If crucifixions and ferocious street fighting no longer characterize contemporary politics, Plutarch’s rivalrous,...

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THE AGE OF CAESAR

FIVE ROMAN LIVES

The estimable Greek historian depicts ancient Rome’s violent politics.

Biographer and philosopher Plutarch (46-120 C.E.) aimed to reveal “the manifestations of a man’s soul” in his Parallel Lives, portrayals of major Greek and Roman historical figures. Set beside one another, these biographies, Plutarch hoped, would edify readers who sought moral self-improvement. From that work, classicist Romm (Classics/Bard Coll.; Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, 2014, etc.) has selected five Roman lives: military general Pompey; lawyer and orator Cicero; Caesar, central to all of these lives; his treacherous adversary Brutus; and his supporter Antony, a vainly handsome man “of princely dignity.” These biographies, Romm believes, offer “an immersion in the events of the classical past and an encounter with its greatest personalities.” An introduction by noted classical scholar Mary Beard and informative footnotes help to fill in that sense of the past, and a felicitous translation by Mensch makes Plutarch’s prose lively and accessible. The biographies are thrillingly dramatic, as Plutarch recounts savage battles, bloody betrayals, and constant political upheaval. Central to that upheaval was the murder of Caesar, after he declared himself “Dictator for Life,” by a cadre assembled by Brutus. After arrogantly reproaching petitioners, Caesar found himself surrounded by murderers. “Whichever way he turned he met with blows aimed at his face and eyes, and was driven here and there like a wild beast,” Plutarch wrote, “trapped in everyone’s hands.” Caesar was felled with 23 stab wounds, and some of the assassins themselves were wounded in the melee. Carried out in the name of liberation from Caesar’s tyrannical rule, the killing had the opposite effect, making the populace worship Caesar “as a god” and turn against the conspirators. Among other dramatically intense scenes, Cleopatra’s inconsolable grief after Antony’s death and her suicide by asp bite stand out.

If crucifixions and ferocious street fighting no longer characterize contemporary politics, Plutarch’s rivalrous, “inglorious” world in discomfiting ways echoes through our own time.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-29282-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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