I'm not going to give a blow by blow review of this fast paced, jam-packed, popularized tale of Rome; I'll just give my reaction to it as a person fairly well versed in the history of the time and having read pretty much all the classical texts on which it is based as well as major historical works on the times and people.
First, the book is an excellent economic history but it falls short on the politics and social angles. Holland's insight into the main characters is shallow and he could have spent just a little time at the beginning introducing them instead of just tossing them in when they come on stage and then going off tangentially to explain a bit about them. By the time the average person finishes reading the passage about the person, coming back to the action is disorienting.
Also, it would have helped the average reader a lot if Holland had spent some time at the beginning creating a foundation to really understand the society. The Romans were what their religion made them and it was a peculiar religion. Probably the best source for getting a real feel for this, aside from close reading the classical texts themselves, is Rasmussen's "Public Portents in Republican Rome". It's a pricey book so Holland could have done his readers a favor by going into this in a bit more detail.
On the other hand, it is a LOT of history to fit in one book AND try to make it engaging for a wider public. I just hope that those who are intrigued will read some other histories about the times and people. My personal favorites are Mattias Gelzer's "Caesar: Politician and Statesman" and the great Mommsen - probably the only person who really read Julius Caesar correctly. But Mommsen is rather archaic in language and lengthy and not very accessible to the modern reader so a good version of Caesar's life and times is Arthur Kahn's "The Education of Julius Caesar: a Biography, a Reconstruction". In fact, this book is a good antidote for those who will not be too happy with Holland's speeded up, bull-in-the-china-shop style. "The Assassination Of Julius Caesar: A People's History Of Ancient Rome" by Michael Parenti is also a good approach. The best insight into Cicero can be had by reading Jerome Carcopino's "Cicero, the Secrets of His Correspondence". Understanding Cicero properly goes a long way toward helping to understand the skewed historical view of Caesar since MOST of what we know about him came via that twisted mind and distorted lens. It also gives one pause to consider Cato in such a light: he wasn't noble, he was personality disordered!
Writing good, accurate history is both an art and a science and much more, as R. G. Collingwood would say. Holland didn't do too bad a job considering what he was trying to achieve here and if it gets more people interested in one of the most fascinating periods of human history, and THE most intense and remarkable human being who ever lived, Julius Caesar, then it's a good enough, though flawed.
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