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Marcus Aurelius: A Life

3.73  ·  Rating Details  ·  292 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD) is one of the great figures of antiquity who still speaks to us today, more than two thousand years after his death. His Meditations has been compared by John Stuart Mill to the Sermon on the Mount. A guide to how we should live, it remains one of the most widely read books from the classical world.But Marcus Aurelius was much more than a philo ...more
Hardcover, 720 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,187)
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A massive, learned, eloquent biography of one of a favorite Roman emperor, but with very distinct and troublesome flaws.

Marcus Aurelius has a distinctly positive reputation among the Roman emperors – Gibbon spoke highly of him, as the last emperor where the empire "comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind". Statesmen have regarded his Meditations as a philosophical guidebook for understanding the masks and toils of command, and how uneasy lies the he
Rosa Ramôa
Mar 31, 2015 Rosa Ramôa rated it it was amazing
Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus*
(Roma Antiga,121 a 180,Imperador Romano)

"O homem comum é exigente com os outros; o homem superior é exigente consigo mesmo".

"Mudar de opinião e seguir quem te corrige é também o comportamento do homem livre".

"Escava dentro de ti. É lá que está a fonte do bem, e esta pode jorrar continuamente, se a escavares sempre".

"Muitas vezes erra não apenas quem faz, mas também quem deixa de fazer alguma coisa".

"Nada de desgosto, nem de desânimo; se acabas de fracas
Steven Peterson
Jun 11, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
Plato, in his "Republic," spoke of the value of the philosopher-king, arguing that that government would be best which was headed by philosophers, who understood "truth." If so, then Marcus Aurelius should have been one of the great rulers of his era. This book explores, in considerable detail and with a broad scope, his philosophy, his life, and his rule.

He was designated as a future ruler by Hadrian, to follow what was expected to be a short reign by Antoninus Pius (who was rather elderly when
Jun 14, 2011 Shawn rated it liked it
This was a difficult book to rate.
The sections that were actually about Marcus Aurelius were very good. However, there were way too many instances where the author got off topic and it dragged on and on and on.
Out of 19 chapters, two were devoted to the author's own personal views on Marcus Aurelius' beliefs and philosophies. I don't find that necessary. (You're writing a biography. Just stick to the facts. Nobody cares about your opinions and personal beliefs.)
One chapter focussed entirely on M
Sep 07, 2009 Colin rated it it was amazing
A fairly balanced look at the life of Marcus Aurelius, McLynn seeks not condemnation nor encomium of Aurelius, but rather explanation. The book does a fairly good job of that, though at times it does have the character of a farrago, for it launches off from the biography of Aurelius (and his predecessor Antoninus, co-emperor Verus, and later co-emperor/successor Commodus) into lengthy essays on Roman economics, social structure, military history, etc. Still, I heartily recommend the book to clas ...more
Pete daPixie
Apr 07, 2011 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-roman
This is the second McLynn book I've read, the first being 'Lionheart and Lackland'. There's no doubting that this author is consistently producing highly acclaimed historical tomes. I've also no doubt that this 2009 published 'Marcus Aurelius' must be similarly highly regarded. Approaching almost six hundred pages, this is not just a simple self contained biography of the second century Roman emperor. Mclynn looks first at Hadrians reign, to explain Marcus' adoption to emperor Antoninus Pius and ...more
Jeremy Perron
Mar 16, 2013 Jeremy Perron rated it it was ok
Frank McLynn's account of the life and world of Emperor Marcus Aurelius does lack for detail. McLynn explains the life of a young Roman aristocrat who lives in a world of increasing inequality. To use a modern phrase, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. To put a more precise point on it, the Augustan Principate as a system government now seems to be suffering from the same fate as the Republican Senatorial establishment that it had replaced. Rome is facing great troubles ...more
Bas Kreuger
Feb 11, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written biography of one of the most interesting Roman emperors. A contradictory figure, both philosofer, statesman and warrior. Interestingly, the best light to be shed on Marcus Aurelius in this work is found when reading about his son Commodus, his successor as emperor and a total and utter failure at the job! These last 50 or so pages make Marcus really shine as maybe the best Roman emperor there has been.
As an almost final afterthought (I would have preferred the chapter as an i
Mar 18, 2011 Ben rated it liked it
There is an overwhelming amount of criticism in this book; particularly of Stoicism. I bought this book because I am a fan of Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations." So I thought I would find here a sympathetic biography of the great Philosopher. Instead, the author seems bent on "proving" the logical fallacies of Stoicism, and thus the flawed thinking of Aurelius. The author seems almost angry or disturbed by the fact that the subject of his book was human, and thus subject to inconsistencies and the ...more
Don Morrison
Jan 25, 2016 Don Morrison rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Although I can't fault the scholarship and I learned a great deal more about Aurelius and Roman society, I cannot recommend this book, for reasons other reviewers touched on.

