empire. From Cicero, Spartacus, and Brutus, to Cleopatra, Virgil, and Augustus, here are some of the most legendary figures in history brought thrillingly to life. Combining verve and freshness with scrupulous scholarship, Rubicon is not only an engrossing history of this pivotal era but a uniquely resonant portrait of a great civilization in all its extremes of self-sacrifice and rivalry, decadence and catastrophe, intrigue, war, and world-shaking ambition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

After a palace coup demolished the reign of King Tarquin of Rome in 509 B.C., a republican government flourished, providing every person an opportunity to participate in political life in the name of liberty. As Holland, a novelist and adapter of Herodotus' Histories for British radio, points out in this lively re-creation of the republic's rise and fall, the seeds of destruction were planted in the very soil in which the early republic flourished. It was more often members of the patrician classes who had the resources to achieve political success. Such implicit class distinctions in an ostensibly classless society also gave rise to a new group of rulers who acted like monarchs. Holland chronicles the rise to power of such leaders as Sulla Felix, Pompey, Cicero and Julius Caesar. Some of these leaders, such as Pompey, appealed to the masses by expanding the republic through military conquest; others, like Cicero, worked to reinforce class distinctions. Holland points to the suppression of the Gracchian revolution-a series of reforms in favor of the poor pushed by the Gracchus brothers in the second century B.C.-as the beginning of the end of the republic, providing the context into which Julius Caesar would step with his own attempts to save the republic. As Holland points out, Caesar actually precipitated civil wars and helped to reestablish an imperial form of government in Rome. With the skill of a good novelist, Holland weaves a rip-roaring tale of political and historical intrigue as he chronicles the lively personalities and problems that led to the end of the Roman republic. Maps.
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.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ancient history lives in this vivid chronicle of the tumultuous events that impelled Julius Caesar across the one small river that separated the Roman Republic from cataclysmic civil war. With the narrative talents that have established him as a prominent radio personality and novelist, Holland pulls readers deep into the treacherous riptide of Roman politics. To show how Caesar eventually masters that tide--if only temporarily--Holland first traces the bloody career of the ruthless dictator Sulla, who rescues an imperiled Republic even as he breaches its founding traditions. Those breaches deeply disturb the moralist Cato, but the indulgent luxury of a post-Sullan world suits Caesar well enough: a popular favorite, he sets the fashion in loose-fitting togas--and waits for his fated opening. Recounting Caesar's eventual seizure of power in pages as irresistibly cadenced as the legionnaires' march, Holland probes the tragic ironies that quickly expose the bold conqueror to idealistic assassins, who themselves soon perish in the rise of the Augustan Empire. Not a work for scrupulous scholars, but a richly resonant history for the general reader. Bryce Christensen
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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Easily the best prose I have read on the Roman Republic, etc. since Graves' "I, Claudius". I would venture to say perhaps even better.
An amazing read. Easily one of the top 20 or 30 books I have ever had the pleasure of reading, Holland's prose is simply outstanding. And that is something that is very difficult to accomplish with such doughty subject material.
His portrayal of each major player during the last years of the Republic really gave me a true sense of what kind of men they really were. Men like Pompey, Cato, Clodius, Julius Caesar really jumped off the page and I really could imagine them debating and arguing in the Senate, each with their own imitable style. They weren't one-dimensional names that appeared on a page, there was a great amount of depth to each. Pompey's arrogance and conceit, Cato's unbending rigidity and austere nature, Clodius' viciousness, and Caesar's pure genius all come to life !
If you have any appreciation for history, get this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Readable Survey May 18 2004
Having read Colleen MaCullouch's fascinating series, I have tried to find what was truth and fiction. With Rubicon, I found what I was looking for. Other accounts I found tended to be very dry and brief. Rubicon, on the other hand, is a well-written popular history (in the best sense). The author converys the competitive nature of Roman society which worked well for a city state, but not an expanding empire, thus bringing about the end of the Roman republic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid but a little slow May 9 2004
By A Customer
From the published reviews I read I expected the narrative-style to be more brisk, almost novelistic. Instead it's basically a well-written textbook. (I was a history major in college and still read a lot of history and biography). Many familiar and perhaps not so familiar characters are part of this history: Cicero, Cato, Crassus, Clodius, Sulla, Spartacus, General Pompey, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Brutus, Mark Antony, Octavian (later Caesar Augustus). In his introduction the author touches on the idea of parallels between Rome and modern America: "The Roman people in the end grew tired of antique virtues, preferring the comforts of easy slavery and peace...bread and circuses." But the author doesn't pursue this analysis at all in the rest of the book. Certainly America is more like Rome with our interest in law, engineering and war, than like ancient Greece with its keen development of philosophy, literature and the arts. Like Rome, America is also a republic that became a world power, increasingly dependent on a professional, all-volunteer military. Other parallels the reader will have to discover for himself, even as he learns again about Cicero's vanity, Cato's rectitude, the Ides of March and why Caesar's wife had to be above reproach.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Ron H
For non-academics in the field this is a fabulous book. A great historical account of the major happenings and events in the Fall of the Republic. Holland's mastery is to recount the events through the motivations and characteristics of the key historical figures. It stands up as a true work of clarity and a great launching pad into further historical readings of this extraordinary period. Could not put this down once I started to read it!
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By Y. Li
Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic

