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Augustus

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  10,462 ratings  ·  1,112 reviews
A brilliant and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Robert Graves, Augustus is a sweeping narrative that brings vividly to life a compelling cast of historical figures through their letters, dispatches, and memoirs.

A mere eighteen years of age when his uncle, Julius Caesar, is murdered, Octavius Caesar prematurely inherits rule of the Roman Republic. Surrounded b
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Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 9th 2004 by Vintage (first published October 31st 1972)
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John The different narrators make this book what it is. You hear the story of this young man through their viewpoints, prejudices, and anglings. Confusing …moreThe different narrators make this book what it is. You hear the story of this young man through their viewpoints, prejudices, and anglings. Confusing at first, the letters written by different people transcend how remarkable a person was the boy called Octavius.(less)

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Average rating 4.22  · 
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Cecily
How to describe this painstakingly detailed, compellingly readable, simply complex, fictionalised biography, that explores the high price of duty, and is set in ancient times but is painfully relevant in 2017? Not like that.

There are myriad perspectives: it’s like viewing the ancient world through a kaleidoscope or the facets of a gemstone.

Or maybe it’s more like a hall of mirrors and windows, where you’re barely sure which is which and what distortions there may be. Versailles, perhaps: anoth
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Vit Babenco
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Augustus is written in lucid and colourful style. Inventing all those fictional letters and documents John Williams vividly caught the spirit of the whole historical era.
Perhaps we are wiser when we are young, though the philosopher would dispute with me. But I swear to you, we were friends from that moment onward; and that moment of foolish laughter was a bond stronger than anything that came between us later – victories or defeats, loyalties or betrayals, griefs or joys. But the days of youth
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Dolors
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who see beyond the mask
This is more than a lush recreation of the nuanced menace of diplomatic skirmishing and Machiavellian intrigue, public guilelessness and carnage that gave birth to the Roman Empire under the ruling of its first Emperor.
This is more than a walk through the path of history because it takes unusual detours of borrowed memories penned by secondary historical figures that surrounded Octavius Caesar Augustus.
Delivered in a non-chronological letters that carry moments of high pathos spanning over sixty
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Darwin8u
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
“One does not deceive oneself about the consequences of one's acts; one deceives oneself about the ease with which one can live with those consequences.”
― John Williams, Augustus

description

John Williams read some Robert Graves and said, "Yeah, I got this Roman. I can do this." I'm trying to think of equivalent historical fiction that orbits the same level of prose mastery: Norman Mailer, Robert Graves, Hilary Mantel, E. L. Doctorow and a few others belong on this very short list.

There are some writers (l
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Lynne King
And yet a third perfect book by this inimitable author who was working at the very height of his powers. I now know that I will never again come across a book such as this. I actually didn’t want to finish it as I felt that I had to continue in this enthralling dream. What disturbs me, however, is the downside that when one has loved something/someone so much, those following, well to my mind anyway, will only be substitutes which in itself is rather a sad state of affairs.

As I read this book I
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Howard
“Neither Stoner [1965] nor Augustus [1972] is any less or more achieved than the other; they are simply different works by a remarkable writer working at the very height of his powers.” – John McGahern, introduction to Augustus

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Where to begin? I guess the place to begin would be to explain why I read this book. I chose it because it was on our friend Ted’s TBR list. I sincerely wish that he had read it and that I in turn could have enjoyed one of his unique and entertaining reviews.

I sh
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Gabrielle
Told in the format of fictional letters and journals, Williams put together a biography of Gaius Octavius, better known as Augustus, the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. I knew that I would love this book, both because I am a total sucker for classical history, and because after reading “Stoner” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), Williams’ talent is not something I question. And he could not have picked a more fascinating subject for his final novel: Augustus was a privileged but book ...more
Charles
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most beautiful gestures John Williams extends his readers in Augustus consists of taking for granted that they can picture the fabled city of Rome and the occasional countryside location.

I find we all have adequate images in our mind’s eye of a place like ancient Rome, if not in minute detail at least in a general sense, and as a gift from the author’s intelligence to yours, there are no tedious descriptions in this book; whenever I encounter something like this in fine literature, I
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Neale
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Howard's wonderful review reminding me of another lost book in the lost account. This book is brilliant, whether you are a fan of Ancient Rome or Roman History (which I am), or not, this book is such an enjoyable read. :-) ...more
Rod
I've never been particularly interested in political novels or had any great fascination with ancient Rome, but this beautifully written novel held me transfixed nonetheless. It's a cliché to say it "brings history alive," but it does indeed bring history alive. Told in epistolary form as a compendium of letters and journal entries by characters both integral and incidental, we get to know Octavius Caesar the August from the perspective of those who love him and of those who despise him, but we ...more
Maria
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Williams' three novels are distinctly different from each other. Often, if you like one book by a specific author, it's safe to assume that if you pick up another, you will be served something similar - in topic, tone or language. But each of Williams' novels are - without compromise - true to their own, unique concept.