The first is the author's long, opinionated digressions. Normally, I enjoy a good romp through intellectual history, comparing Aurelius' Meditations to Augustine's Confessions, even if I disagree. However, McLynn is overwhelmingly negative and seemed only interested in flaunting his erudition and sense of superiority to ever
This guy has it mostly right. Frank McLynn's Marcus Aurelius: A Life is more hagiography than history. But I'm ok with that.

The certified Smart Person opinion of Aurelius seems to be that he's overrated, that the Meditations are little more than self-help platitudes, and that his reputation in posterity is mostly an accident of survival. As Talbot (the author of the linked review) notes, Augustus wrote philosophy, too (and poetry and history and some other stuff, I believe); would we think much
Ken Gloeckner
What it lacks in editing, it makes up in quantity. The references alone account for more than 100 pages of the book's length! McLynn is certainly a well read guy but one gets the sense he tried harder to demonstrate how well read he is than to form a coherent whole of this work. One particular issue I had with this book is the lack of apparent structure. While generally chronological, McLynn often jumps around between topics and through time. The reader will not find any useful chapter names or ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Ken added it
Marcus Aurelius has been said to be the greatest of the Roman emperors and the author concurs with this, although he says there is not much competition on this score. Aurelius's accomplishments were mostly in the military sphere in holding back the German tribes and scoring some successes against the Parthians (A group I have known little about and I found out why-They were mostly a collection of tribes and left little record of themselves. ) Other emperors have scored well in this area, but wha ...more
Oct 26, 2012 Elliott rated it it was ok
Being the first biography written on Marcus Aurelius written since the 1960s I was hoping that perhaps, being as large a book as it is, and as large a figure as Marcus Aurelius was I was hoping for something more from this book, something on the order of the very fine biographies by Anthony Everitt that have emerged over the past decade or so: excellent scholarship, combined with an author who balances the limited remaining sources well. But, while it was nice to get a new biography of Marcus, t ...more
Jeff Lanter
May 23, 2013 Jeff Lanter rated it really liked it
Shelves: roman-history
Frank McLynn is an author that is unfamiliar to me, but seems to divide opinion. People either enjoy this book or loathe him and/or his writing style. Before I delve into that, I will say that book is meaty and very comprehensive. I appreciated the attention to detail, but Marcus Aurelius: A Life is a commitment and is not a light 250 page biography you might expect or even want. For one thing, McLynn often likes to give the reader a wide scope on Marcus Aurelius. So he spends a couple chapters ...more
Adam A
Jul 08, 2013 Adam A rated it it was ok
Of Frank McLynn's encyclopedic knowledge of the life, times and thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, I have little doubt. But this book needed editing in the worst way.

From the onset, McLynn's meandering style took the enthusiasm right out of me and finishing this book became more of a chore than a delight. Here and there, I could tell McLynn knew precisely what he wanted to say, such as in his chapter on the travails and eventual ascendancy of Christianity in the Roman Empire; but for the most part, I
Jacques N
Nov 15, 2013 Jacques N rated it liked it
Overall I enjoyed the book.... I find Marcus to be a very interesting subject. It seems to me that Frank McLynn is not overly impressed by Marcus....he spends quite a lot of time pointing out and elaborating on all of Marcus's faults, but it doesn't seem to me that he gives equal play to his strengths. It's interesting to me because prior to reading anything on Marcus Aurelius, I was under the impression that he was a great ruler loved by his subjects as well as a great philosopher. It appears t ...more
Randy Quarles
Jul 08, 2013 Randy Quarles rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Roman history buffs
Whew! I didn't think I was going to finish this one. If I hadn't listed it as "currently reading" on Goodreads, I might have given up.

For me, a good biography is one that is educational and entertaining. I've read several biographies of other Roman notables that succeeded on both counts. This one was very educational, but not very entertaining. The author's knowledge of philosophy, religion and history--of many regions and eras--is amazing. Unfortunately, he packed so much into this book that it
Ross Cohen
Dec 14, 2014 Ross Cohen rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book more than my three stars may indicate. The author is obviously brilliant, and manages to follow several threads throughout this biography in order to place Marcus Aurelius in his era.

