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Caesar: A Biography

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As politician and diplomat, writer and lover, but above all as a military genius, Julius Caesar is one of the perennially fascinating figures in history—Boswell called him ”the greatest man of any age.” Christian Meier's authoritative and accessible biography is the definitive modern account of Caesar's life and career, setting Caesar's life story against the rich As politician and diplomat, writer and lover, but above all as a military genius, Julius Caesar is one of the perennially fascinating figures in history—Boswell called him ”the greatest man of any age.” Christian Meier's authoritative and accessible biography is the definitive modern account of Caesar's life and career, setting Caesar's life story against the rich political and social background of the Late Roman Republic.


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As politician and diplomat, writer and lover, but above all as a military genius, Julius Caesar is one of the perennially fascinating figures in history—Boswell called him ”the greatest man of any age.” Christian Meier's authoritative and accessible biography is the definitive modern account of Caesar's life and career, setting Caesar's life story against the rich As politician and diplomat, writer and lover, but above all as a military genius, Julius Caesar is one of the perennially fascinating figures in history—Boswell called him ”the greatest man of any age.” Christian Meier's authoritative and accessible biography is the definitive modern account of Caesar's life and career, setting Caesar's life story against the rich political and social background of the Late Roman Republic.

30 review for Caesar: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Interesting, controversial account of Caesar This is written by a German Classics professor and though it's pitched as a book for the general reader, it assumes quite a lot of knowledge about Rome and its politics. Having said that, it is erudite without being overwhelming and is very well translated. It covers Caesar's life, military and political career, and puts it all into the context of the social/political crisis of the Republic. Both a weakness and a strength is the lack of critical Interesting, controversial account of Caesar This is written by a German Classics professor and though it's pitched as a book for the general reader, it assumes quite a lot of knowledge about Rome and its politics. Having said that, it is erudite without being overwhelming and is very well translated. It covers Caesar's life, military and political career, and puts it all into the context of the social/political crisis of the Republic. Both a weakness and a strength is the lack of critical bibliography and footnotes - yes, they can be off-putting to the general reader, but they also help 'site' a book within current scholarship. On the other hand, by unmooring himself from the literature, Meier allows himself an imaginative depth of engagement with his subject. Meier's interpretation of Caesar's thoughts, assumptions and motives gives this a daring depth that you don't often get in academic history, and while he never pretends it's more than his own subjective opinion, it still rings true. It's precisely this imaginative interpretation, of course, which makes this controversial in its methodology as well as its readings. So read this for a fascinating interpretation of a fascinating man who really did stride the ancient world like a colossus, but do remember it's Meier's version, not necessarily the 'truth'.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Falk

