Vol. VIII No. 32 - Tuesday
August 11 - August 17, 2009



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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Julius Caesar

I have never been one for Roman history, but this book, Julius Caesar (ISBN 978-0-7432-8954-2, Simon and Schuster, 2008) written by bona fide historian Philip Freeman attracted me. Freeman states in his preface “Julius Caesar was one of the greatest heroes of human history - or one of its most pernicious villains, depending on whom you believe.” That was enough to whet the interest.
Very early in the book, Freeman scotches the notion that Caesar was born by Caesarian section. Cutting open a woman to extract her baby meant certain death for the mother, remembering that Caesar was born in 100 BC. Caesar’s mother Aurelia lived for almost 50 years after the birth of Julius, so a C-section was very, very unlikely.
The legislature and politics/politicians in Caesar’s day show that nothing has really changed. Vote buying, skimming off the top and inflated contracts, jobs for the boys and buying high positions knowing the rewards that would then come. He writes that Rome was divided into the “haves and the have-nots.” He also points out that “The client-patron system was one of the fundamental relationships in Roman society.” Again, looking at the local situation, nothing has changed.
While reading this book, it was difficult not to engage in constant mental comparisons with an outlawed populist Thai Prime Minister (there’s been a few, by the way) and with Caesar, the dead populist Roman leader, Freeman writing “Caesar and his partners began to pursue their agenda in earnest. Some of their proposals were shamefully self-serving, but much of the legislation was badly overdue.”
Yes, we’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we? (Please don’t write in, I know the correct answer!)
You do get a cast of 1000’s with this book, with all kinds of interesting people in the sub-plots, including Spartacus, who was lucky in that he died on the battlefield. The 6,000 of his followers who were caught afterwards were ceremoniously crucified by Pompey, with one cross every 100 meters along the whole of the Appian Way from Capua to Rome.
Author Freman has been most assiduous in his research and as befits a book such as this, there are extensive source notes, a bibliography and an index. He states that, “This biography comes neither to praise Caesar overmuch nor to bury him among the tyrants of history. My goal is simply to tell the story of Caesar’s life and times for anyone who wants to learn more about this unique man and the world in which he lived.” That he has done very thoroughly.
At B. 595, this is probably the most engaging book I have read this year. You don’t have to be a follower of Roman history to enjoy this book, but anyone with even the slightest interest in the history of mankind will enjoy it. The machinations of this man Caesar and his ability to use people, including his enemies as well as his friends would tend to support the pernicious villain characterization, but his ability to lead men would make him one of the greatest heroes. Buy the book and decide for yourself!

 


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