cover image Caesar


Colleen McCullough. William Morrow & Company, $27.5 (752pp) ISBN 978-0-688-09372-3

The fifth book (after Caesar's Women) in McCullough's popular Masters of Rome series depicts Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul, his momentous decision to cross the Rubicon and his eventual defeat of rival Pompey at Pharsalus. Around these military events, McCullough constructs various synchronous plot lines, including the political machinations of the Roman senate, the complex entanglements (romantic and otherwise) of key Roman families and life in the Egyptian court of Queen Cleopatra. It is always Julius Caesar, however, who is the focus of attention, and although McCullough makes much of the great man's dignitas, she also lets readers into his most private tribulations. His overwhelming grief when his daughter Julia dies is just one of several instances in which he exhibits unexpected vulnerability. As usual, McCullough applies her historical research judiciously and skillfully, integrating details that drive her story forward. She deftly handles a large cast of characters and brings welcome humanity to such historical icons as the conniving Brutus, indecisive Pompey and young, charismatic Mark Antony. McCullough's legion of readers now dwarfs Caesar's own considerable army. This novel will increase the ranks. Glossary, maps and illustrations. BOMC, QPB alternates; audio rights to Simon & Schuster. (Dec.)