    Christian Meier approaches his subject with characteristic German Gründlichkeit. This book could well have been shortened, and it would not have suffered from it - on the contrary. It doesn’t quite take off until you’ve gone through a quarter of the pages. - Meier doesn’t seem to be really in his element until he gets to the start of Caesar’s political career, and that is more than 100 pages into the book. I almost gave up before I got there – I was ready to fling the book against the wall when Christian Meier approaches his subject with characteristic German Gründlichkeit. This book could well have been shortened, and it would not have suffered from it - on the contrary. It doesn’t quite take off until you’ve gone through a quarter of the pages. - Meier doesn’t seem to be really in his element until he gets to the start of Caesar’s political career, and that is more than 100 pages into the book. I almost gave up before I got there – I was ready to fling the book against the wall when Meier, writing about the Spartacus rebellion, launches into a description of the historical background of the gladiatorial games. It’s really odd that he would have thought it pertinent information also, as in other instances he seems to expect the reader to be well informed about the Roman politics of this period – and (by Jove!) it sure has nothing to do with Caesar. His descriptions of e.g. the Gracchi, the Catiline conspiracy and even Sulla are rather sketchy, though to Meier I suppose they are mostly of interest as "outsiders" – among which he includes Caesar; one of his main arguments - and he does a good job of delineating the dynamics of this (relative) "outsider" status. - Pompey as well is described rather one-dimensionally, only Cato is given more substance. Meier writes in the Afterword that his book is meant as a "scholarly biography." So - not quite a regular biography then; it might have been better to have put some of that information in a Foreword instead (there isn't one). Within its scope it is a great and valuable achievement. He develops his main argument of Caesar as an "outsider" persistenly throughout the pages of his book, and provides a many-faceted picture of this, by any standard, exceptional man – and leader of men. - "Against any questions and objections Caesar sets himself and his actions. It is through these that he hopes to convince. It is these that are at issue, and ultimately the subject of his book [Commentarii de Bello Gallico]. And by speaking of them in his own way he imposes his own perspective. He never thought to convince his opponents." (259) It took me a while to get used to Meier’s style of writing; he occasionally poses a whole series of rhetorical questions; he builds up his argument(s) slowly and persistently (again that aforementioned Gründlichkeit), though when I first got used to it, I found it an engaging approach. It reads a bit like a Greek drama, where everything moves ahead in the way it does simply because it must happen that way – not so entirely Greek as to include the involvement of the Gods (though just that aspect certainly would have held meaning to Caesar himself, and Meier acknowledges that), but because of the dynamics "on the ground". – But also: "Even in politics much is decided not by the actors, but through them. The total effect of their interaction always far exceeds what they settle between themselves." (348) Meier then goes on to quote Montesquieu: "If Caesar and Pompey had thought like Cato, others would have thought like Caesar and Pompey", and continues: "The roles were ready to be filled, as it were, and to play them was not only a matter of personal guilt, but at the same time a recognition of the structure of the age." Meier speaks of what he calls the "crisis without alternative": "How is it possible for an order to collapse when all who have a share in it regard it as the proper order? To put it more precisely: how is it possible for it to be destroyed by those who have a share in it, in the absence of any extraneous influence – to be destroyed when no one wishes to attack it, to be annihilated when no one repudiates it?" (349) - This is both an example of Meier’s rhetorical style as well as one of his main areas of discussion. He stresses repeatedly that the developments can only be understood when viewed within the concepts of that specific time in history. He is undoubtedly right, and this is one of the definitive strengths of his analysis. I would have wished that Meier had included more about the military part of Caesar's education; and certainly within the specific focus of this biography this could have been useful. He touches on his relation to religion on several occasions, and how he felt especially favored by fortune, as well as his claim to have Venus in his ancestry. "Why did he so often invoke the immortals?” ... Was it part of his down-to-earth attitude that he could ignore superstitions and attend to the matter in hand? ... Was it part of his fortune that he saw in the hand of the friendly gods, to whom he rendered what was due to them?" (400) "Perhaps his religion was totally rational, based on what he had learned from experience? Seel speaks of Caesar's 'direct affinity to the numinous, to the demonic, to fortune, daring and high risk'. Indeed, there is much to suggest that Caesar had a highly personal religion. May it not be that the more isolated he became, the closer he felt to the gods?" (401) Indeed. (Though he was also appointed pontifex in 73 and pontifex maximus in 63. These sure were not just political posts.) And on his sense of right and wrong: "We, obsessed with legitimacy, may find Caesar's self-absorption monstrous, however mild, humane, and generous it really was. And even in ancient times such legitimacy was claimed by Sulla, who justified the terrible murders resulting from his proscriptions by reference to the good of the republic. Caesar was incapable of such action. - Caesar may have acted immorally, but what was much more important was that he was different from the Romans of his age – alien, inscrutable, and then at once repellent and fascinating. This was what made him guilty vis-à-vis the republic. (...) The combination of brilliance – personal, not institutional brilliance – and power that we find in Caesar is probably almost unique in the whole of history. Yet it made him strong in relation to the republic only while he had to win victories within it. Afterwards it became evident that his strength was also his weakness, and in the end a certain melancholy of fulfilment – and a sense of futility – may have descended on him." (484) - It may, though he was also energetically preparing for the Parthian campaign up until the day of his assassination. In several ways, Meier’s book is as much a character analysis as it is a biography of Caesar, but it is also more than that because it includes a thorough discussion of the specific historical situation and background. It cannot be read without gaining some added insight. Meier puts forth a lot of questions; he does not necessarily answer them all. And for sure, there are no easy answers. But what he does provide is an intriguing discussion of one of the most fascinating rulers in history. Meier doesn’t include references; he says in the Afterword that "it would have been incompatible with the purpose of the book" – he does however usually state his sources whenever he quotes them directly. The translation seems to be a bit lacking in parts – at least occasionally the meaning of a sentence appeared to be somehow "lost in translation" – though with Meier’s rhetorical style it is also hard to be certain about just what is what in this respect. It didn’t bother me too much however. To a degree this book reads a bit like an essay. If you want a simple and straightforward biography, look elsewhere. This book has to be read on its own premises, and it is excellent in parts, less so in others, but it is definitely engaging once it gets under way. I would have given Meier's book a higher rating had it been shortened - this is also because he has tendency to repeat himself with different words; it is of course a reader’s prerogative to simply skim through parts, though that is another matter entirely. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Al

