Augustus : The Life of Romes First Emperor (Audio CD (unabridged)) - Anthony Everitt

Ancient history is made up of bits of information from dated manuscripts and the plausible conjectures of historians. Reading this book, I would add that the personal biases of history writers fill in the information gaps which are especially large the farther back in time we go. The end result is a mix of fact and fiction, and like a scifi novel, the fiction needs to retain structural consistency with the rest of the facts.

With equal parts wonder and skepticism, this book takes one way back to the beginnings of the Imperial West. For what the Romans built was a military empire, funding their armies through taxation of provinces, and ruthlessly suppressing dissent. They set up client nations and installed friendly governors to support the structure of their Imperium. And thus, developed a template for future generations of imperialists, conquistadors and manifest destiny-ers.

The key character, Augustus, is depicted as an opportunistic politician whose skill was not in military matters but in identifying the compromises needed to advance himself. Ruthless and devious, the first Roman emperor defeated a succession of adversaries, including the ill-fated Mark Antony and his Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, to be the last man standing for the title Emperor.

In the backdrop we get glimpses of ancient lifestyles --- the Roman toga and sandals, short lifetimes under the constant threat of unknown and incurable diseases, children and family members exchanged with allies to seal pacts, opulence among the Romans, easy divorces, casual relationships, military battles sans gunpowder and motorized transport.

Quite a few minor characters, like one would find in a "sprawling" space opera, who come and go with no specific need. Too many, in fact, to be distracting. But of course, this is history, and persons and their names are needed for posterity.

I would recommend this book but only if you have or will read other histories of the same period such as
[b:The History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire 3|1345610|The History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire 3|Edward Gibbon||15895421] to provide a broader perspective.