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Augustus by John Edward Williams

Augustus (1972)

by John Edward Williams

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (21)  Dutch (6)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All (30)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Devoured this book, mostly at camp in the Adks. From the moment Octavius is glimpsed by Myceneas as teenager, the character occupies the seat of all sympathy and intrigue. Everything he does adds dimension and left me wanting to know more. It may be that this Augustus is entirely an invention; but if so, it's all the more compelling what Williams has done. The device of withholding Caesar Augustus' own voice til near the book's end only compounds the intrigue. Like Stoner, this one is likely to remain with me. Also a nice refresher of history! ( )
  Nobodaddy26 | Sep 5, 2017 |
While I enjoyed this book, I probably should have read it rather than listening to the audiobook, which was difficult to follow at times. The story was told in the form of letters and journal entries, and out of chronological order. It was hard telling exactly where you were in the life of Augustus without being able to refer back to the headings of the chapters, which gave the date and the name of the character who was writing. I'm not sure I would have been able to follow it at all if I hadn't already known a little about Roman history. However, I think Augustus is an interesting character and the intrigues surrounding his term as emperor were fascinating to read about. ( )
  fhudnell | Jan 14, 2017 |
I bought this via Kobo (formerly Shortcovers) impulsively after a Pat/Kat recommendation. It's been sitting on my iPhone for awhile, but I'm now well and truly hooked. I had no idea it was written by the Stoner author - just didn't make the connection. ( )
  mkunruh | Nov 13, 2016 |
The name of Octavius Caesar... This mysterious youth has captured the imagination of Rome; and I, myself, have not been immune." (pg. 81)

Augustus is an accomplished piece of historical fiction but one which lacks the flavour to become truly great. Through an epistolary approach taking in the perspectives of not only historical figures like Mark Antony, Cicero and Marcus Agrippa but also notable artists of the time like Horace, Virgil and Ovid, it tells the story of Octavius Caesar, the young heir to the murdered Julius Caesar who becomes the first Emperor of Rome: Augustus.

I was initially sceptical of the epistolary approach, by which a story is told entirely through letters and correspondence. But it works: not only does it make the story flow easier (the correspondence between characters has a similar effect to the way dialogue reads faster than descriptive prose) but it also lends an immediacy to the characters. We see these historical figures as human beings, with anxieties and prejudices and ambitions, rather than as 'Great Men' in a history book. As the letters are told from different characters, we're also given different characterisations of these figures based on the perspectives of each letter-writer. It's an engaging approach.

The approach is not without its flaws: there is a limitation in what each character can tell us in a letter, which means a lot of the flavour of the story is lost. The real historical tale is gripping, taking in political machinations and bloody battles – scenes which are largely absent from Augustus, which because of its approach can only have two correspondents saying something along the lines of "I bring news that Mark Antony is dead, and I hear Cleopatra killed herself." The important historical events are only summarised (or even just alluded to) in the letters between the various characters, so you'll find yourself relying on your own historical knowledge of ancient Rome to keep yourself on track. If you don't have any, you'll be stumped at times and will lose a good portion of the novel's value.

Much of the exciting stuff happens in the first Book (the novel is split up into three parts, or 'Books', and a short Epilogue) and Book II is concerned largely with what is happening with Augustus' daughter Julia. Like some other reviewers have said, I could take it or leave it when it came to the Julia-centric plotlines, but the stuff is important in terms of developing Octavius/Augustus as a tragic character. In many ways, the exciting stuff of the first Book is window-dressing to author John Williams; it is Books II and III which develop his own themes the most. It can be compelling stuff at times, but I do confess a little disappointment that the Game of Thrones-esque political machinations decreased and the introspection and philosophising increased as the novel wore on.

That said, I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed Augustus throughout. Flicking through the book before reading it, it seemed rather dull and overwrought. My previous experience with Williams' work has been bipolar: I hated Stoner but loved Butcher's Crossing, so it was up in the air whether I would like Augustus. Happily, it proved to be an engaging and rewarding read; not only a book I appreciated upon finishing it but also one I enjoyed as I was reading through it. Having now read the three major works of John Williams – I'm not enamoured enough of the author to track down his more obscure earlier novel, Nothing But the Night – my conclusions are that he was an accomplished craftsman who wrote one bad book (Stoner), one excellent book (Butcher's Crossing), and one good – occasionally great – book: Augustus." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
This is a epistolary novel. Augustus and his reign are presented through letters, journals and memoirs. The portrayal of Augustus' daughter, Julia was a very interesting and enjoyable part of the book. ( )
  bradylouie | May 28, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
So in reading Augustus, which Williams himself said was the depiction of the development and workings of the mind of a seemingly honorable man who is forced to perform evil acts in order to achieve a greater good—including the exile of the people closest to him—as Augustus Caesar had to do with his own daughter and his lifelong friends, I’m a bit at sea.

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Williams, John Edwardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krol, EdzardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mendelsohn, DanielIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A compelling fictional portrait of Augustus Caesar follows the ancient Roman leader from his youth to his rise to power following the murder of his uncle, Julius Caesar, in the midst of fierce competition, intrigue, and political machinations, in a new edition of the National Book Award-winning novel.… (more)

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