    This is the best biography of an ancient personality that I have ever read. It was originally published in German, and an English translation was published in 1982. Right out of the gate, the translation is excellent, making this a smooth and compelling narrative. There are plenty of detailed maps in the front, as well as a good section of illustrations. The book has a significant number of strengths, but also what I consider two weaknesses. One significant strength is Meier’s ability to place This is the best biography of an ancient personality that I have ever read. It was originally published in German, and an English translation was published in 1982. Right out of the gate, the translation is excellent, making this a smooth and compelling narrative. There are plenty of detailed maps in the front, as well as a good section of illustrations. The book has a significant number of strengths, but also what I consider two weaknesses. One significant strength is Meier’s ability to place Caesar’s life in context. What I mean is that Meier goes into significant detail on the status of the political structures found in the late republic, detailing the effect of Sulla’s dictatorship, and how this enabled the rise of Caesar and Pompey. Meier’s description of how the offices and systems functioned is excellent. Throughout the entire book, Meier details the history of the ultimate decline of the republic, keeping Caesar and the common thread running throughout the entire narrative. He does an excellent job of describing not only the political systems, but how they affected the conduct of politics, reaching back to the time of the Gracchi. Another strength is Meier’s examination of Caesar, and to some extent Pompey, as “outsiders” in Roman politics and society. These “outsiders” possessed qualities or attributes which made it difficult to assimilate into what was expected of Roman politicians. Meier argues that in Caesar’s case, he sought the outlet of the governorship of Transalpine Gaul as a way to begin achieving his goals of personal honor and prestige outside of the stifling confines of the Roman order. Meier also gives a good analysis of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, and analyzes his Commentaries in light of his actions. It was a good summary of his writing and intent behind it. Throughout the entire book, Meier examines in minute detail Caesar’s personality and examines his motives in light of his character, as well as against the backdrop of other personalities such as Pompey, Cicero and Cato. He even references Clausewitz in describing his ability and attributes as a military commander (p.303, 305). Meier’s conclusion is an excellent analysis of the decay of the late republic and Caesar’s role in it. (Spoiler- Caesar is killed.) In his Afterword, Meier states that this book is a scholarly biography. This leads me to the two weaknesses. Meier includes an incredible amount of detail and analysis, but there are no footnotes or a bibliography to indicate the path Meier took to reach his conclusions. This leads me to subtract a star. However, this did not detract from the compelling interest and value of the content. I still find this an excellent book, albeit a very hard one to read for a sustained period of time. This is not a book to skim; it’s packed with information and needs to be read with complete attention.

  4. 5 out of 5

    jeand99

    He was an outsider A couple of weeks after I wrote my blog 'River crossing' I wrote an e-mail to professor Fik Meijer (University of Amsterdam). I asked him "Why did Julius Caesar cross the Rubicon and wanted to stay at the top in old Rome and was not satisfied that his consulship finally ended?" He wrote that there is not an easy (in dutch "niet zo maar") answer on this question. He pointed me at the biographies on Caesar of Luciano Canfora and Christian Meier. Best biography on Caesar (100-44 He was an outsider A couple of weeks after I wrote my blog 'River crossing' I wrote an e-mail to professor Fik Meijer (University of Amsterdam). I asked him "Why did Julius Caesar cross the Rubicon and wanted to stay at the top in old Rome and was not satisfied that his consulship finally ended?" He wrote that there is not an easy (in dutch "niet zo maar") answer on this question. He pointed me at the biographies on Caesar of Luciano Canfora and Christian Meier. Best biography on Caesar (100-44 BC) Last week I finished reading Christian Meier's 'Ceasar. A biography' (1982). Bookjacket "Of the maybe half a dozen books on Ceasar that are worth reading, Meier's is the best." Points of interest in Meier's biography on Julius Caesar: * Caesar's world was dominated by two principles: care (latin 'cura') and competition. This accorded with his thinking in term of honour (latin 'dignitas') and fame. (p. 449) * In Caesar's eyes no one existed but himself and his opponents. It was all an interpersonal game. He classified people as supporters, opponents or neutrals. (p. 359) * Compared to his aristocratic senatorial peers Caesar was an outsider and alien. (p. 358) * In Caesar's time the old institutions, designed for a city state, had been "overstretched", as Rome now ruled over a world-wide empire. In a way the Senate didn't recognise that their institutions were out of date and had to be transformed. The ancient thinking about social structures was static. (p. 12, 50, 195, 357, 361, 479, 483 and 491) * For Caesar the senators were mainly Sullans: the heirs of the winning party of the civil war. Not representatives of the whole commonwealth. He could only see them as selfish instruments of the interplay of forces. Caesar had no feeling for the power of institutions to guarantee law and security. (p. 358-9, 449) * Civil war, by crossing the Rubicon: ** Caesar was not in principle opposed to the Roman order. He acted against it because he put his own interests above the rules of Rome. (p. 219) ** He wanted to free the Roman people, Senate from the small clique of Sullans. (p. 358-360 and 364) ** Must be an "expression of the greatness" of Caesar's personality. Throughout his career he displayed an extraordinary ability and strength of mind, staying power and steadfastness. (p. 362 and 483) ** Plea for his personal right, for the honour he was owed on the basis on his achievements. It was Caesar's claim for honour against the defence of the Republic. * After he won the civil war Caesar was not able to remove from the scene because he had not eliminated his opponents. He had to defend himself and consolidate his position. (p. 431) Crossing Rubicon? Personal honour more important than Republic The career of Caesar can't be understood without Sulla (138 BC - 78 BC). Sulla was the first Roman general who crossed the Rubicon for a march (91 and 87 BC) on Rome with his army. After his victory Sulla eliminated his opponents. Caesar belonged to the circle of Sulla's victims but relatives obtained a pardon for him. It made him an outsider. Caesar crossed on his turn the Rubicon (49 BC) after the Senate refused him the honours he owed after he conquered Gaul. For him the Senate was a biased set or clique of opponents who refused to him the honours he felt entitled to. His personal honour (latin 'dignitas) was more important than the Republic. The Republic was low on his list of priorities. Old Rome's static social structures I read this biography because I want(ed) to understand why Caesar was so selfish. In a way I want to understand why our democracy is or should be worth fighting for. The ancient roman world is strange to us. It's a world of Others. For Rome the social structures were static. And they didn't notice that themselves. And for us? We know that we have to adapt. We know that we have to fit social structures and conditions if it's urgent. We know - don't we? Source: http://jeand99.blogspot.com/2011/05/h...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eschargot

