Marcus Aurelius: A Life

Overview

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) is one of the great figures of antiquity whose life and words still speak to us today, nearly two thousand yean after his death. His Meditations remains one of the most widely read books from the classical world, and his life represents the fulfillment of Plato's famous dictum that mankind will prosper only when philosophers are rulers.

Frank McLnn's Marcus Aurelius, based on all available original sources, is the definitive and most vivid biography ...

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Overview

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) is one of the great figures of antiquity whose life and words still speak to us today, nearly two thousand yean after his death. His Meditations remains one of the most widely read books from the classical world, and his life represents the fulfillment of Plato's famous dictum that mankind will prosper only when philosophers are rulers.

Frank McLnn's Marcus Aurelius, based on all available original sources, is the definitive and most vivid biography to date of this monumental historical figure.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pat Buchanan once said that George W. Bush was no Marcus Aurelius, while Bill Clinton claimed that he read and reread Aurelius' Meditations as president. McLynn, author of biographies of figures from Napoleon to Jung, argues that the emperor and Stoic philosopher satisfies a thirst for guidance that modern philosophers have largely abandoned. But McLynn fails to make his case in a book that veers between biography and a defense of an emperor more famous for his words than for his actions. Drawing on Aurelius' Meditations, letters with his tutor and other ancient sources of disputed authenticity, McLynn ploddingly narrates Aurelius' rise to emperor in 161 C.E.—a role to which he was, McLynn acknowledges, temperamentally unsuited—and the challenges he faced, mostly unsuccessfully, during his 19-year reign. Attempting to protect the Roman Empire from the German barbarians, for example, he gave land to these foreign tribes. This strategy backfired, creating new economic and social divisions. Marcus Aurelius emerges from McLynn's biography as a disappointing political figure who could do nothing to unite the Roman Empire in its waning days and who remains most memorable for his aphorisms, such as “By a tranquil mind I mean a well-ordered one.” 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The life of this Roman emperor and stoic philosopher, author of the Meditations, remains relevant (President Clinton claimed to have read him while in office). In this interesting account of Marcus's life and writings, McLynn (Richard and John: Kings at War) clearly mines his own published expertise on other persons and eras for comparisons—more than are really useful, but they provide helpful road maps to readers unfamiliar with the arcane world of the Antonine emperors. With his frequent digressions, and his evident enjoyment in arguing, McLynn's book is too long, but he does provide a substantial introduction to a man who "still speaks to us today." While recommended for lovers of history, philosophy, and things Greco-Roman, this Marcus Aurelius may defeat general readers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306819162
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/10/2010
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 781,878
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Frank McLynn is the author of many critically acclaimed biographies, including Richard & John and Napoleon. He has been a visiting professor at Strathclyde University. He lives in England.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations vii

Preface ix

Introduction xi

Map: The Roman Empire during the Lifetime of Marcus Aurelius xviii

Marcus Aurelius 1

Map: The Eastern Provinces and Parthia 118

Map: The Roman Empire's Northern Frontiers 306

Appendix 1 Stoicism 538

Appendix 2 The Reign of Antoninus Pius 555

Appendix 3 Solitude 565

Bibliography 568

Notes 570

Index 673

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 10, 2009

    Surpassing reading

    This is a book that demands to be owned rather than borrowed. It will take pride of place on your bookshelf and fill it with specific gravitas. The author has exhaustively researched the life of Marcus Aurelius who is fairly judged by history to be the best of all Roman emporers. But more than that, the author, Dr McLinn, knows the intellectual and spiritual currents of the times and throws additional light on the development of Christianity in the Roman Empire. As an historian of ideas, he gives the best introduction to Stoicism I know and how the philosophy ruled the life of Marcus Aurelius. What was particularly revealing to me was the low level of intellectual life of the Roman underclasses. But the upper classes did not by any means redeem themselves, either, by their lack of curiosity and death grip on materialism. One revelation found in the book is the dismal realization that Rome fought her foreign wars not only to maintain her wealth, but to replace her manpower through slavery. Dr. McLinn deserves to win all of the related book prizes offered to reward his honest labors. But his thoroughgoing effort will probably be exempted by something closer to the dictates of political correctness and closer to our self-defeating interests. This book is a treasure and a source book that reads as easily as an interesting work of fiction. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to learn about history in real time and the reader will find himself enriched beyond the mere sociological treatments on contemporary events. Guderian

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2010

    Author frequently expresses his personal distaste for Stoicism

    If you became were introduced to Marcus Aurelius via Stoicism, prepare to get spat upon by this author that expresses (Often) his distaste for one of Marcus's most well known charecteristics.

    Over, this is a quality biography. Look to others for details. This is my main concern...

    This author has issues with both Stoicism and the Cynics. Throughout the entire book, there are multiple usages of the words 'inuman' 'absurd' 'fallacious' (And more) when the author is speaking of Stoicism with regards to Marcus. At times the author comes across as if he were trying to talk down to Marcus in real life.

    And the few times that Cynicism is mentioned, he again trashes it as well. The author referes to the lifestyle of Diogense of Sinope as a 'guise'. He says, quote '...Diogenes was the son of a forger and counterfeiter...' -

    I'll leave it at that, because if you've studied even an ounce of Diogens background, you'd know that he was not a son of a counterfeiter. Right there, the author loses credibility for saying something that is false.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2009

    A Decent, Available Biography Behind One of Rome's Last Best Emperors

    In general I thought the book was alright, and I would have probably given it four stars and not three had it not been that the author took too much liberty denouncing or refuting some of the principles of stoicism that Marcus Aurelius may or may not have believed. Generally speaking, I'm not interested on what any biographer personally thinks about some certain person and/or subject simply because it should be up to me to form my own opinion on about the person and/or subject. On certain, brief instances it's alright to interject, but I thought it was neither certain or brief in this book. Authors should simply stick to the person and/or story and the telling of it. Other than that, it was interesting to learn more about this roman emperor.

    PS: I apologize for any grammatical errors in this review.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Historosophy

    A thorough and reasonably-well written review of the history of the life and times of Marcus Aurelius, mixed in with philosophy soup. The author cautions us about the internal contradictions of ancient Stoicism as if he were a high-school teacher afraid that the false prophet will find followers among the student body. There are also irrelevant comparisons to other personal-confession philosophical works. But the content of Aurelius' thought itself is slighted.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Great Read

    Frank McLynn has not only done his research, but also he has organized a biography of a person from ancient history in a very helpful way. On the one hand there is the telling of the life of Marcus Aurelius. On the other hand there is the telling of the times in which he lived. Influence of the French historian Fernand Braudel here as one learns what people thought, their basic beliefs and how they differed from our modern ones, the economy and how people from all walks of life made a living and what their standard of living was, the impact of disease on the general population and much higher mortality rates especially amongst children, and much more all woven into the biography of Marcus Aurelius. Then too there is a great deal of philosophy, partly what Marcus Aurelius believed and practiced, and then comparing Marcus Aurelius to philosophers from all different ages. Fair warning though: better have a dictionary handy, as McLynn's vocabulary is way above the average reader, at least it seems to this humble reader.

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    Posted December 9, 2011

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