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Twelve Caesars

3.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  139 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
One of them was a military genius; one murdered his mother and fiddled while Rome burned; another earned the nickname 'sphincter artist'. Six of their number were assassinated, two committed suicide - and five of them were elevated to the status of gods. They have come down to posterity as the 'twelve Caesars' - Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, ...more
Hardcover, 385 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Atlantic
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 355)
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Paul Bryant
Jun 23, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it did not like it
How's this for a sentence :

Song, slaughter, sex, subversion and a search for sensation became the stuff of his supremacy.

I hated this book for many reasons, one of which is that Matthew Dennison actually believes it's a good idea to describe Nero (and others) in absolutely appallingly alienating alliteration.

This book is deadly dull. It uses an unpleasant combination of boring vagueness (when talking about political events) and smirkingly inflated scandal-mongering pomposity (when talking about
May 12, 2014 Nikki rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The quote on the cover calling this 'gossipy' is right; 'insightful', not so much. There's a lack of meaningful dates and orientation, and Dennison avoids picking a side so much that he immediately undermines any definite point with something else. He talks about Tiberius, for example, presents him as a little reluctant to take power, and then a couple of pages later presents him as a power-hungry tyrant; he talks about his simple, ascetic life, and then repeats gossip about his sexual proclivit ...more
Julian King
Aug 28, 2013 Julian King rated it it was ok
Self-consciously literary, this is hard going, and adds little to the knowledge most interested readers will already have acquired elsewhere.

Dennison writes as if he is Tacitus - which he might choose to take as a compliment, but which I do not mean as one. His literary style is verbose to the point of opacacity, and in places even syntax proves elusive amongst all the oh-so-knowing allusion. As for chronology: forget it.

Sample (from early on in chapter 1, on Julius Caesar): 'Compulsively adulte
Peter Johnson
Oct 28, 2013 Peter Johnson rated it did not like it
pretentious, indulgent writing by the author. Will put you off a fascinating story of 12 legends. Give it a wide berth.
Jan 12, 2016 Sud666 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
What would happen if you had a journalist take Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars and essentially rewrite it in modern English and added a smattering of Dio and Tacitus to boot? You would have The Twelve Caesars by M. Dennison. Coming soon after I had finished reading Tom Holland's excellent book Dynasty, this book was disappointing. I freely admit that this is one of the reasons it has received only two stars. Much like reading a paper by a very bright student and then following it up with a medio ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Sep 09, 2014 Daniel Kukwa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
One of the strangest books that I've read in some time. There is some interesting information to be found here...if you can get past (1) the over-blown, overly-pretentious writing, (2) the blasts of crudeness that can't decide if they are truly shocking...or crude for crude's sake, (3) the flexible (bwahahaha) idea of what "chronology" and "biography" imply, and finally (4) the impression that the author is trying to out-do the Roman historians he is looking back upon. It's a titanic, glorious, ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Claire rated it did not like it
I bought this book based on reviews on Amazon which suggested that this was an excellent introduction to the subject. As someone who knows virtually nothing about Roman history, this was exactly what I was looking for. Or it should have been. It hasn't taken me this long to read a book in a LONG time. The structure was incredibly difficult to follow and far from being a good introduction makes many assumptions of prior knowledge. Frequently Dennison will summarise the characteristics of an emper ...more
Bob Buice
Sep 21, 2015 Bob Buice rated it really liked it
When a Roman statesman, general and notable author of Latin prose such as Julius Caesar declared himself, "dictator in perpetuity", he threatened the very existence of the five-century old Roman Republic. As a result, he was assassinated by group of rebellious Roman senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus. Later, Caesar’s nephew Octavian defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium (31 BCE) and became the first emperor of the newly established Roman Empire. Octavian’s victory was rew ...more
Sep 01, 2013 Jason rated it it was ok
Book was written like a shotgun blast, very scattered and little cohesion. I suspect it would be more enjoyable to just read the original source material and you would get more out of it.
Sep 23, 2015 Brad rated it did not like it
What a let down. I actually thought this would be an informative book when in reality it is just a slightly updated and even more gossipy re-write of Suetonius. What a shame.
Jimmy Lu
Jul 24, 2015 Jimmy Lu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In term of content, this book leaves plenty to be desired. The actual history of this period is not very well presented so things tend to be a bit hazy and sometimes confusing.

