Review: Cicero–The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician

4 Star, History, Philosophy, Politics
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Book, Not a Substitute for Broader Reading,

August 31, 2003
Anthony Everitt
Edit of 21 Dec 07 to add links.

This is a fine book. It has one really great sentence that most of those reading the book have undoubtedly passed over quickly, on page 37: …although fighting continued for some time at a terrible cost in human lives and suffering, Rome emerged the military victor–and the political loser.”

As I contemplate all of the other non-fiction books, and especially those with national security wisdom relevant to our times, it is, I must say with all candor, a little irritating to see this book in the top ten. This is what loosely-educated wonks read to appear educated and “steeped in history.” This is a fine book, but if policy wonks don’t understand that they need to be putting Schell (The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People) and Greider (The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy), among others that I have reviewed, above this book, then they are demonstrating their myopia.

In addition to Schell and Greider, and much more relevant to the challenges at hand are a few of the following (the entire list can be seen in my lectures on books relevant to national security at OSS.Net): Colin Gray’s Modern Strategy; Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Charles Kupchan’s The Vulnerability of Empire (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs); Dr. Col. Manwaring et al on The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century….the list goes on. If you want history, there is always Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History: The Most Important Insights from the Story of Civilization, or the more recent and truly elegant work by John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past…vital “to interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the future.”

This is a good book. If, however, it is the best the policy world can do in terms of selection, then we have a classic illustration of how random and ignorant policy wonks can be–meanwhile, 1400 Middle East scholars and professors throughout the land go unhead, while a handful of talking heads quote Cicero and pretend to be learned.

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