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Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People's Dictator

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Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People's Dictator
(Giulio Cesare: Il Dittatore Democratico.) By Luciano Canfora. Translated by Marian Hill and Kevin Windle. (University of California Press, Berkeley: 2007. Pg. 144. Illustrations, Maps, Charts.) ISBN 10: 0-520-23502-9. ISBN 13: 978-0-520-23502-1.

Reviewed by Herbert White - April 20, 2007

When writing a biography of Julius Caesar, it must be an extremely hard job to deciding what to leave out, in order to keep the volume down to one book, without destroying the narrative of this significant historical figure. In his book, Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People's Dictator, Luciano Canfora managed to write a comprehensive and readable, one volume biography of Caesar. In doing so, he not only crafted a detailed and authoritative biography of Caesar, but he did so in such a manner that you truly get a feel for what the man may have really been like - not just the dry facts about his accomplishments and impact on history. A professor of Greek and Latin Philology at the University of Bari, in Italy, Canfora is well placed to access the vast archives of data on the Roman Empire and to sift through the copious amount of literature on this period. First published in Italian, this book has been superbly translated into English by Marian Hill and Kevin Windle.

Organized chronologically, this book presents a detailed and vivid portrait of Caesar. The book itself is divided into four main sections:
  1. From Sulla to Catiline
  2. From the Triumvirate to the Conquest of Gaul
  3. The Long Civil War
  4. From the Conspiracy to the Triumph of Caesarism
Canfora explores the factual evidence that is available about Caesar's life, and he offers several original theories about what motivated Caesar and why he eventually was destroyed by his own men. He also examines how our understanding and knowledge of Caesar's life has changed over the years, and how it has been influenced by the political and personal feelings of those examining his life and his contribution to history.

Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People's Dictator is an edifying book to read - even if, in the end, you don't agree with Canfora's interpretations of Caesar's history. This book is ideally suited for use as a university level classroom text, and as a reference book on Caesar and the time he lived in. Chapter notes are included at the end of each chapter, and the book concludes with a detailed chronology of the main events in Caesar's life along with a short bibliography. Basically, Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People's Dictator is a 'must-read' for anyone with an interest in Roman History or reading biographies of exceptional historical figures.

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