Italy in Books - Rubicon by Tom Holland

It's that time of the month again... I've left it late as usual and now, late in the evening on the 29th May, I'm finally squeezing in time to write the book review for my 'Italy in Books' May entry. I'm really happy to find the time to do this though, as my chosen book this month is really one to savor. This month, I've gone for something about the Romans. In fact, I've gone for a book that covers the entire history of the Roman Republic. As it was for the Romans, I don't seem to do things by halves...

Rubicon is a narrative history book that covers the rise and fall of the Roman Republic. It's ambitious certainly, but also quite bewitching. It covers the entire history of the republic, but is written in a style which is anything but dry and academic. This style means that even those with little previous knowledge of Roman history (such as me, rather embarrassingly) can soon find themselves totally engrossed in the story of the Republic's rise and fall.

Over eleven chapters, with additional maps, timelines and photos to help you along the way, the book details 750 years of the Roman Republic, from it's formation, the destruction of Carthage, the Gracchi brothers, the silver-tongued Cicero, the wars in the East, Caesar, Cleopatra and finally, the death of Augustus. This may sound like a lot, and, well, it is, but it's an engaging read and probably my favorite this year.

The book title is taken from that fateful decision by a young Julius Caesar to cross the Rubicon river into Italy, some 750 years B.C. The preface of the book covers this pivotal moment so well that simply, from that moment on, I was captivated. This is a stunning book, bringing what is admittedly a soap opera of characters to life in a way that I've never seen before. It reads like a film, covering great moments in history as if they're happening in real-time. I've learnt a bit of history from the book, but I've also enjoyed it immensely.

Rubicon comes in at around 400 pages, so isn't for the faint-hearted. However, it's very well written, and it can feel as if one is reading a thriller rather than a history book. Sometimes, I found it a little confusing, what with all the strange names and places, but at the same time it was fascinating and really made me want to learn more about the Roman empire (above the usual stuff about aquaducts that I've learnt at school). For that alone, I can heartily recommend this book.

Rubicon. The triumph and tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland is published by Abacus and should be available in all good book shops (or can be bought from Amazon here).

The other May reviews in the Italy in Books challenge can be found here


  1. My hubby would absolutely LOVE this book. He has read several on Roman history, and I am always scouring bookstores for good books on the subject. I will look into this one. Thanks for the review!

  2. This is on our bookshelves and my husband also enjoyed it, but I have just not got around to picking it up myself yet.

  3. I ended up buying this one for my hubby and he is currently reading it. He is really enjoying it!

  4. Hi Laura, that's excellent news! It's so informative and well-written, while being quite the thriller as well. I'm happy he's enjoying it.