Julius Caesar

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Simon and Schuster, May 13, 2008 - Biography & Autobiography - 405 pages
4 Reviews
More than two thousand years after his death, Julius Caesar remains one of the great figures of history. He shaped Rome for generations, and his name became a synonym for "emperor" -- not only in Rome but as far away as Germany and Russia. He is best known as the general who defeated the Gauls and doubled the size of Rome's territories. But, as Philip Freeman describes in this fascinating new biography, Caesar was also a brilliant orator, an accomplished writer, a skilled politician, and much more.

Julius Caesar was a complex man, both hero and villain. He possessed great courage, ambition, honor, and vanity. Born into a noble family that had long been in decline, he advanced his career cunningly, beginning as a priest and eventually becoming Rome's leading general. He made alliances with his rivals and then discarded them when it suited him. He was a spokesman for the ordinary people of Rome, who rallied around him time and again, but he profited enormously from his conquests and lived opulently. Eventually he was murdered in one of the most famous assassinations in history.

Caesar's contemporaries included some of Rome's most famous figures, from the generals Marius, Sulla, and Pompey to the orator and legislator Cicero as well as the young politicians Mark Antony and Octavius (later Caesar Augustus). Caesar's legendary romance with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra still fascinates us today.

In this splendid biography, Freeman presents Caesar in all his dimensions and contradictions. With remarkable clarity and brevity, Freeman shows how Caesar dominated a newly powerful Rome and shaped its destiny. This book will captivate readers discovering Caesar and ancient Rome for the first time as well as those who have a deep interest in the classical world.


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Julius Caesar

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Classics professor Freeman (Luther Coll., Iowa; The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts) has written an admiring and fast-paced biography of the Roman general and dictator (c ... Read full review

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I really, really liked this Caesar biography; it was written in simple prose, easy to understand, and had relevance. While some of it was almost mythical, and certainly not empirical fact, that was not even a flaw in my mind, but rather an asset. At some point, these ancient men lived lives that to us are not empirical fact, anyways.
My only issue with the book lay in its final paragraph, where Freeman quotes Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. At best, Freeman gives an incomplete quote; in truth, the incompleteness of it actually changes its whole context and hence connotation. Chernow states quite explicitly that Jefferson either fabricated the story altogether, or misunderstood Hamilton when he was making a joke-and, of course, anything that comes out of Jefferson's mouth (or pen) is suspect, at best. That Hamilton's career wound up paralleling Caesar's-even in his midlife crisis, and how he finally succumbed to all the negativity surrounding his character in his final years and turned against some of his previous strengths, making them weaknesses, in the name of those strengths-is evident and actually somewhat ironic. What both Chernow and Freeman are referring to, though, is not a psychological breakdown after the age of 40, but instead a conscious decision in Hamilton's early 30s. Hamilton's life has not yet crossed into the stage where I am comfortable dismissing empirical fact in favor of mythological circumstance.
If he misquoted other books and things of interest, then that would change my conclusion of this one altogether. As of now, I have not read enough of the others to know; this is the price I pay for being but 20 years old; even when I do get to Plutarch, it is unlikely that I will be taking his word for fact, anyways. However, I reserve the right to change my opinion on this piece in light of future findings of fact.


on the banks of the rubicon
The Early Years
The Path to Power
The Belgae
The Ides of March
caesar and cato at valley forge

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About the author (2008)

Philip Freeman is Orlando W. Qualley Chair of Classical Languages at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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