    Another re-read after a long time. Bought this in the late 1990s. Good read. It does start slow and then gets into the life of Caesar. The book captures Caesar's life from his escape from the Sulla civil war, his image of being a dandy and a profligate borrower and spender, his ride to prominence, his long years in Gaul and to his famous return to Rome. The author covers the lethargic state of politics in Rome and the dissatisfaction of it from an action oriented outsider like Caesar- to quote: Another re-read after a long time. Bought this in the late 1990s. Good read. It does start slow and then gets into the life of Caesar. The book captures Caesar's life from his escape from the Sulla civil war, his image of being a dandy and a profligate borrower and spender, his ride to prominence, his long years in Gaul and to his famous return to Rome. The author covers the lethargic state of politics in Rome and the dissatisfaction of it from an action oriented outsider like Caesar- to quote: "There was nothing in Rome's internal politics to compare with Caesar's activity. They centered upon trivialities; one had to contend with the ineffable reservations and obstructions of one's peers and could do nothing important without first convincing the Senate or the popular assembly - a Senate that could now be convinced of hardly anything, and a popular assembly that could receive proposals only from a magistrate. There was scarcely any scope for action, scarcely any serious decisions to be made. Any significant enterprise were stifled before they could be initiated. Futility and tedium prevailed. It was virtually impossible to do anything from Rome. Most of the time was spent jockeying for positions that were quite meaningless to those not directly involved. Infinite effort and ingenuity went into accomplishing very little. It was doubtful if the ends justified the means. One could either join the game or suffer from it. There was nothing here of the grandeur that Rome was - nothing that could impress posterity." (side note...eerily similar to the present day.) Meier superbly covers the interactions between the players - Cato's rigid protection of the constitution, Pompey's need to fix the immediate issues, his frustration with the Senate but his need to be seen as a Republican, Crassus's web of power flowing from his vast wealth, Caesar's craving for his achievements to be recognized above all else. The younger generations quest for, quote, "cultivation of its opportunities, its devotion to pleasure, its quest for distinction without commitment..." It seemed like a perfect storm and a perfect time for a man like Caesar to trample on the shadow of the Republic. In short, a brilliant general, a self centered murdering maniac who courted danger and disaster - instigated an uprising in order to crush it - then demanded to be recognized as the first among the Romans.

  6. 4 out of 5

    JJ

    This was the best political biography I had read until i came across Robert Caro's LBJ series. Translated from German, Christian Meier gives a very interesting and revealing historical and psychological analysis of Julius Caesar and his life. A great read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    J. Walker

    I actually only picked this book up lately; it sat for 15 years on the Colleen McCullough bookshelf, along with The First Man in Rome series, which I originally read as they were published in hardback. I picked up this volume to further inform myself about the subject over which I'd already spent so much time. I was intrigued, when I finally picked up the book that it read more like a series of essays about Roman lives and times, rather than the episodes in the life of Julius Caesar himself. The I actually only picked this book up lately; it sat for 15 years on the Colleen McCullough bookshelf, along with The First Man in Rome series, which I originally read as they were published in hardback. I picked up this volume to further inform myself about the subject over which I'd already spent so much time. I was intrigued, when I finally picked up the book that it read more like a series of essays about Roman lives and times, rather than the episodes in the life of Julius Caesar himself. The environment is so alien to modern day life, the introduction and perspective is necessary. Having read Colleen McCullough's seven volumes (and re-read five), I knew the story itself very well, noticing the holes in Meier's telling that were so significant in McCullough's. When I arrived at the final two chapters, however, I had acclimated to the structure of the book, and in the midst of the 2016 Presidential campaign, the fall of the Roman republic perfectly mirrored our current situation between the Conservatives on the Republican side and the "party of default" of the People on the Democratic side. Then, the final chapter perfectly summed up the Democratic candidate, their situation being eerily similar - she was Caesar, without the talent; or maybe she had the talent but her own character flaws betrayed her, which is mighty close to Meier's appraisal of the assassination of Julius Caesar by those seemingly closest to him ("Et tu, Brute?" - not presented that way in the current volume; that was borrowed from the Master Will himself). Anyone concerned with contemporary events beyond the headlines might need to review late Republican history to see the parallels to our current situation at the end of the American Empire. The book itself is part of a 20th/21st century re-appraisal of historical figures that challenges the former hagiography; from "the greatest man of any age" Julius Caesar has become one more man who brought his own destruction on his own head by virtue of his own actions. However, in order to appreciate the historical re-appraisal, I think it important to be familiar with both the legend of "the greatest man of any age" as well as the details of his actual life and times. This book does an admirable job of presenting both, in a single volume. The writing, too, is exceptional - literate and readable.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.

