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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Narrative Of Ideas

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic - Tom Holland


An overview of the last century of the Roman republic, Tom Holland's Rubicon has been widely praised for readability, insight and intelligence. I was surprised to find the prose opaque and rather over-written, devoting paragraphs to nebulous assertions e.g.


A city — a free city — was where a man could be most fully a man. The Romans took this for granted. To have civitas — citizenship — was to be civilised, an assumption still embedded in English to this day. Life was worthless without those frameworks that only an independent city could provide. A citizen defined himself by the fellowship of others, in shared joys and sorrows, ambitions and fears, festivals, elections, and disciplines of war. Like a shrine alive with the presence of a god, the fabric of a city was rendered sacred by the communal life that it sheltered. A cityscape, to its citizens, was therefore a hallowed thing. It bore witness to the heritage that had made its people what they were. It enabled the spirit of a state to be known.


Yes, there's an entirely valid point being made here but it's being made slowly and with a certain amount of circumlocution.


Rubicon has been touted as popular narrative history but that conjures up a narrative of events. This is a narrative of ideas and not to be taken at a gallop. Thought-provoking, and ambitious but not always as entertaining or as gripping as the reviews would have you believe.