Roman history enthusiasts will find new material to digest and general readers, useful context for the Roman way of life.



An authoritative new history unearths the true story of a slave’s son who rose through the ranks to become the Roman Empire’s most powerful man.

Publius Helvius Pertinax (126-193 C.E.) was a military officer and civil servant who packed several lifetimes into his 66 years. Though he only served 86 days before he was assassinated, military historian and archaeologist Elliott takes the basic elements of his story to fashion a mostly readable account of his life. After years as a teacher, Pertinax switched careers at age 35 and entered the military, embarking on a “dizzying upward trajectory” capped by his short-lived reign as emperor. He occupied posts in Rome’s sophisticated military and governing machines in empire hot spots like Syria, Carthage, and Britannia, “the wild west of the Roman Empire,” where he served as governor and survived an assassination attempt by mutinous legionnaires. He endured periods of banishment but always came back to move further up the ladder of rank, prestige, and wealth. After the “deluded” Emperor Commodus was assassinated, Pertinax was drafted by the Senate to become the new emperor. But he ran afoul of the Praetorian Guard, a state-sanctioned band of mercenaries ready to sell the empire's throne to the highest bidder. Pertinax’s story shows how an ordinary Roman citizen—even the son of a slave—could negotiate a rigid class and caste system. Elliott, author of several books about Roman affairs, has a deep understanding of Roman life, especially as it was lived in Britannia. His challenge is that there is very little personal information in accounts of Pertinax’s life, and he fills the gaps with more particulars about military life than are likely to interest general readers. The author vividly documents Pertinax’s last days and effectively captures the tenor of the era, a time awash in corruption and violence.

Roman history enthusiasts will find new material to digest and general readers, useful context for the Roman way of life.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78438-525-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Greenhill Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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


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

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?