Paperback - 2014
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"In Augustus, the third of his great novels, John Williams took on an entirely new challenge, a historical novel set in classical Rome, exploring the life of the founder of the Roman Empire, whose greatness was matched by his brutality. To tell the story, Williams also turned to a genre, the epistolary novel, that was new to him, transforming and transcending it just as he did the western in Butcher's Crossing and the campus novel in Stoner. Augustus is the final triumph of a writer who has come to be recognized around the world as an American master"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : New York Review Books, c2014
ISBN: 9781590178218
Branch Call Number: FIC WIL
Characteristics: xx, 305 p. ; cm
Additional Contributors: Mendelsohn, Daniel Adam 1960-


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Mar 11, 2016

John Williams is an "American master," as the description above reads, but his three major books are very different from each other. This novel recreates parts of the Emperor Augustus' life, and is full of tensions and tradeoffs, such as public versus private obligations, mind versus body, city versus country, choice versus foreordained, permanency versus temporary, cost versus benefit. The tension between reality and ideals is also central to the novel.

The first two books of the novel draw an outline of Augustus through letters, journals, and other documents but we don’t see into his thoughts until the final book. Williams’ portrait of the aged leader is one of a beneficent, enlightened despot, looking back on his achievements and their cost while also looking into Rome’s future after he is gone. It’s a beautiful section, full of guarded optimism tempered by practical insights. He consoles himself on things he has missed out on or only experienced briefly, such as friendship and love, by noting their fleeting limits. Occasionally he turns his attention to more permanent things, such as literature or the idea of Rome, noting that what happens doesn't matter in the long run. Highly recommended.

Aug 28, 2014

This novel couldn't be much different than John Williams's (not the composer) other major novel, "Stoner," which is a nuanced, insightful, quietly heartbreaking story of an English professor. "Augustus" is an historical novel about Octavius, the nephew of Julius Caesar, who took power after he died, and as Augustus ruled as the first Emperor. Told entirely in letters, journals, and documents, this does presuppose some familiarity with the history of the period, although if you saw HBO's "Rome," you'll have a pretty good idea. Well-known figures like Marc Anthony, Brutus, Cleopatra, Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, and Tiberius are all characters. Clearly taking a cue from Rupert Graves's great "Claudius" books, Williams doesn't try to write in an archaic way, but rather makes the character and the politics resonant and relevant. Winner of the National Book Award, this novel and Williams's other three are ripe for rediscovery. For a more historical look at the period, read Julius Caesar's books, Tacitus, and Suetonius.

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