Book Review by Divi Filius
Starting off my review of this book with a grievance may sound bad but should not be exaggerated. This grievance is that the name of this book is in fact a rather big misconception of what is in this bio. With Caesar, Meier does not stick to a simple narration of the various events of Julius Caesar’s life; rather he chooses to tread into the very mentality that guided Rome in that age and what impact this had on Caesar.
He investigates Caesar’s influences, circumstances of his youth and how the situation of Rome in his time affected him. He will often hypothesis on just what was in Caesar’s mind at a given situation and how it was influenced, he will delve into the time explaining it using modern questions and explanations but always makes it clear that this is a different era and no matter how modernized it will be foreign.
To further dilute this simple “biography”, it is a very complex book that explores many, often seemingly minor aspects of Caesar and spends a consider amount of time detailing the general situation in Rome at the time. Chapter after chapter will fly by as Caesar will make the smallest cameo while Meier goes into the various events surrounding Rome. To those who are well acquainted with the events it will be the usual notable ones(Grachii, Sula versus Marius, rise of Pompey etc.) but for those who are reading it all for the first time it will get confusing taking into account the deep analyzing and long bouts of breaks into rhetoric on the part of Meier. On top of this there is little cohesion in the narration due to the organization of the book. So I would recommend that someone should gain an understanding of the events prior to reading the book.
Rather then writing a continuous narration separated into chapter; here each chapter is broken into subchapters each discussing the various points of the chapter-topic. Each point will be listed at the beginning of each chapter in order for the reader to follow, since each chapter is not particularly long it does not very tedious, one doesn’t even really need to go back and forth and really just a good glance is good. This lets Meier break off from each one without needing any elongated transitioning, for the longer chapters, such as the Gallic Wars or the Civil Wars; the chapters themselves are broken down with each chapter. All of this works rather well as it provides you with a general picture of what you will be reading, but it’s doesn’t bear any particularly notable change from the more orthodox narrations. But one negative aspect of this is that with many of these sub-chapters, Meier will go back and forth in time to discuss a certain point, breaking any kind of cohesion.
Yet another grievance is that while this is supposed to be a scholarly bio, there is source listing. Only at given points when Meier himself names them do we get a clue as to his sources. The most recent addition does some book recommendation in the afterword, but only at given parts in the book do I get any info as to just what does Meier base his statements on and considering the amount of propositions made in this book I find this to be an inexcusable fault. If indeed the book was in act a simple biographical narration then this could be excused, but in this case it isn’t.
An altogether excellent study on the man and the era it tries far too hard to mask itself as a simple biography in its course end up somewhat alienating both the casual reader and the scholar. Its lack of cited sources makes it difficult to evaluate Meier’s comments and hypotheses on the subject, considering the amount of psychoanalysis going on in this book this is a somewhat fatal fault.
For the casual reader’s interesting in getting informed on the life and times of Caesar this book is far too inaccessible, for such reader’s I would recommend Michael Grant’s bio of Julius Caesar. In short, for the first time students of Caesar, this book is not for you. For those studying the man this book is an essential one in understanding a man who came from such a foreign time. Meier illuminates us in the society, allowing us to get ever closer yet disillusioning the idea that we can understand the world using a modern mentality. Yet we should not simply dismiss the acts of the ancients as simply resulting from a long lost way, there is an explanation and reason behind all actions and mentalities.