So is the case with Augustus. While Stoner is mostly a campus novel and Butcher's Crossing a western, Augustus is an epistolary novel on the rise and reign of Gaius Octavius,
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Brian
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Good historical fiction is some of the best fiction - this book didn't disappoint. Fans of Williams' Stoner and Butcher's Crossing will find plenty to love; the author's recognizable compact writing style and rich imagery are on display throughout this book.

A reader isn't required to have a vast knowledge of Roman history between 50 BC and 50 AD, but it certainly helps. Reading this book shortly after finishing Appian's Civil Wars was the right decision for me. Williams' particular talent allows
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Edward
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Augustus is, in my opinion, the best of Williams’s novels. Augustus was such an instrumental figure in Roman history, though he is often overlooked in popular memory in favour of the more turbulent and often shocking times that came before and after his reign of relative stability. But his story is truly remarkable: how did this unknown boy of nineteen, with little more than the promise of a name, manage to rise and overcome men with far more power and experience?

I think what makes this period
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Ned
Nov 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Upon completion of this book, I am certain now that this stye is my favorite kind of novel, the “historical” type. I need to learn about a real time, place and, most importantly, the people in order to fully enjoy a novel. Augustus thus hits on all cylinders. Although interested, I have read very little of the Roman empire, and the reign of Augustus Caesar is perhaps the most exemplary of the famed republic and the wrenching it took upon immediately after the ascent of Julius Caesar and his poli ...more
Spencer Orey
I enjoyed this dense look into the life and legacy of Caesar Augustus and good leadership overall. As I read, it sent me off to look up related Roman-inspired factoids, which is a good sign I guess. The overall heavy message about the burdens of leadership and his sacrifice of his own personal life for his love of power and Rome was... a bit obvious? But really handled well. And it was fun to see the famous figures appear here and there and weigh in on issues. I actually didn't enjoy reading lar ...more
Greg Brown
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
John Williams only wrote three books once he became a mature writer—his first he disowned—and they're all excellent. Unfortunately, this book is the last of the three I've read. There's a peculiar sadness when you finish the last book by one of your favorite deceased authors, the usual morose feeling of leaving a world only compounded by the knowledge you'll never again hear that voice for the first time. Kind of a bummer.

The first surprise of this book was John Williams ratcheting up the diffic
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Albert
After thoroughly enjoying Stoner by John Williams, I was disappointed to discover I only had a few more of his works to look forward to. So I put off the reading of the next one: my way of spreading out the enjoyment. I chose to read Augustus next, for no particular reason. I am not a huge historical fiction fan, and I am not well-versed in Roman history but I loved Augustus. Augustus is a very intimate portrait of a great man who wielded tremendous power over a long life, who loved and was stro ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021, favorites
The gods in their wisdom tell us of our lives, if we will but listen.[...]
He saw the world, and knew he was alone – without father, without property, without hope, without dreams ... It was only then that the gods gave to him their golden lyre, and bade him play not as they but as he wished. The gods are wise in their cruelty; for now he sings, who would not have sung before.


From the author that gave us the sad yet uplifting story of a lonely man isolated in the ivory tower of a minor universi
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Tracey
This is my third book by John Williams and it has once again blown me away.
All of this authors books are incredibly different but all are equally brilliant.

