A vivid account of five Roman emperors, emphasizing their vices and vicious behavior with less attention to the vast empire,...

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DYNASTY

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HOUSE OF CAESAR

A decade after his award-winning life of Julius Caesar (Rubicon, 2004), veteran historian Holland (In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, 2012, etc.) delivers biographies of five descendants who ruled after his death.

This is well-trod ground for good reason: this period saw the foundation of the Roman Empire, whose emperors, after a prosperous start, revealed a distressing if entertaining tendency to self-indulgence, paranoia, and murder. Following Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C.E., his adopted son, Octavius, won a brutal civil war to assume power. Octavius restored the facade of the old republic while a compliant Senate granted him vast authority. As Augustus, he ruled efficiently and was widely mourned upon his death in 14 C.E., having expanded the empire and begun the 200-year “pax Romana.” Several promising successors died during his long reign, and Rome was left with the sullen, reclusive Tiberius, who retired to Capri after a few years, leaving ruling to underlings and living a life of (according to later chroniclers) debauchery. The short, stormy reign of Caligula ended with him as the first emperor murdered by the Praetorian Guard, who crowned his successor, Claudius. Modern scholars have a fairly high opinion of Claudius and even of his adopted son, Nero, although the dynasty ended with widespread revolt and his suicide in 68 C.E. Holland makes liberal use of unreliable but lurid Roman sources, including Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio, and others, but he has done his homework and acknowledges modern scholars who take these with a grain of salt. The author also includes a timeline, a dramatis personae, and a family tree for the Julians and Claudians.

A vivid account of five Roman emperors, emphasizing their vices and vicious behavior with less attention to the vast empire, which continued to prosper despite them.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53784-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

THE WAY I HEARD IT

Former Dirty Jobs star Rowe serves up a few dozen brief human-interest stories.

Building on his popular podcast, the author “tells some true stories you probably don’t know, about some famous people you probably do.” Some of those stories, he allows, have been subject to correction, just as on his TV show he was “corrected on windmills and oil derricks, coal mines and construction sites, frack tanks, pig farms, slime lines, and lumber mills.” Still, it’s clear that he takes pains to get things right even if he’s not above a few too-obvious groaners, writing about erections (of skyscrapers, that is, and, less elegantly, of pigs) here and Joan Rivers (“the Bonnie Parker of comedy”) there, working the likes of Bob Dylan, William Randolph Hearst, and John Wayne into the discourse. The most charming pieces play on Rowe’s own foibles. In one, he writes of having taken a soft job as a “caretaker”—in quotes—of a country estate with few clear lines of responsibility save, as he reveals, humoring the resident ghost. As the author notes on his website, being a TV host gave him great skills in “talking for long periods without saying anything of substance,” and some of his stories are more filler than compelling narrative. In others, though, he digs deeper, as when he writes of Jason Everman, a rock guitarist who walked away from two spectacularly successful bands (Nirvana and Soundgarden) in order to serve as a special forces operative: “If you thought that Pete Best blew his chance with the Beatles, consider this: the first band Jason bungled sold 30 million records in a single year.” Speaking of rock stars, Rowe does a good job with the oft-repeated matter of Charlie Manson’s brief career as a songwriter: “No one can say if having his song stolen by the Beach Boys pushed Charlie over the edge,” writes the author, but it can’t have helped.

Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982130-85-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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