Fresh documentary evidence on these times rarely turns up to add to the skimpy surviving chronicles (by Pliny, Tacitus,...

TEN CAESARS

ROMAN EMPERORS FROM AUGUSTUS TO CONSTANTINE

A set of lively biographies of the 10 best-known emperors of Rome.

Few educated readers respect many of Hollywood’s grandiose versions of events (though HBO’s series, Rome, did better), so history buffs will not wince to read about the cruelty, murder, betrayal, and arrogance of even highly regarded emperors. Rocking no boats, Strauss (History and Classics/Cornell Univ.; The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination, 2015, etc.), who has written numerous useful popular books on the classical period, agrees that the ancient Republic was moribund when Julius Caesar delivered the coup de grace. But it took a vicious 20-year civil war before his grand-nephew took power in 27 B.C.E. and proclaimed the restoration of the old Roman Republic; then he gradually assumed the mantel of emperor as Augustus. Historians and contemporaries agree that he did a solid job as emperor, and he was widely mourned at his death. Few historians but Strauss admire his dour successor, Tiberius, who, although a general, avoided war and continued the nearly 200 years of Pax Romana. The author delivers short accounts of all emperors during these years, expanding on the not-always-awful Nero and the admirable Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian, and ending with Marcus Aurelius, who closed out Rome’s golden years. Strauss skims over the disastrous century that followed before concentrating on Diocletian and Constantine, who stabilized the empire mostly through persistent warfare but also reorganized the administration, largely abandoning the city of Rome and the western realm, which vanished a century later, leaving the wealthier eastern Byzantine empire to continue for more than another 1,000 years.

Fresh documentary evidence on these times rarely turns up to add to the skimpy surviving chronicles (by Pliny, Tacitus, Cassius Dio, Suetonius et al.), so popular histories have little new ground to break. They must be read for pleasure, and this one delivers good value.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6883-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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