book-reviews

Rubicon

by Tom Holland

Rating: ★★★★

I was turned on to Tom Holland by his excellent Persion Fire, which recounts in detail the events of the Greco-Persian Wars. Rubicon takes a slightly different tack stylistically, but its narrative history of The Republic still managed to grab and hold my interest.

The narrative Holland gives is centred on an event so momentous that it retains currency in common parlance -- the crossing of the Rubicon, where Caeser committed himself to marching on Rome. Such an event is certainly worth examining, and Holland draws on a narrative of both previous history and the aftermath to do so, spanning almost the entire of the Republic's history, ending with Augustus. In doing so, he exposes a frame of reference -- Sulla -- which raises into doubt whether the Rubicon was really the watershed moment it is remembered as.

The analogy between Rome and modern America is one not lost on Holland, who always draws connections between the ancient and modern world -- the question of whether a republic inevitably descends into tyranny is of course left open, but angles for speculation are numerous.

Highly readable and well-organised, Holland's narrative history ties together the actors and events of the time. Not enticing enough for a reader of historical fiction, this lies clearly in a popular history section, but is a prime example of such work, well-suited to any interested in the period.