Author and historian Tom Holland returns to his roots in Roman history and the audience he cultivated with Rubicon - his masterful, witty, brilliantly researched popular history of the fall of the Roman republic - with Dynasty, a luridly fascinating history of the reign of the first five Roman emperors.
Dynasty continues Rubicon's story, opening where that book ended: with the murder of Julius Caesar. This is the period of the first and perhaps greatest Roman emperors. It's a colorful story of rule and ruination, from the rise of Augustus to the death of Nero. Holland's expansive history also has distinct shades of I, Claudius, with five wonderfully vivid (and, in three cases, thoroughly depraved) emperors - Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero - featured, along with numerous fascinating secondary characters. Intrigue, murder, naked ambition and treachery, greed, gluttony, lust, incest, pageantry, decadence - the tale of these five Caesars continues to cast a mesmerizing spell across the millennia.
©2015 Tom Holland (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
This is an accessible, interesting survey of the first family of the early Roman Principate - the Julio-Claudians. As the Republic breathes its last, Octavian, grand-nephew of the assassinated Julius Caesar, himself still a teenager, rises from the ashes of a civil war to become the first man in Rome. Through careful managing of his family's "brand", Octavian, known to history as Augustus (the great one), forges a demi-godlike family mythos which more than anything is his legacy. Two thousand years later, we are still intrigued with the Julio-Claudians and wonder "what might have been?" had his heirs been as astute as he and Fate been a bit kinder.
There was little new in this book to me fact-wise, however, I very much enjoyed how Mr. Holland sets the back-drop of the Empire. He explains Rome's history, its political climate, and how the Romans see themselves in relation to the rest of the world. This is a huge factor in why and how the House of Caesar rose to such prominence and why their mythology still has a hold on us today.
What I found even more fascinating are the digressions the author takes as he discusses the Roman world in the first century and the problems the Empire faced, especially in regards to immigration. It truly helped to parallel their world to ours.
Sadly, despite all his careful planning, Augustus was not able to force the rest of his family to adhere to his vision for it. In the end, despite being the blood of the "divine Julius", his family are only human after all. Greed, treachery, hubris, paranoia, and plain old bad luck wreak havoc on Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and their various family members, until the line is extinguished in the last scion of the Julio-Claudians, Nero.
I also appreciated that when he goes into some of the more scurrilous and scandalous stories about the family, the author often gives reasonable explanations as to why those stories may have arisen without treating them as either absolutely true or negating them completely.
The book reads very much like a novel and as such is quite an easy read. I would definitely read more by this author and would be very much interested in a book of his focussed on the women of the dynasty.
Unfortunately, I was not thrilled with the narrator. He had some peculiar pronunciations that irked me for some reason. He was serviceable but I couldn't shake the feeling that someone else could have/would have been a better choice. No idea who that someone would be though.
Author Holland is not bashful. He knows how to move a story along. He leaps nimbly into minds and characters and motives of every kind, noble or sleazy, all the while staging the scenes with countless colorful, telling details. The sweep moves from grand to petty and back again effortlessly. If he is presumptuous, and I'm not historian enough to say he is, the characters' choices make sense, within their own spheres of irrationality and increasingly bizarre turns of events.
Each society, and perhaps each individual and institution in it, must walk a line between the elegance of enlightened self-interest, with a measure of healthy fellow-interactions, and the path which by increments becomes, potentially, an ugly hall of mirrors of self-absorbed vice and cruelty. This is all served up here with a brio that makes me queasy at moments (and I suppose, very un-Roman in displaying such weakness). A true history buff shouldn't shy from the details that actually happened, right? And should be edified and learn from them? Learn from this I did, a little heartbroken though. Maybe I'm getting old, or ate the wrong thing for lunch. But past a point, the graphic madness here (blighting the world and trashing countless lives), the nose-thumbing insouciance of these privileged brats curdling the ancient world into a sick and feeble parody of itself, finally got to me.
Thanks Tom I'm a huge fan (and will avidly re-listen to In The Shadow of the Sword and Rubicon), but this is enough of this. I can only hope we are preserved from our own system blundering into a train wreck steered by elite narcissists, anything like this tale depicts.
Now, I surely understand why Rome, culturally exhausted by excesses like this, turned to Christianity.
