An excellent book, and one that makes you think. Virtually every paragraph Overy writes could be expanded into an essay of its own, or indeed a wholeAn excellent book, and one that makes you think. Virtually every paragraph Overy writes could be expanded into an essay of its own, or indeed a whole other book. Overy's synthesis of the voluminous archive material is simply masterful, and he cuts through the fog of war, and the conflicting analysis' of the war, with lucid prose and convincing arguments. While I'm no expert, I've read a lot about WWII, and I find much of his argument persuasive. If you're looking for a book explaining why the Allies won - not how, but why - you can't go wrong here.
**spoiler alert** I read Augustus shortly after reading Williams' other great novel, Stoner. I started with the assumption that it couldn't possibly b**spoiler alert** I read Augustus shortly after reading Williams' other great novel, Stoner. I started with the assumption that it couldn't possibly be as good as Stoner - but it is. I've read volumes of history about classical Rome but it took this work of fiction to gain my greatest understanding and appreciation of it. And everything I read on the subject from here on will be improved by it. Using the raw material of Augustus' life as a backdrop - rich stuff indeed - Williams' recreates the period in all its intrigue and ruthlessness. All the usual suspects that we know so well from the pages of the history books are here - Augustus, of course, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cicero, Cleopatra, Agrippa, Livia, Julia. But they come to life in Williams' masterful telling, vividly and finally to life. We get a deep and clear understanding of them, their upper-class Roman way of life, the structure of their society, their way of thinking, and why they acted as they did. Told in epistolary format, it is not, as one would expect, a story of triumph. No, the story Williams tells of the man who created perhaps the greatest empire man has ever known is, like Stoner, ultimately a tragedy. In the book's final section, we at last hear from Augustus, who chronicles the major events of his life in a letter to his old friend Nicolaus of Damascus. It is August of the year 14 A.D. Augustus has only a few days to live and he knows it. He is on his yacht, determined to give himself a final holiday, floating down the coast of Italy on his way to Capri. The letter he pens over the course of these few days is in effect his last testament. He describes to Nicolaus the coldness that fell over him as a young man upon hearing of the death of his uncle Julius Caesar, and how he immediately turned away from his friends out of instinct and necessity. The distant, enigmatic Augustus we hear so much about in the history books takes root here within moments of Caesar's death. So does Augustus' realization of his destiny: to change the corrupt world which had been bequeathed to him. But he accepts his fate without joy or anticipation. There is a sense of regret running through the entire letter, his entire life. He's given up so much to gain, what appears to him in these final days, so little. From the time of Caesar's death he's been obligated to live a life he never really wanted; save for Nicolaus, he has outlived all his old friends and he acknowledges 'the triviality into which our lives have now descended'; the person he loves most, his daughter Julia, he has forced into exile, and he no longer speaks her name; he regards the stories of his heroism and benevolence, the documents and statues, the histories of his life, all the deliberate works of propaganda that have built his reputation and allowed him to reform and consolidate the empire, as 'lies'. All those good and capable people who might have tended to the empire after he has gone have now departed. Instead, his beloved Rome will be relinquished to the cruelties of his despised step-son Tiberius. As death nears, he writes:
"I have come to believe that in the life of every man, late or soon, there is a moment when he knows beyond whatever else he might understand, and whether he can articulate the knowledge or not, the terrifying fact that he is alone, and separate, and that he can be no other than the poor thing that is himself."
'I have lived too long,' he concludes.
Thus, the greatest emperor in western history dies alone, with the conviction that he has outlived his usefulness; that whatever he has accomplished will ultimately be for naught. As in Stoner, this knowledge is conveyed free of any bitterness or self-pity. Taking the two books together, we see that the Roman stoicism displayed by Augustus as he greets death is a philosophy shared by William Stoner upon his own death bed. It's the thread that links the mighty ancient emperor with the modern university professor. John Williams wrote two superb books - masterpieces, if you will - and you should read them both....more
I can't claim any expertise in this area because I read very little contemporary fiction, but I will state, for what it's worth, that "Atonement" is oI can't claim any expertise in this area because I read very little contemporary fiction, but I will state, for what it's worth, that "Atonement" is one of the finest novels I've ever read. The only other recently published novels - and by recent I mean in the past fifty years - that I recall affecting me in a similar way were Edwin O'Connor's "The Edge of Sadness", and John Williams' "Stoner" and "Augustus". I've read four other McEwan books and, while all fine, none match the breadth and scope of "Atonement". It's McEwan's tour de force. ...more
A monumental history of the Depression and the march towards war, covering the period from the stock market crash in late 1929 until the German tanksA monumental history of the Depression and the march towards war, covering the period from the stock market crash in late 1929 until the German tanks rolled into Poland in September, 1939. It is astoundingly good. Brendon is a masterful storyteller with a gift for both synthesis and exposition. His short, biographical sketches of the major players of the period are themselves worth the price of admission. Indeed, his introduction of Churchill (pages 604-610) should be taught in the universities as an example of history writing at its best. I read this passage, reread it, then read it aloud to my wife, simply for its pure entertainment value. The rest of the book is no less interesting. Brendon, like a master film noir director, plunges us deep into the shadows of that 'dark, dishonest decade', detailing, chapter by chapter, the causes and consequences of the events that would soon lead to war. He explores the fears, the motives, the blindness, and yes, the cowardice, of those who might have put a stop to Hitler, and exposes the moral rot and the incipient evil that finally made war inevitable. It's a tremendous book, a tremendous ride. ...more
Loved it. The best book by one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. A shame that she has faded from the public consciousness. Every pLoved it. The best book by one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. A shame that she has faded from the public consciousness. Every paragraph sparkles with wit. ...more
Entertaining for awhile but eventually the self-congratulatory pumping gets to be too much. One can conclude from the book that Capra was a talented dEntertaining for awhile but eventually the self-congratulatory pumping gets to be too much. One can conclude from the book that Capra was a talented directory and a complete megalomaniac. That said, he did direct "It Happened One Night", one of my all-time favorites, so all is forgiven. ...more