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



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 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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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