Unfortunately, these threads begin to weaken and fray after Aurelius' death, resulting in three chapters of unfocused erudition.

Without those chapters, this is a fair and excellent book about a fair-minded and excellent man.
Aug 26, 2015 Leigh rated it liked it
I found this to be a very mixed biography. I had recently read a biography of the emperor Hadrian, and to have him portrayed by McLynn as just shy of being an absolute psychopath seemed ridiculous. This author also goes on incredibly long tangents (there are four chapters in the middle of the book that go into painstaking details about Stoicism that certainly could be reduced to understand Marcus' version). Then when Marcus meets his end we have a further two chapters on his son Commodus (who is ...more
Gerry Connolly
Dec 15, 2015 Gerry Connolly rated it really liked it
Frank McLynn's tome Marcus Aurelius chronicles Rome's philosophical emperor. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic, author (Meditations) and warrior. He was conventional and insightful. His successor, Commodus, was neither. ...more
Jerry Mrizek
Feb 03, 2016 Jerry Mrizek rated it it was ok
Not a bad book but way too much a critique of the philosopher and stoicism when I prefer a more historical approach.
Tony B
Jul 07, 2014 Tony B rated it liked it
Shelves: ancient-rome
A largely enjoyable read, although I found the author's lengthy detours at times distracting. The efforts to `humanise' the emperor was commendable and a positive feature of this biography. If you are looking for a more accessible biography of Marcus Aurelius (though I did have to dive for the dictionary more than I would like!), then I would tend to favour this over Birley's biography. However, if you are an avid reader of Roman imperial biographies and are familiar with Roman history, you migh ...more
Gaetano Amato
Jan 01, 2015 Gaetano Amato rated it really liked it
Very well researched - interesting commentary re: early Christianity.
Jennifer Bollerman
Jul 10, 2014 Jennifer Bollerman rated it it was ok
Shelves: never-finished
I am abandoning this one; can't get past the author's highly opinionated views on stoicism. Off to find a different bio of Aurelius.
Mar 22, 2010 Al rated it liked it
A very detailed view of life in the 2nd Century in the Roman empire. The author provides of a very in-depth portrayal of Marcus's reign as well as his thinking as written down by Marcus in his Meditations. He also details the reign of the preceding ruler Antonius Pius as well as the debacle associated with Marcus's successor, his son Commodus, who likely began the era associated with the ultimate decline of the Roman Empire. The Empire likely reached its zenith during Marcus's reign.
Sep 11, 2011 Juan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muy completa biografía del famoso emperador romano. Extraordinariamente documentada. Pero el autor vuelve a caer en su particular vicio de intentar demostrar lo listísimo que es, dedicando decenas de páginas a especulaciones filosóficas y a criticar a todo bicho viviente, sean estudiosos o personajes famososo y generalmente bien considerados del pasado.
Rick Wilcox
Nov 04, 2011 Rick Wilcox marked it as to-read
I've read Meditations many many times and always find new truths. This is a good book on the character of Marcus - not just his writing. Marcus knew that true happiness was in focusing outward not inward. Self pity never helps and if you are looking for salvation by your own hand, well, good luck with that. Highly recommended.
Sean Vangordon
Feb 17, 2013 Sean Vangordon rated it it was ok
Very Informative. Well researched. Interesting. However, it is a hard read. The book needs to be shortened, and simplified. If the book was 200 pages shorter, it would have made one of the great emperor's life very accessible to amateur fans of Roman History.
Rachel Brune
Jul 26, 2013 Rachel Brune rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A biography of Marcus Aurelius at times so heavily contextualized I almost forgot it was a biography of Marcus Aurelius. Still, a compelling read, with new insights into an historical character in whom I have always held an interest.
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Frank McLynn is a British author, biographer, historian and journalist. He is noted for critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Jung, Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley.

McLynn was educated at Wadham College, Oxford and the University of London. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting p
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“the greatest humourists are deep down usually angry men, who know that human nature ignores tirades, but is responsive to laughter.” 1 likes
“Muitas das notas de Marco Aurélio a si próprio, (…) baseavam-se nos riscos de tirania de um imperador. Detestava especialmente Nero – um homem à mercê dos mais loucos impulsos, como um animal selvagem – ou, como Marco Aurélio descreveria imemoriavelmente “Um carácter obscuro: efeminado, grosseiro, selvagem, animalesco, pueril, cobarde, falso, tolo, mercenário e despótico.” 0 likes
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