I, Claudius

by Robert Graves

Rating: ★★★★

I, Claudius is the first half of a fictional -- but well-grounded in fact -- autobiography of the crippled, outcast Emperor Claudius, set during the reigns of his grandfather (well, sort of) Augustus, his uncle Tiberius, and his nephew Caligula, and ending with his own succession.

One thing you can immediately gather from that summary is that the world of the early Roman Emperors was one where state and family politics were heavily intertwined. In every family there are personalities which dominate and clash with each other, and Graves shows well how the heights of power only magnify the impact of this. For example, Claudius' poisonous and calculating grandmother, Livia, dominates the family throughout the early half of the book, and as such it could be said that in truth Rome had an Empress at its head throughout and after Augustus' reign.

Amidst such personalities as the depraved Tiberius and the insane and murderous Caligula, the lame and stuttering Claudius describes how he survives: overlooked by serious schemers because of his infirmity, at best a pawn to be placed in positions where he can't do any harm. But behind this image is a keen and scholarly mind which quietly develops surprising talents.

Graves does a good job of situating the reader in the realities of Roman history, and makes good use of historical sources in constructing his narrative. I, Claudius is an excellent example of historical fiction. Readers of A Song of Ice and Fire and fans of A Game of Thrones will particularly appreciate the high-stakes family drama including some of the most twisted characters of history.