Kelly's Reviews > Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Rubicon by Tom Holland
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's review
Nov 30, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction, italy
Read from November 01 to 30, 2011

"Our parents generation, worse than their parents',
Has given birth to us, worse yet - and soon
We will have children still more depraved."

I don't think any other words can sum up human history so well, nor can explain the turbulent history of Rome with such simplicity. Tom Holland's Rubicon is an excellent example of an accessible and entertaining narrative that still provides the richness and depth of knowledge expected from such an intense topic as Rome and the Republic.

The main focus on the book is not just Rome but also specific leaders and contributors to the Republics advancements and eventual decline. In this way, even the general citizens of Rome became an almost singular character, which is interesting in itself to read. By referring to primary sources, Holland retains accuracy in his writings and helps to create atmosphere and context to many of the described events.

I didn't give this book five stars though, simply because I stopped reading for a portion of the book. As there is so much history to relate, the book is difficult to maintain as a casual read and it was really only the start and end of the book that really enthralled me. Like the Republic, while all of the book is filled with turbulence and scandal, everything is really just a crescendo to the epic end. A lot of the middle of the book was filled with campaigns, tribal wars and political strife. As I am terrible at remembering names, this became a really difficult part to slog through and while I enjoyed it, I'm not going to say that I really took in every line. The great thing about Holland though, is that he does manage to create such an interesting narrative on events that while it might be difficult to read, it is never boring.

Definitely my favorite moments of the book are when Holland focuses with intensity on just a few main icons. Cleopatra and Caesar were, as stereotypically is, my favorite to read about, although Augustus really absorbed me as well. Holland enjoys to use a lot of symbolism when describing events so it was great to see his perspective and how he understood the complexity of what has happened. However, Holland's perspective is really only that, and as he explains in the preface, "In short, the reader should take it as a rule of thumb that many statements of fact in this book could plausibly be contradicted by an opposite interpretation. This is not, I hasten to add, counsel of despair. Rather, it is a necessary preface to a narrative that has been pieced together from broken shards, but in such a way as to conceal some of the more obvious joins and gaps."

Therefore, for the interesting manner in which Holland divulges the inner workings of the Republic, I am really happy to give him a high score for an excellent book. From my own experiences, I am detracting the one star as my ability to simply put the book down was a sign of my inability to properly follow what was happening. This may be different to other readers, I concede, but for me personally, it shortens the score.

Overall, I came, I saw and I conquered this book and I really enjoyed it.
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