I picked up this book on a recommendation from from a list of "best history books". Since I've never read much about Rome before, and the book had a cool title (Rubicon it turns out is the name of a river) I decided to check it out.

The one thing I've learned about great history books is that they have superb writers. [I'm talking about history books that look like slightly oversized hardcover novels, not those terribly written textbooks:] In a way, it's not that surprising, since who would want to read a book about history unless it was written well? For a history book to be commissioned, I think the editor looks at writing ability just as much as technical ability in history. This book is highly readable. The sentences are short and concise, the font is big, and the pages use 1.5 point spacing. I can't count the number of books I have tossed because the font was so tiny and each page was jam-packed with text, so I love books with accessible presentation.

Like all good history writers, Tom Holland brings the story of the Republic to life. The combination of layout and author's style hooks you from the first page. And the history of the Republic is cold, filthy, unforgiving, ruthless, and without mercy. It reminds me much of the movie "300", except that this was real: in "300" boys were trained as killers and the weak were killed in the ultimate test of solo-hunting a beast, while in Rome parents dunked their babies in ice water to ensure only the strong would survive; in "300" the Spartans killed in ruthless fashion, in Rome there were equally horrific massacres.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A very good introduction Oct. 30 2009
When I first read this book, I hadn't studied Roman history much, and I found this to be a very good introduction. The time period chosen is appropriate (covering what historians often call the "Roman Revolution", which was a drawn-out collapse of the institutions of republican Rome, culminating in the foundation of the empire), and the narrative thread is well-maintained throughout what is can be a very confusing and complex period of history. That said, Holland doesn't avoid getting bogged down a little bit in places, especially when discussing the manoeuvrings of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. Overall, however, the narrative is kept under control, and the style remains engaging throughout. A previous reviewer has criticized Holland for admitting that many of his statements are arguable, which is strange to say the least. Anyone familiar with ancient history knows that the sources are relatively sparse, making numerous interpretations possible. To admit this isn't to give oneself "carte blanche" to ignore the evidence; it's simple honesty. That said, it is true that, especially when it comes to the motivations and intentions of the main players, Holland's interpretation is not the only possible one. Reading this book motivated me to study this period in greater depth, with the result that I have come to disagree with certain ideas of Holland's (for example, I think he is unduly harsh in his treatment of Cicero). However, this in no way lessens my appreciation of Holland's book, which remains the most engaging treatment I have encountered of late republican Roman history.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous narration
If Mr. Holland would have been my teacher way dow in the year path 40 years ago how happy I would have been. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jean-pierre Petits
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
After having read Millenium, I wanted more and Rubicon satisfied my craving. Well written and entertaining, it reads like a novel, though I got sometimes confused with some of the... Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2012 by Justine
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant History Book
I keep it short and sweet. This is a brilliant book for a brilliant part of history. This is written how a history book should be written, making it in intresting and enjoyable... Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2010 by Ben Nicholson
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read
I keep it short and sweet. This is a brilliant book for a brilliant part of history. This is written how a history book should be written, making it in intresting and enjoyable... Read more
Published on Aug. 29 2010 by Ben Nicholson
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Marks
Once you start reading Rubicon, it is very hard to put down. Tom Holland has done a great job. Do yourself a favour and read this book.
Published on Feb. 20 2008 by Patrick Sullivan
4.0 out of 5 stars The Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic
It is easier to pin point the ending of Tom Holland's book then its beginning - it ends with the death of Augustus in 14 BC, years after the Roman Republic has ceased to exist in... Read more
Published on June 16 2004 by Omer Belsky
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Knock America?
The remark inside the jacket cover about America embarking on imperial ventures is uncalled for and an affront to EVERYONE who is an American citizen. Read more
Published on June 2 2004
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