    When informing the Senate of his quick victory at Zela, Caesar used this now famous pithy phrase to mirror the quickness of his victory: “Veni, vidi, vici.” Well, there was nothing “veni, vidi, vici” about my reading of Christian Meier’s “Caesar: A Biography.” That’s not to say I did not appreciate the book; had I not I would never have finished reading it. However, at times I found the repeated psychological interpretations tedious and suspect. It is difficult enough for me to accurately When informing the Senate of his quick victory at Zela, Caesar used this now famous pithy phrase to mirror the quickness of his victory: “Veni, vidi, vici.” Well, there was nothing “veni, vidi, vici” about my reading of Christian Meier’s “Caesar: A Biography.” That’s not to say I did not appreciate the book; had I not I would never have finished reading it. However, at times I found the repeated psychological interpretations tedious and suspect. It is difficult enough for me to accurately decipher my own psychological motivations, much less those of a contemporary. To claim to be able to accurately assess the psychological motivations of a long-dead individual seems spurious. Overall, though, I’d say Meier’s tome was worth the effort, and I gladly placed it in my bookshelf - right next to my copy of “Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar.” Let’s see what THAT does to Caesar’s mental state.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Windsor

    One of the first books I read on Roman history. It provides an extremely detailed account of pre-Caesar Rome along with a breakdown of family rivalries leading to Caesar's rise to power. This book is a very good book for experts on Roman history, however, because it tends to bogg the reader down with trivial family facts that beginning readers have a tough time understanding. I was lucky, already having a very broad knowledge of the time period before starting. Provides a sub-par account of One of the first books I read on Roman history. It provides an extremely detailed account of pre-Caesar Rome along with a breakdown of family rivalries leading to Caesar's rise to power. This book is a very good book for experts on Roman history, however, because it tends to bogg the reader down with trivial family facts that beginning readers have a tough time understanding. I was lucky, already having a very broad knowledge of the time period before starting. Provides a sub-par account of Caesar's military campaigns, although a very good account of Caesar's political rivalries during his time in power. Overall, I was impressed, although the language and detail can become a little cumbersome for even experienced Roman history readers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was an uneven book. It would pull me in, get interesting, and then fall back into tediousness. Well written, if a bit repetitive. If you're looking for a scintillating read about Caesar and the Romans...well, look elsewhere. This is Caesar the politician, Roman politics, and that's about it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ainsley

    First encountered Meier's Caesar on a reading list at university. A scholarly yet readable account of Caesar's life and times. Look out for chapter 3, which is the best account I've read about the factors contributing to the fall of the Roman Republic.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Philip Katz

    Meier's Caesar is a masterful work of biogaphy with great insight to a truely misunderstood personality. My Favorite biographical treatment of the Greatest of All Romans!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Magda

    An incredibly in-depth, unbiased, evaluative biography of Julius Cæsar by a (at that time West) German professor of Antiquity. I knew only popular lore of Cæsar beforehand ; this tome provided background, cultural context and as much fact as possible about the life and ventures of Cæsar. It took 9 months to get through it, and has been a thought-provoking period of time : directly after Donald Trump's election to the US Presidency. There are many similarities between the late Roman Empire and An incredibly in-depth, unbiased, evaluative biography of Julius Cæsar by a (at that time West) German professor of Antiquity. I knew only popular lore of Cæsar beforehand ; this tome provided background, cultural context and as much fact as possible about the life and ventures of Cæsar. It took 9 months to get through it, and has been a thought-provoking period of time : directly after Donald Trump's election to the US Presidency. There are many similarities between the late Roman Empire and the state of politics and society in the United States today. I quote : "A society's ability to place its order in a new footing should not be equated simply with its goodwill, its agreement that order is desirable. [...] it must be possible for factions to form within it, not only to represent their own interests, but to question the order itself and produce something new." (page 494) History is indeed a cycle.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Horn

    I didn't read the complete book, just several large chunks. So take this with a grain of salt. First the good. Most books I've read on ancient history don't add that much to the original sources. They may be more interesting and readable, but most actual new data is just speculation. This book is different. The author adds a lot of rich detail on the structure of Roman society and politics, and a lot of useful analysis of Caesar's circumstances and motivations. Where many have tried and failed to I didn't read the complete book, just several large chunks. So take this with a grain of salt. First the good. Most books I've read on ancient history don't add that much to the original sources. They may be more interesting and readable, but most actual new data is just speculation. This book is different. The author adds a lot of rich detail on the structure of Roman society and politics, and a lot of useful analysis of Caesar's circumstances and motivations. Where many have tried and failed to add this, I found this book to succeed quite remarkably. I did, though, have several issues with the book. It is not super engaging, and can seem to drag on and on. Also, the author grazes over several events that others dealt with in much greater detail. Overall though, I found this book to be quite interesting, and a good model for modern analysis of ancient history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Blake

    You can’t go wrong with books of historical figure during the Roman Empire. I highly recommend this book to any historian or fan of history. There’s some parts that read like a history book, but the art of his story telling makes it a more interesting read. You could fly through it especially when it gets into the civil war, Caesar’s campaigns and of course his assassination. You can just fly through it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Albert Meier