However, what normally entails at best an average book is more than enough compensated by the Author's MOST EXCELLENT style, modeled after the latest fashion straight out of Rome; that light of the world, seat of the wisest council, home to the most sacred authority. (Couldn't help but imitate the book, it's just such an a
Samuel B.  Shaw
Aug 14, 2012 Samuel B. Shaw rated it did not like it
Awfully written.
Sep 29, 2013 Spencer rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite paragraphs:

"Agrippina's murder of Claudius as Britannicus' majority loomed transformed her into the quintessence of the scheming stepmother. In time her villainy was matched only by that of the son she served. She would pay for the crime of regicide. 'Never yet has anyone exercised for good ends the power obtained by crime,' Tactitus commented in a different context. So, in Nero's case, it would prove to be. By then Agrippina had completed the hat-trick: sister, wife, and mot
Peter Mcloughlin
I gave this book for stars and really enjoyed it but I understand its low rating in general. The language is a bit old fashioned and showy and you really have to be a Roman history geek to get all the references or understand parts of it but if you can handle these barriers the book is quite enjoyable. It reminds me a little bit about Gibbon's work with vignettes and character portraits of individual emperors painted on the huge canvas of ancient Rome. It also reminds me a little of old 19th ce ...more
Jul 21, 2015 Chris rated it it was ok
This book is irritating. Not only is it dull as dirt but the author has provided almost no new information about the lives of twelve of Rome's rulers. The writing style is showy and pretentious. Skip this version and check out the original version by Seutonius.
Apr 04, 2016 Kristina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a history of Rome nor a biography of its Emperors'. Rather it is a character assessment. From one aspect this looks at how Rome turned away from the ideals of a Republic and embraced the notion of an emperor, foibles and all. It then looks at how each of the first twelve caesars added to or defined the idea of what the people could expect from a single ruler. This highlights the interdependence of ruler and subjects.
Obviously this work is indebted to Suetonius and his contempories bu
Paula Maguire
Feb 06, 2015 Paula Maguire rated it liked it
I found this book a challenge but I got through it. The challenge was trying to keep track of all the names and how different characters were interrelated. Other difficulties were trying to keep track of their careers in the unfamiliar political structure of Roman life, consuls, praetors and the like so I have to admit I glossed over them. The juicy stuff carried me through. The stories of murder, incest, gluttony, madness etc. Quite unbelievable, a real eye opener. It's incredible how sophistic ...more
Aug 25, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mixed feelings on this one. It was a good over view of each of the Caesar's and it is impressive to get a good summary of the emperors down into 30 pages a piece. It is a good general source for information, and provided some good psychological break downs of how childhood experiences carried over into their later reigns.

That said it felt like he decided it had to be 30 pages each and wrote it and cut out whatever didn't fit. Also the title bugs me since through the whole book he cited the histo
John M.
Dec 17, 2015 John M. rated it really liked it
An good update of Suetonius's classic of Roman history.
Sep 29, 2013 Matthew rated it liked it
What could have been an interesting book instead was little more than a gossip column on the private lives of the first 12 Caesars. Dennison rarely challenged the historical sources, though he often stated there was reason to doubt their objectivity. However he himself never followed through and simply seemed to accept the ancient sources with minimal reservation.
Really 3.5, as though it was an interesting read, it dragged at times and I had to take large breaks of time in between emperors. However, it did inspire me to make a pun "Reading about the 3 emperors in between the Claudio-Julians and the Flavians was 'Otho" boring".
John Levon
May 18, 2014 John Levon rated it liked it
Hard-going at first, but once used to the author's somewhat dense writing style, this quickly becomes fascinating. Just the right amount of salacious gossip spices up the story. Beware, it does presume a fair amount of knowledge about ancient Rome, though I imagine you could muddle through.
Raimo Wirkkala
Sep 23, 2013 Raimo Wirkkala rated it really liked it
Dennison distills what we have from the ancient sources and adds his own, sometimes, earthy style of history-writing to produce a highly-readable, informative and entertaining account of the lives, loves(?) and legacies of 12 small men who, nonetheless, became giants.
Ryan Thompson
May 22, 2015 Ryan Thompson rated it liked it
There was some good information on some of Rome's more well known Emperors, but it is hard to get past the pretentious writing of the author. There is not a lot of authority behind his conclusions, and unfortunately there does not seem to be too much new here.
Jason Cecil
Sep 27, 2013 Jason Cecil rated it it was ok
This is basically a companion book to Seutonius' Lives of the 12 Caesars with extra tidbits thrown in. There really isn't a cohesive narrative which is disappointing.
Tim Baldini
Not a very good introduction to the period. Just read a good translation of Suetonius (Robert Graves) and skip this poorly written rehash.
Diana marked it as to-read
May 22, 2016
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