This is essentially a political history of the last century or so of the Roman Republic, ranging from the exploits of Sulla to the rise to the top of Augustus, the first true emperor of Rome. 'Rubicon' is as evocative a title as any, but while Caesar figures prominently of course, it is not primarily about his fateful move in 49 BCE nor about his life and death in general. Instead it is a guide through the roller-coaster journey of Roman politics in the last century BCE, and on the whole it shows Roman politicians as unscrupulous, power-hungry and generally prepared to do anything to achieve their personal aims.
It's a cracking story and it is well told, putting into perspective events that most people will have heard of, like Caesar's 'invasions' of Britain and his later murder. The text moves along nicely, and it is very well read. Major events like wars with 'barbarians' and the Spartacus Slave Revolt are only touched on, and then only when they had an effect on the power politics of the day. Still it is an enjoyable eye-opener into how the Republic's politics worked, and if nothing else it makes even our own disreputable politicians look practically saint-like by comparison.
This is a wonderfully told story of an often horrific series of events which chronicle one of the more tragic chapters in the history of the decline and fall of colonialism. It is far more than just a telling of events - it takes great pains to examine the motivations and thinking of both sides, and explains how some of France's apparently most loyal subjects could contemplate revolt and the murder of their leader. With hindsight it all seems like tragically pointless violence, but this book puts those events on context, and clearly benefits from considerable correspondence and interviews with many of the major participants.
A good book is easily spoiled by a poor reader, but this one is top notch. Always clear, and never sounds like he is tiring of what he is reading. The reviewer that said 5% of the text was in French is talking nonsense. Yes there are a few phrases which are untranslated, and that is indeed a pity for those of us with only a long-forgotten school-boy French to rely on, but it does not materially impair a thoroughly enjoyable book that illuminates one of the more terrible episodes in the recent history of Europe's retreat from empire, and explains events that deserve to be better known in the English-speaking world.
Anyone that writes a history 'up to the present' knows that their work is likely to start dating quite quickly. If you write on the Middle East then events move on at an even greater pace. There are two things you need to know about this book. One is it really only picks up the story at the start of the 19th century, and gradually goes into more and more detail as we travel through time. The second is the book was clearly written in 1990 as the author mentions the build up of forces following Sadaam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, but makes no mention of the war that followed. Just think what has happened since then. The Gulf War, the second Gulf War, Israel invading Lebanon, Iranian threats on nuclear weapons, some self determination for Palestine, the Arab Spring and so on. So much has happened in the last 21 years that this book inevitably leaves the story only half told, and the final chapter, pondering what the 1990s might hold, is naturally redundant to say the least.
Given a book this age that criticism is inevitable, but aside from that this is quite an interesting tale which reveals much of the complexity of inter-arab relations as well as the more obvious problems of the region. The reader never puts a foot wrong but his delivery is not particularly inspiring. Also the quality of the recording can vary, with the sound suddenly becoming a fair bit quieter for a while, then louder again, or the quality of the acoustics change. This is a minor point, but a bit off-putting.
If you are considering downloading this book then clearly you have an interest in the subject, and this book will satisfy that interest, if somewhat dryly. Despite its faults it did the job and I do not begruidge the time I spent listening to it.