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Paperback Augustus Book

ISBN: 1400076730

ISBN13: 9781400076734


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Book Overview

A brilliant and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Robert Graves' I, Claudius," "Augustus is a sweeping narrative that brings vividly to life a compelling cast of historical figures through their letters, dispatches, and memoirs. A mere eighteen years of age when his uncle, Julius Caesar, is murdered, Octavius Caesar prematurely inherits rule of the Roman Republic. Surrounded by men who are jockeying for power-Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Many Suffered From Close Contact with Augustus - But Not Readers of this Work

John Edward Williams won the 1973 National Book Award for 'Augustus' and deservedly so. This amazing piece of literature masquerading as historical fiction (and I like historical fiction) draws the reader into the world of Gaius Octavius, later to be Augustus, first emperor of Rome. Williams tells his tale by the unusual technique of presenting letters, journal entries, and memoirs. By this method he allows the reader to gradually enter, indeed become immersed in, the world of Augustus, his family, friends, enemies, and most important, his Rome. 'Augustus' traces his rise from the vulnerable adopted son of Julius Caesar through a steady accretion of power as he becomes first a triumvir (with Mark Antony and the nonentity Lepidus), and then settles in as emperor of the world. The historical record for Augustus's life has gaps that challenge an author and Williams grasps the challenge deftly, just as Augustus grasped power. We see Augustus as an aloof, cold and calculating politician whose assiduous pursuit and cautious exercise of power allows him to hold that power for over four decades, but always using that power for Rome, always for Rome, his Rome. Yet many people suffer from their close contact with this man - his equally calculating wife Livia, for one, his dear friends Maecenas and Salvidienus, to name two more, but none more so than his daughter Julia. The last third or so of the book focuses on the break between Augustus and Julia. Williams presents an interesting and shocking explanation for Julia's exile - at least an explanation that Augustus believes or claims to. The penultimate chapter draws Augustus's life to a close with a lengthy letter to Nicolaus of Damascus in which a dying Augustus bemoans his fate and the weight of authority he has had to bear - it is really most unattractive for one of the most powerful men in history to indulge in such self-centered despair, but it also rings true because Augustus spent his life denying himself so many pleasures in order to hold on to power for the good of Rome, as he convinced himself. In the end, Augustus saw himself as the embodiment of Rome - anything that threatened his power, threatened Rome. This is so well done that one finds oneself becoming angry with Augustus, who is after all just a character in this brilliant work of historical fiction. 'Augustus' is not an easy read. Prior knowledge of the historical era certainly aids the enjoyment and comprehension of the book. Ultimately, however, this remarkable work of historical fiction and literature deserves the highest recommendation.

Unique, entertaining and interesting

I'm just going to tell you to do yourselves a favour and check this book out. Allan Masse, bow your head to the lesser known an appreciated John Williams. "Augustus: A Novel" is written in a very original way, using drafted letters, diaries, memoirs and even poems to tell the story making it a very easy read. You feel that you get to know each of the historical characters and they are written in a believable and stunningly truthful way, it is practically un-faulted. Its only fault is the title, which would have been better, titled as "Augustus and Julia." Why? Because the book is told in three parts, and each part has a theme. Where part one is about Octavius and his rise to become Augustus, part two and three revolves around mainly him and his daughter Julia, and it is Julia who dominates the eyes and excitement of the reader making her out to be the more interesting and certainly the more likeable of the two. Nonetheless, the father-daughter relationship between the two is quite touching and you can tell honestly that Julia means the world to her father. Other characters there to excite and delight you are Livia, Maecenas, Agrippa and various other people like Tiberius and Julia's partner-in-crime and ambitious lover Jullus Antonius who also draws your attention as the only living son of Mark Antony, falling in love with Caesar's daughter, Julia, in a non-typical Romeo and Juliet way. Without a doubt, the best Augustus fiction I've read. If you want a good Roman book to read then I advise you to get this out of the library and give it a go.

An overlooked gem!

Augustus, by John Williams, is an overlooked gem! This National Book Award winner describes the life of the Caesar Augustus, probably the most influential of the Roman emperors. He is famously reported to have remarked, `I found Rome in brick and left it in marble.' His reign was a time of peace and prosperity compared to the ruinous civil wars that preceded it. Unfortunately, there are few good yet accessible popularized accounts of his life. The lives of other Roman emperors have been defined for us by outstanding books. For Marcus Aurelius we have his own famous Meditations, for Hadrian there is Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, for Claudius there is Robert Graves' celebrated I, Claudius, Tiberius is rehabilitated in the somewhat imitative Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor by Allan Massie. Accounts of Julius Caesar are plentiful, my favorite being found in the last books of Colleen McCullough's excellent Masters of Rome series. Yet for Augustus, we are left with the idiosyncratic characterization in Robert Graves' I, Claudius. For reasons about which I cannot even begin to speculate, Robert Graves painted Augustus as a remote grandfatherly figure while his dominating wife Livia was the villain of the piece. Although John Williams was clearly familiar with the earlier works, balance is restored in his Augustus. The picture here is more in keeping with the man's known historical achievements. The novel is in epistolary form, i.e. a series of letters by the protagonists. This is a hard style to carry of. Bram Stoker did it in Dracula. John Williams does a great job. Once you get used to the rhythms of the text, you will find yourself immersed in the lives of the characters seen from their own perspective. The reader will encounter famous men such as Agrippa (he whose name can still be seen on the Pantheon in Rome), the wayward daughter Julia, and the poets Virgil, Horace and Ovid, to name but a few. They all come alive as living, breathing people. I regret that this book is not more widely known. This should be the book that defines Augustus in the mind of the modern reader.

Deserves to be read. Thank you Vintage for the reissue

With a creative style, John Edward Williams presents the life of Augustus Caesar, Julius's nephew then adopted son, who ruled and remade Rome. Rather than using a more conventional literary style, Williams unravels the novel as a series of letters, journal entries, and documents from the diverse characters that surrounded and often vexed his subject. Cleverly, Williams leaves Augustus silent in this exchange of letters until the novel's end, so that the reader can see him from varying perspectives, through the eyes of friends and enemies alike. Critics have compared Williams' novel to Graves' excellent I, Claudius from the first, and though many prefer one or the other, they are both so different as to be almost from different worlds. While both deal with Rome in the rise of the Caesars, Graves offers at once a more limited perspective, as it comes from the single narrator Claudius who remains in Rome, but also broader as Claudius lives through the reign of four different rulers. Graves' style allows for greater intimacy with the characters because he writes from the honest place of one character's internal musings. Williams offers a more global view from many different perspectives, but only hinting at the character's depth. This style, far from inferior, is merely different and makes for an extremely interesting reading experience. It is true, the reader must work a bit harder, tracking characters can at time prove a challenge and you must remember who is writing and to whom. Yet, that in some ways adds to the fun. Indeed, one of its great strengths is that we learn many views on Rome's decline and Augustus' success. Only a scant few decades ago this work won the national book award and now is hardly read. However, with its interesting structure and clever prose, readers will certainly enjoy this recently reissued edition by Vintage.

ignored masterwork

i am absolutely galled that no one has reviewed this classic tale of Roman life in the empire's infancy. As the publisher stated, this work was meticulously researched, seemlessly combining a tawdry soap opera-esque element with a hard, eloquently written, historical narrative.This book should be required reading in every high school in America! .I much preferred it to the often-tedious, "I, Claudius"
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