what have you read recently? Here are my picks:
The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination by Barry Strauss
August 45 BC. Julius Caesar is heading towards Rome in triumph, to declare the end of the Civil War. Three men are riding with him: Decimus, Mark Antony and Octavian. Seven months later, one of these men will betray him. But wait, wasn’t the betrayer Brutus? While he (and Cassius) certainly played a key role in the assassination, his betrayal wasn’t as deep and shocking as Decimus’, a man who had always served Caesar faithfully, had been amply rewarded by him, and had become a close friend. When Caesar had refused to go to the Senate on that fateful day, it was Decimus who convinced him to change his mind and led him to the slaughter by the hand.
To allows us to understand why he, and so many others, betrayed Caesar, Strauss begins his story several months before the Ides of March. He illustrates the complex political situation of the time, the jostling for power, the thwarted ambitions of politicians, and the fear that Caesar would soon proclaim itself king, thus dealing the last blow to the tenuous Roman Republic. The second part of the book deals with the assassination itself. The plotting, the assassins, and the events of that fateful day. But the story doesn’t end with his assassination. Caesar’s assassins, supporters, and relatives all fight for power and revenge afterwards. But there can be only one winner.
The book is well-documented and relies mostly on primary sources. We’re lucky that, thanks to Cicero, this is one of the most documented times in Roman history. But, even so, the sources are few, often conflicting, and lack important details. Strauss has done a wonderful job with the limited material at his disposal, piecing together the pieces of the puzzle that have survived to tell an engaging and thrilling story. I highly recommend it to all those interested in Julius Caesar and his death.
Available at: Amazon
Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix
The Leaning Tower Of Pisa is one of the most beautiful, iconic, and famous buildings ever created. But who designed? Michael Campbell was working on the answer for his documentary on the Tower when he had a stroke. His wife, Sam, flies to Pisa to be by his side. But her mind, and heart, are in turmoil. Just a few days before, Sam had discovered Michael had cheated on her. Confused, bored, and hurt, Sam decides to pick up his research, and discovers the woman behind the creation of the Tower…
1171. Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, has two passions. Gerardo, the young master mason her young maid Aurelia is in love with. And architecture. As she embarks on her love affair, she is also determined to see the Tower built at all costs.
Based on a true story (Rix’s husband really had a stroke while making a documentary about the Tower in the 1990s), Secrets Of The Tower is a story of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and love. The love of a woman for a younger man. The love of a young girl for a man who can’t be hers yet. The divided love of a man for two women. But, mostly, the love of a woman for her beautiful city.
Pisa, both ancient and modern, is a character in and of itself. Its inhabitants and customs, its architecture and landscape, its sights and sounds, are vividly evoked and brought back to life. You feel like you’re there, next to the characters, as they go about their daily lives. The other, human, characters are equalling compelling. Particularly the women. They are strong and determined to leave their mark on the world, despite the limitations society and their menfolk impose upon them.
Although slow at the beginning, the story quickly picks up speed and hooks you in. My only gripe is that some of the Italian expressions used aren’t 100% correct, even when uttered by Italian characters. Italians nouns and adjectives can be made masculine or feminine, singular or plural, by changing the last letter. This wasn’t always done here. Sometimes the masculine form was used in place of the feminine form and vice versa. But I only received an advanced review copy, so these errors may have been fixed in the final copy. In any case, only Italian speakers would notice them.
Despite its shortcomings, Secrets Of The Tower is an enchanting, engaging tale that I recommend to anyone interested in Italian history and architecture, or just a good novel.
Available at: Amazon
Six Men by Alistair Cooke
Over the course of his 60 year career, broadcaster and reporter Alistair Cook met many, sometimes even became friends with, famous and influential men of the 20 century. Six of them he profiled in a book. They are an odd, but intriguing, bunch. Charlie Chaplin, the greatest movie star of all time; Edward VIII, whose love affair threatened the survival of the British monarchy; Humphrey Bogart, the first anti-hero on-screen and a sensitive gentleman at home; H. L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers of the first half of the 20th century; Adlai Stevenson, a “failed saint” who ran for President twice, and was, both times, defeated; and Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and political activist who managed to insult pretty much everyone (and could read a whodunnit in 15 minutes!).
Cooke didn’t write their biographies. He wrote sketches, glimpses of their lives. Although he offers the background information needed to understand the world in which these men operated (finally I got why the constitutional crisis brought on by Edward VIII’s love affair was such a big deal), Cooke shares with us his own personal experiences, those parts of the men’s lives that he witnessed first hand. But his personal feelings for these men didn’t skew his judgement. At least not much. Cooke skilfully captured their remarkable, but flawed, essence. By the end of each chapter, these giants are shown for what they always were: human beings.
Cooke’s prose is as beautiful as it is intelligent. His style is now considered old-fashioned, but still feels fresh. In an age when many journalists are more interested in controversy than evidence, and pen shallow exposés in a too colloquial style, Cooke’s engaging, insightful, and fair work makes you long for a time long gone. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
What do you think of these books? Will you pick one (or two, or three) up?
Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.