Caesarby Christian Meier, David McLintock
Pub. Date: 01/28/1997
Publisher: Basic Books
Caesar examines the riveting
For centuries, Julius Caesar has endured in our collective imagination as a favorite among historians and scholars, playwrights and poets. In legend he lives as the great conqueror of Rome's immense empire, a remarkable diplomat and writer, an unrivaled heartbreaker, and a man of relentless determination who met a seemingly tragic end.
Caesar examines the riveting story of a complex man within the context of the crisis of the Roman republic. Meier vividly reconstructs the distinctive features of this age by emphasizing the prevalent educational practices that imposed limitations on individual development. Meier clearly shows that Caesar early on established himself as a man whose unique drive, self-confidence, and detachment would bring him into continual conflict with established institutions.
What were the political and social forces that shaped and challenged this extraordinary individual? And how did this larger-than-life leader truly affect the fate of the Roman republic and the course of history? Internationally renowned historian Christian Meier explores these questions in the most authoritative and accessible account of Julius Caesar's life, career, and legacy.
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The two reviews are valid when taking this book at face value that is a biography. But this book is not, instead it is written to those who already understand the fundamentals or ¿timeline¿ of Caesar. For example he gives very limited details on Caesar¿s beautifully conceived siege of Alesia. No general before or since has ¿entombed¿ their entire army in a line of contravallation and countervallation and then decimated one army and annihilated the other, all with a personally financed and trained professional army and its materiel. This is not an oversight or a lack of historical detail since Meir¿s intentions is to provide a literary work that didn¿t regurgitate what we already know. Instead what appears to be bogging down in the daily minutiae of the Roman Senate and its vicissitudes is instead puts the reader in daily grind of how politics and government is so radically different from both the monarchs or tribal leaders of the ¿rest of the world¿ yet in no way whatsoever could be designated a democracy. It was a Republic who¿s laws were founded solely on two precepts: first all the power should remain firmly under the control of a small number of affluent citizens in the form of the Senate and second its selected leaders (there were always ¿two¿ consul of equal rank and a 12 month term), generals (praetors) and governors (proconsuls) must be subject to almost immediate turnover. Even the vaunted title of ¿dictator¿ with absolute power was immediately dissolved after 6 months or sooner. Caesar, when crossing the Rubicon was nothing pioneering or a gamble into uncharted waters. In his lifetime he had watched it happen with front row seats when Sulla returned from Greece to March on Rome and usurp the legitimate power from the Consul Cinna and his counterpart. Completely disregarding the fact that title and position of ¿dictator¿ had disappeared through attrition since the city of Rome was no longer a tenable military target by any other foe or that it must be relinquished in less than 6 months, never to be re-elected even by unanimous Senate vote, he not only declared himself ¿supreme warlord¿ but expelled or murdered those Senators that refused to acquiesce only to hand select their replacements. Then in a final insult he increased the size of the Senate, which was no doubt needed to manage their ever expanding empire, but through perfidy cloaked in sophism filled these new ranks with his unlimited line of sycophants. So what elevates Caesar to mythical proportions over Sulla or other would be traitors that execute acts of blatant ¿high treason¿. The fact is the Rubicon could have never entered our lexicon if the Senate simply allowed Caesar to run again for the post of consul. Nothing sinister as many Senators had been re-elected after the `required¿ time had passed. Only lasting a year he would find himself at the end of the term without his private legions he undoubtedly would have faded away into history as a Great Captain equal to Hannibal, Marius or Scipio. This brings us right square in the face of the crux of this literary piece: the Senatus consultum ultimum (or 'Ultimate decree of the Senate'), which had slowly replaced the requirement to appoint a dictator by authorizing special powers to the two active consuls and their praetors to eliminate the defined threat with the full weight of the Republics vast resources. This would be tantamount to General MacArthur ignoring President Truman¿s order to step down from his direct command in Korea, finishing the war through atomic strikes and then return to America with our soldiers to march on Washington effectively dissolving our democracy through a popularly voted civilian President, Assembly of Lawmakers and its Judges. Most importantly it would have shredded up the most important law document since the Magna Carter: our US Constitution. Finally, we must remember the book is purely a translation from German and so all types of nuances and idiosyncrasies
Really very political. A book you should read if you have a familiar background in late roman republic history. Good cover of Gallic Wars, Civil war with Pompey, and a very very political section on the duties and actions of the Senate.
This is a very political book. If you like political, this is the best book you can read on Caesar. If you dont like political, but you still would like to read the book, if you can get through the first 50 pages without a problem, then you can read the book. Has a very good section on Pompey's acheievments, the Gallic Wars, and the civil war. All around probably one of the top 3 best books I have ever read.
He rambles laboriously to the point of being boring. He seems to get the reader lost amid too many details and the point of discussion is not clearly presented.
After reading T.A. Dodge¿s ¿Hannibal,¿ and P. Green¿s ¿Alexander of Macedon,¿ this book struck me by its poor organization, needless wordiness, and author¿s persistent use of guesswork. ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ The book¿s poor organization is displayed in several ways. First, and the most frustrating to a reader like me, is frequent and lengthy discussions of topics that are related to the title of the book, but are not necessary for the reader to understand the main subject Lack of organization is also seen in the lack of continuity in the book. The book jumps back and forth from descriptions of psychological profiles of various people, to descriptions of events in Rome, to descriptions of Rome¿s political structure, and Caesar himself often takes a back seat to whatever preoccupies the author¿s attention at the moment. ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ Needless wordiness is best described by example. Below is a paragraph from a chapter that discusses people¿s fascination with Caesar throughout history. I will not comment on the fact that an entire chapter is dedicated to expressing an opinion on other people¿s opinion of Caesar. Here¿s the quote (Page 20): ¿Can this fascination, whatever its source, still enthrall us? Can we ¿ after Hitler ¿ continue to speak of great men in accordance with time-honoured European tradition, above all when their spheres of activity were war and politics? Can we still be captivated by a man who launched a civil war ¿ after a war of conquest in Gaul ¿ for his own sake?¿ Such paragraphs, consisting of nothing but questions are frequent, and the questions are generally not answered in a satisfactory manner. ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ Also, author constantly, throughout the book, attempts to guess what people¿s thoughts and feelings were during the time of the events he is describing. Be it Caesar, Pompey, a number of other politicians or generals, or even the Roman people as a whole. Given that it is often very hard to guess what a person is thinking or feeling even when you are having a conversation with the person, that politicians are particularly good at concealing their emotions and thoughts, and that Caesar lived over two thousand years ago, was a very skillful politician, I become very skeptical when author attempts to ascribe various states of mind to him. My skepticism becomes only greater when, as a proof of his opinion, the author offers not facts, but opinions of other historians, philosophers, or generals. None of them Caesar¿s contemporaries but lived during Renaissance era or later. The proof appears to take shape of ¿If their opinion is the same as my opinion ¿ our opinion must be true.¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿. Lastly, due to everything I have listed above, the author appears to have not had time to put detailed descriptions of Caesar¿s campaigns, battles, and political maneuvers into the book. This has indeed been the biggest disappointment for me.