A fine book about the battle whose outcome created the Roman Empire.

THE WAR THAT MADE THE ROMAN EMPIRE

ANTONY, CLEOPATRA, AND OCTAVIAN AT ACTIUM

A master historian of the ancient world’s wars turns his attention to the battle that laid the foundations for the Roman Empire and to the war’s leading characters—all the stuff of legend, poetry, and film.

Few historical figures are as written about—by Cicero, Virgil, and Shakespeare, especially—as the major antagonists of the long civil war that culminated in the decisive Battle of Actium on the western shore of Greece in 31 B.C.E., and few historians can bring such a battle alive better than Strauss, a professor of classics at Cornell and author of previous studies of the battles of Troy and Salamis. His subject here is the decadelong civil war that ended at Actium, had its celebrated denouement four years later in the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra, and led to the emergence of Octavian as one of the most significant figures in Western history. Making a credible claim that an obscure engagement at the southern Greek town of Methone a half-year before the contest at Actium was the war’s turning point, Strauss sees the intervening period as “six months that shook the world.” A historian of unconcealed opinion, the author foregrounds the importance of the great Greek commander Agrippa, argues that Cleopatra and Julius Caesar were “two of the most brilliant individuals of their age,” and rates Antony more favorably than other historians. Readers will also learn much about the often overlooked and formidable Octavia, sister of Octavian and wife of Antony, Octavian’s great enemy. But the book’s strength lies less in its arguments than in the skill of the narrative. Even though written in sometimes flat prose, it’s the product of deep learning, one that avoids the distractions of scholarly minutiae and moves briskly along. It must now be considered the most up-to-date history of its subject.

A fine book about the battle whose outcome created the Roman Empire.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982116-67-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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In this meticulously detailed and evocative book, history comes alive, and it isn’t pretty.

THE ORDER OF THE DAY

A meditation on Austria’s capitulation to the Nazis. The book won the 2017 Prix Goncourt.

Vuillard (Sorrow of the Earth: Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and the Tragedy of Show Business, 2017, etc.) is also a filmmaker, and these episodic vignettes have a cinematic quality to them. “The play is about to begin,” he writes on the first page, “but the curtain won’t rise….Even though the twentieth of February 1933 was not just any other day, most people spent the morning grinding away, immersed in the great, decent fallacy of work, with its small gestures that enfold a silent, conventional truth and reduce the entire epic of our lives to a diligent pantomime.” Having established his command of tone, the author proceeds through devastating character portraits of Hitler and Goebbels, who seduced and bullied their appeasers into believing that short-term accommodations would pay long-term dividends. The cold calculations of Austria’s captains of industries and the pathetic negotiations of leaders who knew that their protestations were mainly for show suggest the complicated complicity of a country where young women screamed for Hitler as if he were a teen idol. “The bride was willing; this was no rape, as some have claimed, but a proper wedding,” writes Vuillard. Yet the consummation was by no means as smoothly triumphant as the Nazi newsreels have depicted. The army’s entry into Austria was less a blitzkrieg than a mechanical breakdown, one that found Hitler stalled behind the tanks that refused to move as those prepared to hail his emergence wondered what had happened. “For it wasn’t only a few isolated tanks that had broken down,” writes the author, “not just the occasional armored truck—no, it was the vast majority of the great German army, and the road was now entirely blocked. It was like a slapstick comedy!” In the aftermath, some of those most responsible for Austria’s fall faced death by hanging, but at least one received an American professorship.

In this meticulously detailed and evocative book, history comes alive, and it isn’t pretty.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59051-969-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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A feast for students of ancient history and budding historians of any period.

THE HISTORIES

A delightful new translation of what is widely considered the first work of history and nonfiction.

Herodotus has a wonderful, gossipy style that makes reading these histories more fun than studying the rise of the Persian Empire and its clash with Greece—however, that’s exactly what readers will do in this engaging history, which is full of interesting digressions and asides. Holland (In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, 2012, etc.), whose lifelong devotion to Herodotus, Thucydides and other classical writers is unquestionable, provides an engaging modern translation. As Holland writes, Herodotus’ “great work is many things—the first example of nonfiction, the text that underlies the entire discipline of history, the most important source of information we have for a vital episode in human affairs—but it is above all a treasure-trove of wonders.” Those just being introduced to the Father of History will agree with the translator’s note that this is “the greatest shaggy-dog story ever written.” Herodotus set out to explore the causes of the Greco-Persian Wars and to explore the inability of East and West to live together. This is as much a world geography and ethnic history as anything else, and Herodotus enumerates social, religious and cultural habits of the vast (known) world, right down to the three mummification options available to Egyptians. This ancient Greek historian could easily be called the father of humor, as well; he irreverently describes events, players and their countless harebrained schemes. Especially enjoyable are his descriptions of the Persians making significant decisions under the influence and then waiting to vote again when sober. The gifts Herodotus gave history are the importance of identifying multiple sources and examining differing views.

A feast for students of ancient history and budding historians of any period.

Pub Date: May 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02489-6

Page Count: 840

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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