Mar 06

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Note: I first wrote this article way back in 2005 on an old version of this site.

I often like to read for a while in bed before going to sleep. I’m not sure it’s really the best thing to do, after all to read properly you need to concentrate, and concentrating hard before bed isn’t always easy. So, in a break from tradition, I’ve decided to write instead, because writing needs no concentration!

In keeping with the reading theme, I’m going to review a few of the books I have recently read, so that you (dear reader) may know whether they are worth getting hold of, or are more appropriate as a gift for a loved one you don’t really like.

First up: Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi


It has a rather bland cover. Seems to be mountainous terrain with a rather ominous red sky above it. In the middle is a giant floating helmet, slightly rusty. On the back is a smaller floati

I’ve not read any other Manfredi novels, so I thought I’d try this standalone one before venturing into the Alexander trilogy. Good job too. It starts off well enough. A cripple born to a Spartan family is left to die and found by a Helot who raises him as one of his own. Then it goes into some mumbo-jumbo about him being the Chosen One or some such, destined to free the Helots (despite him being a Spartan). Some nonsense about his Spartan brother teasing him, calling him a big girl. Then it gets better, the Battle of Thermopylae! 300 Spartans versus A Big Load of Persians! Then some other nonsense involving that brother again.ng helmet, slightly rusty. Little to recommend so far.

I’ve only got halfway through this and I’m not thinking of carrying on. Perhaps it was better in the original Italian; certainly, the language feels clumsy at times. However, there’s a deep seated nagging feeling that simply, the writing is poor. The plot isn’t in any way interesting. It’s bland, floaty, and slightly rusty.

I rate it 2 hoplites out of 5.

Next up we have Rubicon by Tom Holland


The cover is an orangey red affair, with a nice embossed gold coin and a frieze along the bottom of the altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus. Marvellous stuff. On the back there is a small photo of the author, looking stern. A nice touch. Lets you know who is telling this tale. Clearly he is a man of knowledge. Perhaps he was once a Roman himself. Perhaps.

The tale of the Roman Republic, from the end of the line of Kings (well, call yourself Tarquin? What nation wants to be ruled by a Tarquin?) up to the end of the Republic itself in AD 14. Everyone knows of Julius Caesar, but just as important are the Brothers Gracchi and their reforms; Marius and Sulla and the civil war that lead to the city-state’s first dictatorship; Cicero, the outspoken orator; Pompey the Great, first man of Rome and Caesar’s great ally then rival; Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome and wielder of immense power and influence. Their story is told in a wonderful narrative, as Holland leads us through time whilst relating every event to the nature of the Republic itself.

At the start of the book Holland compares the world’s first superpower the world’s latest superpower, but ever afterwards it is left to the reader to draw the similarities between the final tumultuous years before the Empire, and the world we live in today.

If you’re less historically minded, you could just compare it to Star Wars, if you like. I know the thought of educating yourself may be a foreign and scary one to some people.

I rate Rubicon as 5 gladiators out of 5. Highly recommended!

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