CAESAR by Colleen McCullough


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 The story of Caesar's Gallic Wars (roughly 5851 b.c.) and return to Rome warfare, followed fictively and, in the main, meticulously, from Caesar's Commentaries. Again, the portraits are memorable--from Brutus (here, a money-mad ``wet fish'' with acne) to Cleopatra (scrawny, ugly, calmly plotting fratricide)--and the politicking is showy, sly, witty, and often deadly. At the close of Caesar's Women (1996), McCullough's fourth massive staging of the power wrests and wrestlings of mighty men of ancient Rome, Julius Caesar, a true colossus of skill and brilliance, had left for ``Further Gaul.'' Now, while mopping up the revolts in his detested Britannia of ``blue-painted relics,'' he receives word from Pompey the Great, First Man in Rome and husband of Caesar's lovely daughter Julia, that Julia and his mother are dead. Grief drains him, but oddly he grows in strength, proceeding to un-Romanized Gaul, pacifying tribe after tribe, and eventually defeating Vercingetorix, an ambitious but inexperienced leader out to unite Gaul, who would not accept Caesar's offer of Rome's ``light rein'' in a ``shrinking world.'' While Caesar with his beloved legions win Gaul with extraordinary tactics and hardship, his foes in Rome have swung Pompey--once a Golden Boy, now tarnished with fatuous conceit and lack of political savvy--to their cause, which is, simply, to destroy Caesar. Although scrupulous in his observance of law, Caesar crosses the Rubicon to become Rome's aggressor. (McCullough appropriately uses Plutarch's account of his utterance: ``Let the dice fly high!'' instead of the gloomy ``The die is cast.'') While temporarily Dictator, afterward, Caesar pursues Pompey's armies until the Great One's sad end. In the wings for Book Six: the gorgeous Mark Antony, slinky Octavius, and Cleopatra. Rewarding but rugged terrain for the casual reader. Armchair generals, though, should love this--perhaps with De bello Gallico at the ready. Maps, glossary, and photos of sculptured portraits of the time. (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection/Quality Paperback Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-688-09372-8
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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