Mr Holland is a great story teller. He really brings clarity and insight to this period of Roman history. I only wish I could have heard more from Ovid. The reader does an excellent job of presentation. I look forward to more works both by this author and the reader.
Excellent performance. Thoroughly engaging right through to the final chapter on Nero. Minor criticism would be that it tends to emphasize the more salacious aspects of each empowers life not all of which may be true.
I listened to this book during the 2016 election season. There is nothing new under the sun. Whatever politicians do now, it was already done during the era of Rome's world dominance. Henry VII's six wives? He was an amateur compared to Romans. This history of the post-Ides of March Caesers is exhaustive but fascinating with its attention to detail. Excellent narration. Want to become an early Rome aficionado? This book is for you!
Holland creates memorable characters -each with distinctive strengths and flaws - from not only the first emperors, but also their principal friends and enemies. The story follows the flow of power from Augustus to Nero at a brisk pace but includes many entertaining digressions that can be startlingly funny, bizarre, violent and vulgar - some anecdotes have all these features simultaneously. My only misgiving is at times the gnawing feeling that "there is simply no way this could be true." But the true details are lost to history and confused by any agenda lurking in the few existing primary sources. Rather than giving a litany of wishy-washy possibilities for each event accompanied by disclaimers about historical accuracy, Holland chooses one version and pulls no punches recounting it, making the history of the Julio-Claudians vivid and entertaining. We'll never know the real facts, but this version is at least a entertaining and plausible one.
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.
There is evidence of American Empire’s decline in today’s politics. It is apparent in Tom Holland’s “Dynasty”. Holland writes about “The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar”. One of the great political leaders in history is Julius Caesar. As a warrior in battle and dominating intellect in government, Julius Caesar plants the seeds of Empire. Through the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, the Roman Empire devolves into a circus of arbitrary use of power, populism, and debauchery. Holland implies only one of these future Caesars match the dexterous skill of the first Caesar; the remainder demonstrate incipient decline.
The last Julio-Claudian emperor is Nero. He is the adopted son of Claudius. Holland implies Agrippina is the woman behind Nero’s ascension. Holland reflects on what may have been an incestuous relationship between mother and son but largely concludes that many of Nero’s bizarre behaviors and general misanthropy are reactions to Agrippina’s domination of her son. Agrippina is a political force in her own right and, to some Romans, the power behind the throne. Nero is a spendthrift who focuses on theatricality rather than practicality. He eschews his mother’s attempts to reduce his profligate spending. Holland indicates that Nero orders the murder of Agrippina twice, and succeeds in his second attempt by ordering a soldier to stab her.
Nero learns much from his mother, including how to poison rivals. As a team, Agrippina and Nero consolidate Roman power. Nero played to the masses by seeking popularity through extravagant events. Nero participated in the Senate but with his own agenda that, at times, led to the slaughter of innocents. He built gymnasiums and theaters to imitate the Greeks. He created festivals and entertainment for the masses. He created his own reality series by staging events that resulted in death rather than a better known phrase –“you’re fired”. Though never definitively proven, he set fire to Rome in order to have a blank slate to rebuild the city. In the end, heavy taxation for Nero’s extravagance fomented revolt. The Roman Senate sentences Nero to a brutal death and as the guards approach his hideaway, he commits suicide.
A listener will draw their own conclusions but there seem to be some parallels between today’s politics and “The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar”.
This book is a survey on the topic. The narrative and the narrators delivery complement each other making for a nice easy listen. But.... It omits to much and fails to give a reader a fuller understanding of the big picture. For example Sulla Marius are ommited and the quick section on Pompey is full of bios and selective and bias. Many survey histories on the topic exist which balance accessibly and giving a better bigger picture better.
pros: narrative history with detail that attempts to bring the reader into the world of the Caesars.
cons: in attending to the salacious details of the personal depravity of emperors of the Julio-Claudian line , left to the wayside is any semblance of geopolitical, economic, military, or scholarly insights . Rather than explaining the Roman times and rule through the era, we are left with the author explaining the hidden truths of phallic thrusts and gender reassignment surgery as a 1st century metaphor for building canals through Italy and Greece. if you've read a lot of ancient Greek and Roman history, this will be a stark departure that will add no historical value, but may indeed be a Hollywood script.
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