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The City Of Invention

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

Trapped In A Political Carapace

Augustus - Allan Massie

When asked what he most feared in politics, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan replied, 'Events, dear boy, events.' In Allan Massie's fictional account of the life of Augustus there is a similar awareness of the way that political life is all about reacting to unpredictable realities.


Massie succeeds admirably in bringing to life the architect of Imperial Rome and the society that surrounded him. He does so far more effectively than all the hefty volumes of toga-lit with their obsessive detailing of military hardware. That's because his focus is on character and psychology, rather than blood on the floor of the arena.


He shows how the need to respond to inconvenient events shaped Augustus as much as it shaped his politics, constraining and hardening him until he became trapped within the political carapace he had created. He ends his life eaten up with regret, fearful for the security of the empire he has built and unable to communicate with those he loves most.


The decisions over which Augustus deliberated so long and hard resonated down through the centuries. Massie's achievement is to illuminate the forces behind those decisions. The result is a compelling study of the man, of the world that he was born into and of the way he transformed it.