Saturday, January 07, 2006
I read that book "Rubicon" by Tom Holland before Christmas. It is a narrative history book, telling the story of the Roman Republic's last years, starting more or less with the Marius-Sulla civil war. I enjoyed this book a lot, relishing the way it was sufficiently analytical to get beyond being a succession of events, while at the same time letting you be carried along by the story. Holland is helped by his subject and by the parade of larger than life characters that pepper the history - the sluglike Crassus, the self-important Cicero, the shameless Clodius, the insufferable Cato, the completely amoral Octavian, et al.. Caesar seems almost normal and mundane compared to this parade of grotesques. Holland is also helped by the sources he can pull on, and one of the great strengths of this book is that it has me itching to read the ancient historians on these events, or indeed the commentaries of actors in the drama themselves. I think, though, that Holland transcends his sources and has produced a wonderfully compact synthesis. I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about stuff.
I looked up Holland on the Wikipedia, and discovered that he has an exciting parallel career as a writer of fiction. And he got a double first from Cambridge. Here is a picture of him:
Doesn't he look amazingly fogeyish, and nothing like the handsomely square-jawed bloke who stares out from the back of his books? Yet when I said this on an internet discussion forum, I was informed that actually he looks like me. But I only got a 2-1. From Dublin.