    This is not an introductory biography of Caesar. It is full of analyse and introspection. The events of his career are presented, but at times in an uneven manner. The analysis continually gushes over Caesar's position as an outsider and the freedom and lack of freedom this provided him. A scholarly work, reasonably accessible but with a few quirks.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a dense book, but also a surprisingly easy read. Meier offers a self-contained biography of Caesar that narrates the life of the man and describes the culture he lived in. In the earlier years of Caesar's life, when we know less about him, Meier provides a broad description of what life was like for young men of that age. He indicates the probable events of these years when we don't have sure evidence of what Caesar was up to. This book is really much more than a simple biography. This This is a dense book, but also a surprisingly easy read. Meier offers a self-contained biography of Caesar that narrates the life of the man and describes the culture he lived in. In the earlier years of Caesar's life, when we know less about him, Meier provides a broad description of what life was like for young men of that age. He indicates the probable events of these years when we don't have sure evidence of what Caesar was up to. This book is really much more than a simple biography. This is a history of an era: the end of the Roman Republic. Caesar was one of the key figures that contributed to the end of the Republic, but as the book makes clear, such a collapse can hardly be the work of one man. Many other major figures appear recurrently throughout the book, including Pompey, Cicero, Cato, and Clodius. The first hundred pages or so describe the generations before Caesar's, including the Gracchi and the generals Marius and Sulla. These stories are almost legendary and a key for understanding the late Republic. Meier uses these stories to show how the political structure of the Roman commonwealth became ripe for a figure like Caesar. I found this book particularly ominous given the current political climate in America. In particular, the end of the book describes a Roman Senate that is so weak in the face of Caesar's authoritarian power that its only defense is to bestow so many honors on the man that he became a target for tyrranicide. Our own executive office has been growing in power since at least the time of Nixon, while our legislature grows increasingly less capable of fulfilling its own basic expectations. There is a quasi-fascist candidate running for President, but even if he loses, our legislature needs a significant change in order to prevent future authoritarian executives. But, as the book shows, Caesar's rise is directly implicated in the legislative reforms pushed through by Sulla. So maybe the precipice is already far above us and receding fast, rather than in front of us. For all that this book offers, I prefer the historical exposition of the first 200 pages to the historical exegesis of the last 200. This is an odd disconnect in this book between A) the need to recognize the atrocity of Caesar's actions (he did kill and enslave millions after all), B) the desire to point out how he was a product of his historical circumstances (if he didn't do it, someone else would have), and C) the seeming need to point out Caesar's exceptional nature (for which Meier uses the saccharine term "greatness"). Hannah Arendt has described the "banality of evil" which modern fascists induced in their followers, but except for a brief preamble about how Caesar's actions were clearly disatrous for human life and liberty, this book largely turns a blind eye to the banality of evil in Caesar's age. Perhaps that story is the job of a different book, but this book spends so much time on Item C, that its gestures towards Items A and B seem insincere at times. Once Meier sets the scene and gets to the story of Caesar himself, there are whole chapters spent investigating the motives/intent of various social actors. This is something fun to think about, but so hard to prove. I appreciate that Meier often provides summaries of other scholars' takes on the motives of the actors, particularly because those scholars are monumental figures of their own accord, such as Mommsen, Hofmansthal, Gelzer, and Syme. I was disappointed that the book lacks a serious academic apparatus. There are no endnotes, and there is only a very brief discussion of sources and earlier studies in the afterword. The text itself definitely introduces and engages with many historical sources, but for a book of such scope, the lack of more academic resources is surprising. I also would have liked more maps, charts, and timelines. The descriptions of battles are rivetting, but were hard to reconstruct in my head without more visual tools. Meier spends a decent amount of time describing Caeesar's generalship, and the book would be more accessible for all if he provided more resources to help suppplement his narrative. There are a few token maps at the front, but they are largely inadequate to the task of following the narrative. I also found myself in desparate need of a chronology of some kind. The text rarely mentions which year it is (although this sometimes appears in the title of chapters), and the vast number of interrelated events occurring across different provinces is hard to track. I often had to flip back several pages to remind myself which year it was and what the order of events was. This book has been on my list for a while. It is one of the most famous biographies of Caesar, and it will teach you a lot, while also entertaining and stimulating with lively prose. I agree with other reviewers that this book could have been shortened, perhaps even by fifty or a hundred pages, and not lose much of its force. But this is what you should expect from German scholars. The extra time you spend reading this book will reward you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Abdul Fahl

    I gave up 100 page through the book! Hard to follow the author.. handed it over to a charity shop!! Author assumes readers knowledge of Roman life style