This one, told in epistiolary form in 3 parts. The first tells the story of Gaius Octavius who is destined to become Caesar Augustus the first Roman emperor. The second is mostly a journal by Julia, daughter of Augustus telling her story after she has been banished to an island for her adultery and the third is told by Augustus himself, it is
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Szplug
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I decided upon giving Williams' epistolary fiction a four-star rating, because the elegant writing—which adheres to the classical form that it emulates to an impressive degree—is a pleasure to behold, and does an admirable job of situating a handful of important personages—mostly friends, family, or rivals of the titular empire founder—within the confines of the principal themes that the author wished to explore: the alienating and intoxicating aspects of power, whether in the arena of the polit ...more
Tony
Oct 27, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Williams was unquestionably inspired by Thornton Wilder's The Ides of March to write this one. Both epistolary novels of Roman emperors, Williams attempts to do for Octavius what Wilder did for Julius. The styles are similar enough that this could be considered a sequel. I preferred the Wilder novel, marginally, but mostly because I found Julius Caesar more quotable than his adopted son and successor. That said, the middle Book II of this novel certainly got juicy, focusing as it did on Oct ...more
James Ferrett
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“It is fortunate that youth never recognizes its ignorance, for if it did it would not find the courage to get the habit of endurance. It is perhaps an instinct of the blood and flesh which prevents this knowledge and allows the boy to become the man who will live to see the folly of his existence.”

Augustus by John Williams retells the history of Gaius Octavius Thurinus, a young Roman nobleman who was the named heir of Julius Caesar. Stepping into a world of assassination, corruption and war, we
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Ian
From what I understand John Williams only ever wrote 4 novels, but if so he was certainly an author who went for quality over quantity. This superbly written novel tells the life of Octavius Caesar through the device of (fictional) letters and journal entries written by the people around him. The introduction explains that Williams used this technique because he knew that in real life the Roman aristocracy were great letter writers.

The result is a fascinating character portrayal, in which Octavi
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Beth
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is always a fine thing to read a book you can hardly put down especially when it grabs you from the first page.

Williams gives full account of the life and character of Gaius Octavius Caesar (Augustus) from the age of nineteen until his death at seventy-eight via the letters and diary entries from those around him as well as the official records of the Roman Senate. He does this so effectively that I quickly forgot that these were not real archives but in fact an astonishing work of fiction.

T
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Laysee
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-books
“Augustus” by John Williams is a remarkable book on all counts. It has that perfect blend of beautiful prose and a retelling of history through the crucible of the literary imagination. “Augustus” is a supremely engaging novel characterized by a gripping plot, a rich cast of believable characters (neither villains nor saints), a deep unraveling of the impulses that drive humanity, and above all, some substance of import on which to reflect on the meaning of existence. Published in 1972, “Augustu ...more
J.C.
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found the structure of this book interesting, and not as challenging as I first expected despite all those long Roman names (the aristocratic appellations are important). The introduction describes it as “using the epistolary form”. It’s nearly all letters from associates or friends, once or twice writing to Augustus himself, but mainly addressing themselves to other individuals within the Roman power or literary elite (and initially, of course, in Egypt!). We have to wait to hear Augustus, bu ...more
Max
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
Williams’ thoughtful novel is in the mold of “I Claudius” but expresses some heartfelt emotion amidst the cynicism. The first part describes Augustus’ ascension to power and the early friendships he forms in the wake of Julius Caesar’s death. Augustus is cast as a loyal friend and true patriot dedicated to the glory of Rome and the betterment of its people. The second part deals with Augustus’ rule of the Roman Empire. Here, although not in the detail and salaciousness of “I Claudius”, the many ...more
Daniela
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I was in university, Professors touted two historical novels as a must-read for beginners in the trade of historical research. Books that were not as good as the real thing, but very nearly there. They were the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. This was a time before Wolf Hall became a phenomenon, as I suspect it would now make the list. So, in my opinion, should Augustus by John Williams.

Williams’ prose is clear-cut, albeit not without complex
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Paul Williams
I read this one in a rush as part of preparing for my doctoral exams. That means I read it a bit recklessly and didn’t have time to pause and consider the intertextual connections within this novel, so I know there’s a LOT more to be gleaned from this novel than what I’ve currently apprehended.

Probably the most accomplished execution of the epistolary novel (a form I’m generally ill-disposed toward) I’ve read. Williams isn’t much of an innovator as an author, but though he relies on tried and t
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Jim
John Williams's Augustus is one of only four novels the author wrote. I have now read two of them, this one as well as Stoner. That leaves only Butcher's Crossing and an early effort from 1948 that Williams would rather forget called Nothing But the Night. If the two I have NOT read are anywhere near as good, Williams could be a candidate for the best American novelist in the Postwar Period.

There is little in common between Stoner -- about the life of a college professor at a Midwestern universi
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

John Edward Williams, Ph.D. (University of Missouri, 1954; M.A., University of Denver, 1950; B.A., U. of D., 1949), enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a half years as a sergeant in India and Burma. His first novel, Nothing But the Night, was published in 1948, and his first volume of poems, Th
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