From the very beginning, Caesar's story makes dazzling reading. In his late teens he narrowly avoided execution for opposing the military dictator Sulla. He was decorated for valour in battle, captured and held to ransom by pirates, and almost bankrupted himself by staging games for the masses.
As a politician, he quickly gained a reputation as a dangerously ambitious maverick. By his early 30s he had risen to the position of Consul, and was already beginning to dominate the Senate. His affairs with noblewomen were both frequent and scandalous.
His greatest skill, outside the bedroom, was as a military commander. In a string of spectacular victories he conquered all of Gaul, invaded Germany, and twice landed in Britain - an achievement which in 55BC was greeted with a public euphoria comparable to that generated by the moon landing in 1969. In just thirty years he had risen from a position of virtual obscurity to become one of the richest men in the world, with the power single-handedly to overthrow the Republic. By his death he was effectively emperor of most of the known world.
The man who virtually defined the West's concept of leadership comes alive in this splendid biography. Military historian Goldsworthy (The Complete Roman Army) gives a comprehensive, vigorous account of Caesar's conquest of Gaul and his victories in the civil war that made him master of Rome. But he doesn't stint on the nonmartial aspects of Caesar's life his dandyism, his flagrant womanizing (which didn't stop enemies from gay-baiting him), his supple political genius and the flair for drama and showmanship that cowed mutinous legionaries and courted Rome's restive masses. Goldsworthy's is a sympathetic profile. In his telling, Caesar's massacres and group enslavements, though "utterly ruthless," are considered and pragmatic, not wanton, and the conqueror seems to possess a moderation and magnanimity that sprang from the same idealized self-image that fed his ambition. The author's vivid portrait of the late Roman Republic that Caesar toppled is correspondingly jaundiced: its politics are about nothing except the personal ambitions of powerful men, and chaos, corruption and violence reign beneath the ritualistic niceties of republican procedure. More compellingly than most biographies, Goldsworthy's exhaustive, lucid, elegantly written life makes its subject the embodiment of his age. 16 pages of b&w photos, maps.