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeroen Van de Crommenacker

    Nice book I think, but read too long ago to really remember.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in August 2001. The transition of the Roman government from Republic to Empire is one of the pivotal moments of world history, and Julius Caesar is the key figure of this period. Luckily, there are many sources dealing with his life which are contemporary or nearly so (including Caesar's own writings), and it is on these that Meier draws for his study of the man. The basic problem that afflicted the Republic, though, as Meier continually stresses, this was not Originally published on my blog here in August 2001. The transition of the Roman government from Republic to Empire is one of the pivotal moments of world history, and Julius Caesar is the key figure of this period. Luckily, there are many sources dealing with his life which are contemporary or nearly so (including Caesar's own writings), and it is on these that Meier draws for his study of the man. The basic problem that afflicted the Republic, though, as Meier continually stresses, this was not understood by contemporaries, was that its political structures were not really scalable to cope with the demands of a large empire rather than a small city state and its surrounding farms. Order in the city was breaking down, a process culminating in the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey. Caesar, by the way that he used this unrest to accumulate power (and he was not alone in doing this), precipitated the rapid changes to archaic institutions which enabled himself and his great nephew Octavian (Augustus) to rule as effective Emperors, even if both were shy of the title. The important issue which arises from Caesar's life and which any biographer must attempt to answer is why he was the man who had this pivotal role. Traditional answers to this tend to be in terms of his personal greatness, the gifts that he had; to Meier, the answer lies more in that he was an outsider to the traditional career paths for Roman nobles by temperament if not by birth. To me, it seems that this point is laboured rather than proved, and this would be my major criticism of the book. It is difficult, in particular, to see why Meier's observation applies better to Caesar than to, say, Pompey or Clodius, and so I was not convinced. I found the style of the translation a bit abrupt, and there are some strange details, such as using the spelling Juppiter rather than the usual English version, Jupiter.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Good biography. I don't remember much but I do know I really like the idea of Caesar being the dawn of a new psychology in Rome. Quotes: "It is evident that the war was waged to protect Caesar's honour." "Caesar and his opponents thus represented two disparate realities: the old reality, which had once been the whole and was suddenly reduced to a part, and the new, which had detached itself from the old and could hardly have been realigned with it even if war had been avoided - so wide was the gap, Good biography. I don't remember much but I do know I really like the idea of Caesar being the dawn of a new psychology in Rome. Quotes: "It is evident that the war was waged to protect Caesar's honour." "Caesar and his opponents thus represented two disparate realities: the old reality, which had once been the whole and was suddenly reduced to a part, and the new, which had detached itself from the old and could hardly have been realigned with it even if war had been avoided - so wide was the gap, so great the mutual alienation. It was this disparity that characterized the situation - not just conflicting interests, mistrust, fear, hatred, or the pathological exaggeration of individual pretensions." "With respect to the order there was no 'still' and no 'already', only an unchanging present, which had to be preserved and perhaps consolidated." "Instead of being confronted as individuals with models to be emulated, they were thrown together with their own kind and with teachers. The young gentlemen were offered little that could command their respect." "The role of the outsider, however arduous, had one great advantage: it enables one to preserve one's integrity, to remain untouched and uncorrupted, to retain the candour and high expectations of youth." "As if the crucial question was no whether one's own wishes could be realized, but the converse: why should they not?" "The power of the powerful should not immediately serve as an alibi for the impotence of the weak." "He created a world that was wholly his." "Everything depends on the configurations within which actions take place." "It was increasingly nourished by the experience of how little resistance reality often offered if one took a firm grip on the facts of a situation."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    While the book appears to be for a lay audience, it presumes that the reader has a deep of knowledge about Rome and Caesar. While some reviews may have you buy this book, their writers are most likely know the biography and are interested the the critical work that this is. It seems that Meier is building the thesis that Caesar, as an outsider, was politically and psychologically disposed to take on an intractable Rome although he had no agenda other than advancing himself. I am sure there are While the book appears to be for a lay audience, it presumes that the reader has a deep of knowledge about Rome and Caesar. While some reviews may have you buy this book, their writers are most likely know the biography and are interested the the critical work that this is. It seems that Meier is building the thesis that Caesar, as an outsider, was politically and psychologically disposed to take on an intractable Rome although he had no agenda other than advancing himself. I am sure there are many issues covered in this book that brew among scholars, but for the lay person, a book with the title "Caesar. A Biography" suggests something entirely different. Very rarely write a review for a book I have not read in its entirety, but as a lay person, a lot of this was falling on deaf ears so I stopped about 1/3 through and browsed the rest. This could be a 5 star book but someone wanting to read a biography of Caesar isn't in a position to know. The problem may relate to the publisher and not the writer.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This is a dry, dense, philosophical biography of Julius Caesar. The structure is strange; the author starts the book with the unusual choice of criticizing Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon (as a selfish action) and it's over 50 pages before Caesar is born. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book at all; The tone is so dry, with no quotes and basic matter of fact textbook-style narration, that even the most interesting material is rendered as lifeless as dust. To return to the book's This is a dry, dense, philosophical biography of Julius Caesar. The structure is strange; the author starts the book with the unusual choice of criticizing Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon (as a selfish action) and it's over 50 pages before Caesar is born. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book at all; The tone is so dry, with no quotes and basic matter of fact textbook-style narration, that even the most interesting material is rendered as lifeless as dust. To return to the book's structural problems, the author bizarrely begins with an in-depth discussion of Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon that assumes fairly extensive knowledge about the political, social, and military context of the time, but then proceeds thirty pages later to explain the most basic facts about Rome, such as, for example, what the Senate is, and who the Knights are. I found myself skipping pages, reading a few dull paragraphs, and going back to skipping pages until just putting the book down.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Achtmhz

