Voracious audiobook listener, reader, knitter-spinner-weaver-embroiderer. I love history and sci-fi mostly.
You know how people like to say that America is like Ancient Rome, and doomed to fall the same way? I disagree.
-I don't know of a single US First Lady who has been found to have been a serial murderer. Not even Hillary C.
-We may have had some Presidents who were massive egotists, but none of them have decided they were God (at least if they did, they didn't tell everyone while dressed up in a red wig and high heels while forcing terrified citizens to call them Venus.)
-We have never declared war on the ocean, fed senators to wild animals for entertainment, forced couples to divorce or commit suicide, or put fig trees on trial for murder.
All this and more was imposed upon this early civilization by members of ONE FAMILY. Eat your hearts out Sopranos...or more likely, have your hearts eaten.
The thing that struck me was how different this book is from the miniseries. The TV show gave you the schemes as they happened, putting you in the same room as the players and giving them lots of juicy dialog. The book, however, tells the story from the perspective of an old man narrating things that happened a long time ago while he was on the other side of Rome. As you might expect from this vantage point, the story reads like a history, has little dialogue, and generally tries to put it's speaker in a good light. It's still fascinating, though, and I'll definitely be getting "Claudius the God."
I felt that Nelson Runger did an excellent job with the material.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Robert Graves, in “I, Claudius”, infers that women are the primary source of destruction and construction in the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC through the turn of the millennium. This idea reminds one of “The Canterbury Tales” and its characterization of the preeminent role of women in the rule of civilization.
Graves’ novel is considered by some (e.g., the Modern Library and Time Magazine) to be one of the 100 best English-language novels in the 20thcentury. Maybe–but this rendition of the work seems only mildly entertaining, albeit interestingly informative. It is about the life and times of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (a.k.a. Claudius).
“I Claudius” is an indictment of hereditary rule and endorsement of Republicanism. The split between Hereditary Monarchy and Republicanism did not heal after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Graves paints a picture of how ugly and debauched a line of hereditary descendants can become. However, his writing seems more theory driven than character driven. Livia is easily seen as a Machiavellian character but not as a human being. Graves achieves some success in humanizing the inhumanity of Caligula but Livia is only a stick figure. One may agree with Graves’ theory of hereditary kingship’s decline; however, one may easily disagree with Modern Library’ and Time Magazines’ high literary praise.
When the main character of a story has little to no say in the events happening to them - when they are just swept along the with the story - it makes for a boring character. And a boring book.
And this is a very boring book.
Here's the problem: Claudius can only watch as events unfold around him, he rarely gets to participate in anything that is interesting and when he does it's usually to beg for mercy or play the fool. The people around him are interesting - or they would be had they been written better, anyway but he is not. He can only watch (and so we too can only watch) as we are told how one thing happened and how another thing happened.
What I don't get is Graves wanted to write a realistic story of what happened during Claudius' lifetime, he wanted to explore what life in Rome was really like and try to figure out how events really happened, yet he gives everyone the most wooden and stilted dialogue and has everyone running around making absolute statements. Everyone is certain of their actions and nobody ever stops to think that some issues might not be black or white. Nobody struggles with morality here and how someone could write an entire novel about the beginnings of the Roman Empire without giving us at least one character who spends more than an afterthought wondering if all this is a good idea isn't just a missed opportunity, it's just dumb.
I'll give Graves credit for creativity and for taking the old Roman stories and looking at them in a fresh light. He has some fun ideas here, but it's just poorly put together.
The biggest problem is a problem almost all stories like this run into : they have the wrong main character. Claudius is unable to really influence the events happening around him and to him so he's a terrible character to spend an entire book with. I get that he's a historian and that he's telling us this story, but you can't have it both ways, you can't update the stories of Rome to show modern audiences that people even 2000 years ago were just like us but then write the whole book as if everyone is stiff and antique and mimicking an old Roman history book. If the whole point of this book was to show us how Rome was a vibrant, modern place, then why make everything feel stuffy and have everyone act wooden? The whole purpose of this book is baffling.
Anyway, my biggest problem with stories like this, such as biopics, are that you should never make the character at the center of your interest the main character. In the film Amadeus Mozart isn't the main character, Salieri is. Salieri is much more interesting because he's much more like us - he's filled with rage and jealousy and he doesn't possess the genius that Mozart does. We can understand Mozart's brilliance better by looking at him through the flawed Salieri. In the film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford the main character isn't Jesse James, it's (the coward) Robert Ford. Ford is far more interesting and we learn about both men by following Ford around. Even The Last King of Scotland gets this right by not making Idi Amin the main character, but making the fictional Nicholas Garrigan our eyes to the brutality of that dictator.
