Anthony Everitt's "Augustus" is a solid biography on one of history's most influential people. Augustus, born Gaius Octavius September 23, in 63 BC, lAnthony Everitt's "Augustus" is a solid biography on one of history's most influential people. Augustus, born Gaius Octavius September 23, in 63 BC, lived to the ripe old age of 77 and ruled the Roman Empire for almost 45 years...both staggering amounts of time considering the average lifespan 2000 years ago and the average lifespan of Roman politician.
He is arguably one of the most impactful individuals ever to roam the earth. His existence intersected Julius Caesar (his grand-uncle and adopted father), Marc Antony (primary competitor for the Roman throne), Cleopatra (Antony's lover, and co-competitor for Roman throne), Jesus Christ (born during his reign), the Battle of Teutoberg Forest (key moment in empire's expansion), end of The Republic (initiated by Julius Caesar, completed by Augustus himself).
Everitt provides peeks into Augustus' life at all stages and ages. Some of the views are limited, thin or highly speculative as necessitated by the sources at Everitt's disposal. As he does in his biography of another engimatic Roman leader, "Hadrian", Everitt speculates and analyzes multiple sources when inconsistencies arise. Much time is spent laying out the political atmosphere, and complex interrelationships that provide the context and backdrop for this incredibly intense period of history.
What's enjoyable about Everitt is his narrative approach to the biography. Many elements of Augustus' life are highlighted with vignettes and stories. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on the day in the life of the Emperor, cobbled together from specific and non-specific references. The chapters on his adopted father's rise and downfall are fascinating as well, though it's difficult to keep up with the names of people, places and battles. It's particularly frustrating keeping track of individuals with similar names (there were two different "Brutuses" involved in Caesar's murder, for example). Everitt does his best to reminding the reader of re-introduced characters.
The book spends much time on the second civil war pitting Augustus against Marc Antony. For me, this was the first indepth study I’d read and I found the author’s approach very readable.
"Augustus" is similar to Everitt's "Hadrian" in that one comes away unable to fully reconcile what kind of man Augustus was. How did the younger Octavian go from a sickly and almost accidental high stakes political player, to the self assured rebuilder of the Roman world? Everitt writes that he was "devious, untrustworthy, and bloodthirsty. But once he established his authority, he governed efficiently and justly, generally allowed freedom of speech, and promoted the rule of the law." Family was important - he and Livia were together for 50 years - but when his limits were tested, he reacted severely. In his later years, Augustus' daughter Julia was shut out of his life and exiled for the remainder of hers. His grandson Agrippa Postumus, while the only remaining successor by blood, was also banished.
Everitt points to Augustus' political reforms as some of his most courageous feats even though some took tweaking over time to get right, and some never stuck at all. He attempted to reset moral perspectives of the Roman elite. He instituted a governmental bureaucracy (Augustus-aucracy?) that paved the way for governmental growth (and, oddly enough, greater efficiencies).
I couldn't help but reflect on Robert Grave's fictional version of the life of Augustus and Livia in his "I, Claudius". While contemporary and near contemporary accounts suggest that Livia was deeply involved in her husband's political world, it would appear that Graves may have overstated her involvement in just about every important death during Augustus' reign.
The book is fact-filled, well written, highly notated and comes with several maps, photos and drawings, and a list of suggested reading. The writing is strong, but, by its nature is dense and, as I've mentioned, sometimes hard to follow.
For those interested in a very readable biography of Augustus, but also a anthropological study of the time in which he lived, then I'd highly recommend this book. ...more
Pirate Latitudes is a quick and fun read. It makes the perfect complement to a beach-based summer vacation, where one might almost be able see the SpaPirate Latitudes is a quick and fun read. It makes the perfect complement to a beach-based summer vacation, where one might almost be able see the Spanish Galleons and pirate ships on the horizon.
Michael Crichton's posthumously published novel isn't actually about pirates...it's about privateers. One privateer in particular - Charles Hunter - a relatively honorable rogue rambling around Port Royal, Jamaica in the mid-17th Century. Privateers aren't quite the same as pirates. They do everything that pirates do, but under the auspices of a legal pursuit contracted by a local government. Hunter doesn't have the wackiness of Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow, but he's creative, loyal and turns out to be one of those solid and likable bad guys who's actually a good guy.
I wouldn't consider many elements of this book deep...the characters, the plotlines, the subplots. The book has the feel of an episode of The A-Team (sorry if I'm dating myself a bit here). The bad guys are drawn heavily and clearly. Their motives are clear. The good guys are are sort of the right side of the law, but only barely and always in the name of being better behaved than the bad guys. And there's always a plan coming together.
The story is a fast-moving, fun, adventure yarn. A couple of things to be aware of however: 1) This isn't classic Michael Crichton. While Crichton has woven in a good level of details around sailing and some science around 17th Century gunnery, this is, by no means, a sci-tech thriller. There are, however, interesting uses of explosives, and some exploration of "grenadoes"...early versions of grenades. 2) The story contains some very interesting sub-plots. Unfortunately, none of them is explored a satisfying extent. Cazalla is portrayed as the seriously nasty Spanish antagonist. Crichton digs into the shallowest depths of this counterpart to our rogue hero Hunter. Cazalla killed off midway through the book. 3) Hunter and his crew are attacked by a giant squid...what the sailors all call the Kraken. But this only last for about 10 pages. 4) Hunter engages in a couple of dalliances which could add some interesting drama to his adventures, but both are handled too briefly to be truly engaging. These mini-subplots all have a very obvious feel as to their use as plot devices and yet all feel very random.
I'm giving the book 3-stars, but would easily have jumped up to 4 if things were drawn more deeply and dramatically. Michael Crichton-lite is better than having nothing new of his at all. ...more