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Book Review: by Lang Reid
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
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
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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