Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland
Digital Audiobook narrated by Derek Perkins
Published by Little, Brown on September 3rd 2015
Genres: Ancient History, Biography, History, Non-Fiction
Length: 471 pages or 16 hours, 4 minutes
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Author and historian Tom Holland returns to his roots in Roman history and the audience he cultivated with Rubicon—his masterful, witty, brilliantly researched popular history of the fall of the Roman republic—with Dynasty, a luridly fascinating history of the reign of the first five Roman emperors.
Dynasty continues Rubicon's story, opening where that book ended: with the murder of Julius Caesar. This is the period of the first and perhaps greatest Roman Emperors and it's a colorful story of rule and ruination, running from the rise of Augustus through to the death of Nero. Holland's expansive history also has distinct shades of I Claudius, with five wonderfully vivid (and in three cases, thoroughly depraved) Emperors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—featured, along with numerous fascinating secondary characters. Intrigue, murder, naked ambition and treachery, greed, gluttony, lust, incest, pageantry, decadence—the tale of these five Caesars continues to cast a mesmerizing spell across the millennia.
I’m very picky about my non-fiction.
I know that as a history nut, I should gobble up whatever I can get, but it nonetheless remains true that written accounts of history can be very boring. I don’t know what it is about many historians, but it’s almost as though if it’s interesting, they’re not doing it right.
That is not the case with that book.
When Holland took on the House of Caesar, he took on a very broad subject, with much presumption and conjecture. He took on a family of cruel secrets. In the course of a single book, it is impossible to go into every intimate detail of each emperor. Holland does a nice job of giving an overview of each emperor, and he does not focus on the cheap thrills of the dynasty. For myself, the one thing I remember about Caligula is that he loved his horse. That Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned. There’s no mention of a horse in this book, and Nero played the lyre. The closest Holland comes to that legend is the speculation that Nero may have started the fires. Instead, he focuses on the leadership style of each of the emperors, and their relationship with Rome.
I really liked this book. I think that Holland did a great job of making this complicated part of history interesting and accessible without falling into tropes and conjecture. I particularly enjoy that he brought the women into the story. I enjoyed Livia’s tale and the influence of Agrippina on her son (right down to her death). When I tired of hearing about one emperor, the next came up. The pacing was excellent.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Roman history, although it will be a little light for serious scholars.
I got my copy off Audible (no affiliation), and I thought the narrator did an excellent job not droning on. You can check out the audio sample on this page if you want to hear more.