Masters of Rome

The First Man in Rome
The Grass Crown
Fortune's Favourites
Caesar's Women

Colleen McCullough

Arrow Books 1990, Random House 1991, Avon Books 1993, Century Books 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996 http://dannyreviews.com/
McCullough's Masters of Rome is a monumental undertaking. Its subject is nothing less than the history of late Republican Rome and it seems likely to run to over 5000 pages when it is finished. Better described, perhaps, as fictionalised history than as historical fiction, Masters of Rome is meticulously researched and sticks closely to the historical sources, even resorting to direct narration of history in places.

The four volumes that have appeared so far take the story from 110 BC down to the formation of the first triumvirate and Caesar's departure for Gaul. In the earlier volumes McCullough seemed determined to use every last scrap of historical evidence, which sometimes gave her account an unbalanced feel. This ceases to be a problem as the sources become more extensive and her choice of material broadens. McCullough lacks the visceral bite of a Renault or a Graves, but she produces convincing dialogue and characterisations. The blurb on Caesar's Women says that she "holds her own beside such other masters of the form as Jean Auel and Tom Clancy", but I think she deserves less damning praise than that.

The Masters of Rome books are being marketed as blockbusters, but I suspect there is just too much in them for readers who don't already have an interest in Roman history (though each volume is provided with an extensive glossary and maps to help the newcomer). One exception to this may be those who enjoy novels of political intrigue: the politics of the late Roman Republic — with its balance between Senate, curule magistrates, tribunes of the plebs, courts, assemblies, and extra-legal financial and military power — has a complexity unsurpassed by any other period of history, and McCullough does a grand job of dramatising it.

August 1996

External links:
The First Man in Rome
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
The Grass Crown
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Fortune's Favourites
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Caesar's Women
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Related reviews:
- books about Rome + Roman history
- more historical fiction
%T The First Man in Rome
%Y Masters of Rome
%A McCullough, Colleen
%I Arrow Books
%D 1990
%O paperback, glossary
%G ISBN 0099792303
%P 1032pp

%T The Grass Crown
%Y Masters of Rome
%A McCullough, Colleen
%I Random House
%D 1991
%O hardcover, glossary
%G ISBN 0091825660
%P 894pp

%T Fortune's Favourites
%Y Masters of Rome
%A McCullough, Colleen
%I Avon Books
%D 1993
%O paperback, glossary
%G ISBN 0380710838
%P 1028pp

%T Caesar's Women
%Y Masters of Rome
%A McCullough, Colleen
%I Century Books
%D 1996
%O hardcover, glossary
%G ISBN 0712638512
%P 696pp