Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar
by Tom Holland
Narrated by Derek Perkins
Dynasty is the story of the rise and fall of the House of Caesar. We start with the state of Rome and the ascension of Caesar, and we follow the Julio-Claudian line until the end of the road, with Nero’s suicide. To attempt to summarize this book would be to teach an entire course in history, so suffice it to say Holland glimpses into the reigns of Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero; he also show the lives of several important women of the era, including Livia, Julia, and Aggripina.
I’m very picky about my non-fiction.
I know that as a history nut, I should gobble up whatever I can get, but it nonetheless remains true that written accounts of history can be very boring. I don’t know what it is about many historians, but it’s almost as though if it’s interesting, they’re not doing it right.
That is not the case with that book.
When Holland took on the House of Caesar, he took on a very broad subject, with much presumption and conjecture. He took on a family of cruel secrets. In the course of a single book, it is impossible to go into every intimate detail of each emperor. Holland does a nice job of giving an overview of each emperor, and he does not focus on the cheap thrills of the dynasty. For myself, the one thing I remember about Caligula is that he loved his horse. That Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned. There’s no mention of a horse in this book, and Nero played the lyre. The closest Holland comes to that legend is the speculation that Nero may have started the fires. Instead, he focuses on the leadership style of each of the emperors, and their relationship with Rome.
I really liked this book. I think that Holland did a great job of making this complicated part of history interesting and accessible without falling into tropes and conjecture. I particularly enjoy that he brought the women into the story. I enjoyed Livia’s tale and the influence of Agrippina on her son (right down to her death). When I tired of hearing about one emperor, the next came up. The pacing was excellent.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Roman history, although it will be a little light for serious scholars.
I got my copy off Audible (no affiliation), and I thought the narrator did an excellent job not droning on. You can check out the audio sample on this page if you want to hear more.