Tom Holland's academic credentials are flawless: he's a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge as well as an acclaimed radio personality and author. In his fourth book, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, Holland charts the decline of the Roman Republic, anticipating the age of emperors ushered in when Julius Caesar, then governor of Gaul, commanded his loyal legions to march on Rome. The resounding legacy of his symbolic crossing of the Rubicon river into Italy persists today as the code word for any irreversible step in history. Holland traces the rise of the world's greatest empire from its inception through bloody civil war to a Golden Age under Augustus, and provides sensitive insight into the sociological and ideological workings of the early republic in all its contradictory complexity. This was an empire whose very foundation myth was based on the fratricidal killing of Remus by Romulus; whose political system thrived on competition and cutthroat ambition; and whose sons laboured under the threat of civil war. Rome, the mighty city that would hold most of the civilized world beneath its sway, was doomed to tear herself apart from within.

History lends its own cast of epic characters: heroes, murderers, kings and queens condemned to grovel before the might of Rome. A pantheon of illustrious figures Cicero, Augustus, Cleopatra are brought to life by a narrative that is lucid, stylish and witty, and interesting in its analysis. Rubicon surveys an age of military expansion that saw the decline of some of history's most powerful empires, underpinned by persistent internal power struggles that drenched the streets of Rome with the blood and horror of civil war, wars immortalized by the greatest generation of Roman poets.

Informative, balanced and accessible, Holland's compelling brand of narrative history is a praiseworthy rendition of one of the most complex periods in history. Perhaps not academically groundbreaking, but a timely look at a civilization whose similarities to modern-day America are becoming increasingly relevant. Justin Watts earned a degree in classics from Oxford University.

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