    More attention to the circumstances and deep explanation of the politics. Description is developed from the circumstances. It is written in the precise language of an academic book. In fiction in which the author plays with the imagination of the reader and a perfect balance between precision and blurriness tickles the reader's mind. The academic dissects the complex and complicated system of the Roman Republic between 100 and 44. It is not an easy or fun read. It explains and describes with all the More attention to the circumstances and deep explanation of the politics. Description is developed from the circumstances. It is written in the precise language of an academic book. In fiction in which the author plays with the imagination of the reader and a perfect balance between precision and blurriness tickles the reader's mind. The academic dissects the complex and complicated system of the Roman Republic between 100 and 44. It is not an easy or fun read. It explains and describes with all the knowledge and understanding available now about politics and society. Forces influence the many parts involved. A more down-to-earth view and not seeking glorification of the great men. One central theme is around outsiders. Two forces at work: the members of the senate and the outsiders. Should be interesting to read "Outliers" next.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I read this book in college in my free time, so really sitting there and analyzing wasn't my motive for this read. Just wanted to learn about this apparently great figure in history. The book was detailed, but it read like it was a series of events and after a few hundred pages I had trouble remembering specific dates of things or names. There is a lot of information and events in this book. I got a grasp in a general sense of who caesar was and in a greater sense who Romans were in that time I read this book in college in my free time, so really sitting there and analyzing wasn't my motive for this read. Just wanted to learn about this apparently great figure in history. The book was detailed, but it read like it was a series of events and after a few hundred pages I had trouble remembering specific dates of things or names. There is a lot of information and events in this book. I got a grasp in a general sense of who caesar was and in a greater sense who Romans were in that time period. (Ambitious to a fault). I will not rate this book because I am just a casual reader. If I was in a history class studying caesar the book might have been more useful. Personal Rating: Two stars.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    This is one of those books that I enjoyed because I like the subject matter, but it probably won't appeal to the casual reader. Meier makes several good historical and political observations. This is one of those books where Meier utilizes "why use one word when you can use two." I also thought it was odd that many times throughout the narrative Meier discusses how neither Caesar nor any of his contemporaries could find an alternative to halt the decay of the Republic and save it, but waits all This is one of those books that I enjoyed because I like the subject matter, but it probably won't appeal to the casual reader. Meier makes several good historical and political observations. This is one of those books where Meier utilizes "why use one word when you can use two." I also thought it was odd that many times throughout the narrative Meier discusses how neither Caesar nor any of his contemporaries could find an alternative to halt the decay of the Republic and save it, but waits all the way until the Afterword before bothering to mention who did find an alternative to stabilize Rome, Octavian/Augustus.

  27. 5 out of 5

    dusty.rhodes

    If this were written in English originally, it might get 4stars. The translation is a bit awkward, but it is a rewarding read which paints a full picture of how Caesar was what he was rather than just a timeline of his life. Meier's notion of Caesar as an "Outsider" is perhaps the most useful paradigm through which to view the guy. He's a figure so different from his contemporaries, but so inextricably tied to them that any portrait is bound to contradict itself. This is no different. The depth If this were written in English originally, it might get 4stars. The translation is a bit awkward, but it is a rewarding read which paints a full picture of how Caesar was what he was rather than just a timeline of his life. Meier's notion of Caesar as an "Outsider" is perhaps the most useful paradigm through which to view the guy. He's a figure so different from his contemporaries, but so inextricably tied to them that any portrait is bound to contradict itself. This is no different. The depth of the "Outsider" tag is that it accepts these contradictions within its folds.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I gave it 100 pages. But most of those 100 weren't about Caesar at all -- they were about Roman society. And I guess I should've realized that a "current" biography (written in 1982) about a man who lived 2,000 years before might be a little slim on details of said man. But I've taken a Roman history class (Vice and Virtue in Ancient Rome -- sexy, no?), and wasn't looking for that this time around. So, despite Conn Iggulden's wonderful fictional introduction, I'm skipping the facts for now.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tamer Nosshi

    I really enjoyed this book for the larger context of Caesar in the late republican period. Most biographies pay homage to military strategies and/or give the pretension of a singular man overcoming all challenges (until the end) to become the man Caesar turned out to be. But this book played particular attention to the lead up the characteristics/deficiencies of late republicans and how it all led to the development of Caesar, his behaviors, and ultimately his actions.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matt Cantrell

    Unless you're a history student and you plan on reading "Comentarii de Bello Gallico" then this is the best biography of Caesar you're going to find. In my judgement, it takes too lenient a view of Caesars life and actions. (He was a a megalomaniac, albeit an extremely charismatic one...) But otherwise it's excellent: thorough, without getting too hung up on one episode or another. The Germans always write the best books on Ancient Rome, it seems.

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