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.
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.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
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.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
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!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Unfortunately the emperors after Augustus have a lot fewer direct sources about their rein, so most of what we know about them is questionable at best. That means to write a book on them is to accept that half of it is total bs, a quarter is mayyybe true, and a quarter is verified.
That all said the author presents everything aa fact, even the stuff that's impossible like the rumors spread at the time of mystical bad omens. As long as you remember that this book isn't meant to be used in a research paper or something, you're good.
Think of it like a dan carlin podcast. Not incredibly factually thorough but incredibly entertaining
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
The performance is fine. But Rubicon by the same author is a far superior book in my opinion. I bought this based on my satisfaction with Rubicon. It seems that he uses Ovid frequently as a source. And some Holland's language is a bit too sexually graphic for me. And I'm not a prude; it just seems out of place. Obviously and reasonably it's meant to add an explicit realism to the antics of some of the emperors, but I found myself fast forwarding through certain parts, asking myself, "did I buy a history book on roman emperors or fifty shades of grey?" Not a total waste though by any means. But Rubicon puts it to shame.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
In "Dynasty", Tom Holland seems to concentrate more on simply rehashing past historical gossip written about the Julio-Claudians in his own 'flowery', dramatic, & (at times) bombastic & excessively vulgar prose instead of focusing on writing a clearer, more insightful historical account with his own independent analysis & conjecture.
I much enjoyed the beautifully descriptive portrait of Ancient Rome Holland "painted" in Rubicon , however this attempt seems to be a bit repetitive in style & not as well thought over perhaps and sometimes it seems Holland is writing for a novel, play, opera or movie and to be less of a historical writer (and sometimes , Edward gibbon's rambling "witty & floral' style of writing comes to mind, which I really hated having to continuously decipher in his many distracting footnotes ). Holland is a very talented "writer", but as far as a historian, a "historical writer",.. I am not sure yet. I think Rubicon was his best "artistic" masterpiece that I have listened to so far..as I listened to it on audible, this one I am also listening to, but it just seems that my mind keeps wandering off and this historical account seems to have a harder time at grabbing my full attention . It will try harder and I will edit this book review after it does.
author did a great job of writing the story of julian-claudian dynasty with great anecdotes as, we'll humanity. while the narrator did outstanding job of bringing it to life. ...perfect audio book.
Excellent history. I know Dan Carlin uses Tom Holland as a reference for some of his Hardcore History stuff and I can see why (this is why I downloaded this book in the first place). If you're a fan of history in all its sometimes lurid, gruesome detail, this is for sure worth it.
It's also extremely well written, with striking parallels in some cases to political events and implications today -- though this is something deduced on your own because Holland's book isn't written as a 'compare and contrast with today's world' -- at least not explicitly. It's a bit creepy to hear some stories and think, there really are just some cycles that humans get themselves into of corruption, greed, and mob mentality. Crazy.
Also, I couldn't help but notice some details seem eerily similar to GoT storylines. The history of Rome -- esp the Roman Empire era -- surely provides some frame of reference for the duplicitous and salacious GoT storylines.
I actually didn't start out with Rubicon, Holland's book prior to this one, but I'm for sure downloading it after this.
Great listen. Mr. Perkins orated with sheer perfection. Of course to no lesser extent did Mr. Holland craft each sentence with an exquisite command of the English language and rich description of each character.