For buffs of Roman history and particularly Julius Caesar, I've got some recommendations. I might have mentioned these in a previous post but I've got some new info...
Regarding Caesar, two fairly new books, "Caesar: Life of a Colossus" by the Brit historian Adrian Goldsworthy, and "Julius Caesar" by the American Philip Freeman.
Both books are extensive (the Goldsworthy book is quite long) but they read like magazine articles -- quick sentences, common English, total lack of puffed-up rhetoric. By comparison, if you read Gibbon's "Rise and Fall" (written over 200 years ago) it reads like some 75-year old history professor lecturing from notes he made four decades ago, dry and lifeless. But these new books are brisk and very readable.
Both authors also are from the "New Scholarship" crowd. Let me 'splain the term, and please bear with me, because the concept of New Scholarship extends far beyond that of Roman history...
If you examine the various accounts of Roman rule and Caesar especially, some interesting aspects come to view. A great deal of the emphasis on the Romans, and the judgment of history on whether they were particularly brutal or not (for example), depends to a great deal on when the histories were written.
Most of the important histories of Rome written in the past two centuries have been products of British scholarship, and more recently, American. And the slant given is to some degree dependent upon the political climate extant when the history was written.
For example, during the expansive colonial period for England, histories of Rome tend to be more positive, emphasizing the “Pax Romana” (Roman peace) that Rome provided its conquered territories. Conversely, during a decline in British imperialism and a more placid time, Rome is treated much more harshly.
And fairly recently, Roman imperialism has been compared with the imagined imperialism of the United States, both coming off unfavorably. When in fact, Rome’s era of power bears almost no comparison to the present era during which America has been the leader of the world. The attempts to align the two are simply falsehoods and provocative pseudo-historic judgments that align to the present liberal mantra, “America is Bad.”
Julius Caesar also comes under considerable fire in some late nineteenth century and early twentieth century biographies. Fact is, politics during the time the bios were written have always effected a tweak in the assessment of the man.
This has come upon us, particularly in Britain and the US, within the last two decades, after the tragic implications of the Vietnam war became less important in our lives and historians could view their subjects more impartially.
There has been a refreshing change in historic study as a result of this New Scholarship. Essentially, it’s viewing the past with a very nonjudgmental eye, and effecting a totally neutral stance about things such as Roman rule.
We've also got the benefit of more recent archaeological finds, especially those related to smaller communities during the Roman era, a better view of how the average person lived. Naturally, life was harsh and the common person had little chance for a decent life, even as a freedman. But the facts are evident that under Roman law, most people were in better shape. It indicates that “Pax Romana” was an authentically positive measure, for the most part.
Farmers were often subject to seasonal raids by bandits, very similar to the plight of the villagers in “Magnificent Seven,” where their crops were stolen just as harvest neared, and their women and children subject to rape and kidnapping for slavery.
But Roman rule put a stop to that. Yes, the taxes a small farmer paid his new landlords might be onerous, but at least he could feed his family. The Romans were no dummies. The knew full well that if you bludgeon and starve a people, you may obtain a brief large gain, but a dead farmer cannot provide you new wheat for your army, either.
Of course, Roman law was very harsh, true, but in comparison with other ruling groups in that time, the Romans were actually more lenient.
Julius Caesar himself had a deserved reputation for clemency and forgiveness of his military and political enemies, far more generous than other Roman rulers ever had been. This is an historic fact.
And so... both these complex yet very readable bios deliver a neutral and unbiased view of Julius Caesar, and his amazing personality comes out clearly. Sometimes kind and pleasant, sometimes harsh.
Goldsworthy's other books are also terrific. He's got a first rate "Antony and Cleopatra", and "Why Rome Fell" (about the later eras).
Goldsworthy is also a historian of the Napoleonic era, and has written several books on that subject. He's also an overall military historian, with books on fighting techniques and strategies from a number of historic eras.
Okay, I'm done. Anyone here familiar with either Goldsworthy or Freeman's books? I'd highly recommend either authors for their bios of Julius Caesar especially. And anyone who enjoys reading about Caesar needs to check them out.