Monday, July 04, 2011

Book Review: Caesar's "The Civil War"

Modern political memoirs or autobiographies are self serving tomes of doucheness. As I stated in my previous Caesar book review, the man was promoting himself, but discussing awesome political and military events. Caesar's "The Civil War" is a continuation of the Caesar literary tradition. Caesar explains what happened, from his point of view, and takes you 'there' to the moments of action or decision. Yes, history teachers, it is dead white guy reading, but this man set things in motion that we still feel the effects of today. At 140 pages, it is a quick and educational read.

Caesar makes a note in this book which is different from his tales from Gaul. He says "I think", which is odd as throughout his writing he writes in the third person. When he says "Caesar decided" it is the true thoughts of Caesar as he is the one writing it. This slip is right after his defeat at Dyrrachium to Pompey. He is explaining why he thinks Pompey did not follow through and rout his forces after the defeat and retreat. It appears Caesar is recalling a moment that could have changed his and Rome's trajectory (worldwide even more than he knew), and it shakes him so much that he drops the third eprson cold narration to say "I think". Whenever he wrote this memoir/history, that moment became a more personal reflection than the simple "I'm the righteous Roman", "Here's my strategy" or "this is how the battle went". One simple passage, but I loved seeing it.

This is the type of reading that a classics or Roman history professor should assign for everyone to read. It is a great discussion starter as it kind of reads like Caesar was doing some CYA in case he lost, he could defend his law abiding reasons for his decision to battle. It also reads like he is laying groundwork for what he had to sacrific and his followers efforts if he did win and would rule a bit cruelly. Throughout the Gaul book and this Civil War book, you see that Caesar was always thinking like a grand strategist. He would use all methods to defeat an enemy. He would spare his troops where he could. He picked the best fighting conditions when possible. He understood and encouraged his men, and was merciful to fallen enemies. He also left out parts that were nastier or a bit tricky. It is fascinating to read. It also shows once again, why the best generals or leaders think multidimensional. They approach the Gordian knot with a sword in hand as Alexander did. Problems should be looked at from all possible angles.

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