Now to be fair, Claudius isn't the center of Rome through most of the book; he's telling the stories of Augustus, his wife Livia, Tiberius, and Caligula, as well as a few other historical figures because he wants us to know how he wound up finally becoming Emperor, but we have to look at the first problem I brought up and that is Claudius is just telling us things he had no control over and played almost no part in.
Maybe it really was dumb luck that Claudius became Emperor, however, that makes for boring fiction. And besides I doubt the real Claudius had no influence and I'm sure he was more political than this book makes him out to be. Nobody is just handed the absolute rule of all of Rome just because a few senators are afraid of a few more Germans. I just don't buy any of it.
Anyway, like I said, I give Graves credit for undertaking an interesting project, and there are some interesting moments, especially anything with Livia or Caligula, but the overall book is stiff and Claudius is one of the most boring main characters I've ever come across. He's like little kid Anakin Skywalker in the terrible The Phantom Menace where he has no idea what's going on around him, and no power to do anything about what happening. He's boring, undeveloped, and the whole thing feels like a waste of time.
Oh, and do I feel like I understand Rome better now than when I started? No. Graves gives us some possible insight into how a few well-to-do Romans lives and some insight into the crimes and lavish festivals of the times, but none of the people here jump off the page as real human beings and Rome just feels like a collection of wooden sheep whose only function is to cheer at the games.
Poor Clau-Clau-Claudius? Poor us.
I, Claudius did so many things right: getting under the skin of the people of the time, bathing in the uniqueness of the time period, maintaining an honest depiction of the cultural milieu.
Though Nelson Runger has a beautiful, resonant voice, he wasn't a good choice to narrate this book. I wish I had gotten the version narrated by Derek Jacobi, who is one of the most brilliant actors of all time and I'm sure did a better job handling the language. An abridged version with a brilliant narrator is light years better than an unabridged version with the wrong narrator.
Nelson Runger doesn't distinguish between various characters. Quite often I couldn't distinguish between Claudius' narration, Claudius speaking to another character, or any other characters speaking, for that matter. As a result, I was often confused, lost my place in the narrative, and got bored. There are times when his delivery is very stilted, which is frustrating because it's not simple language -- this book needed a more versatile and skilled narrator.
Already been done.
Trust No One.
I would compare I, Claudius to A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. The main similarity between the two stories is the bevy of political intrigue. The lies, deceit, and murders all intersect with power hungry people.
Everything. Each character came to life, especially Claudius.
The Most Powerful Ugly Duckling (it's not a great one but it matches the story)
Avid audible listener for over 10 years.
If you like historical novels this is a good listen. The one issue is that there are so many characters to follow and the names are confusing. The timeline bounces around from past to present fairly often.
You will have to have some interest in Roman history to enjoy this book. Since it is historical, it gives you an interesting view of politics in ancient Rome. If you think things are bad in Washington D.C. are bad, you only need to hear what goes in the Roman Senate to understand how bad it used to be. The main character, Augustus, the self appointed emperor of the Roman Empire rules as a puppet to his wife, Livia. From there it goes downhill with tiberius and Caligula. When they someone stabbed you in the back, they actually mean it, you get stabbed in the back by your brother, wife, father, son, etc. If not stabbed literally, you are exiled to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. Augustus sends his own daughter into exile for being too promiscuous.
It was a rather brutal lot who ran ancient Rome so you can understand why the Roman empire collapsed
I would have given 4.5 stars if I could. This is very well-delivered history and drama, set in a deep and satisfyingly complex narrative that rewards close attention; the downside is that if you like your historical fiction to buckle some swashes, you'll be a little impatient here. As a longtime Bernard Cornwell fan, I felt that the story structure here was a little obfuscatory and that the pace was a little slow, but after the first few chapters, the intricate web of characters and plots (think G.R.R. Martin, only with more skill at the craft) began to pay off, and the novel became extremely satisfying.
The narrator was not my favorite, but neither did I have any real problem with him. His plain style compliments the dry humor and calm tone of the novel.
I can't imagine a worse book to listen too....... Maybe it's better if read on paper, but this honestly was like listening to the reading of a family tree. The names went on and on, and it was virtually impossible to keep track of who's who.
CRAZY boring, and only the second Audible book I've ever quit listening to before finishing.