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am 15. Juni 2000
First I have to compliment Colleen McCullough on her research. Truely an outstanding effort and very praiseworthy. Her glossary at the end of the book is excellent and one which I have referred back to more then once for just general information. Having said that I now have to state that the entire series has been going down in quality since the second installment The Grass Crown. With the first two novels it is apparent that Ms. McCullough wrote them more or less simultaneously over a period of several years while doing her very extensive research. I read that she spent over five years researching and writing the first chapters and it shows. The attention to detail is excellent, her characters come to life, they sound and act like Romans. There is nothing modern about her dialouge, plot, or characterization. After a short while I felt like I was reading a prequel to Robert Grave's classic novels about Claudius. The only thing I felt there wasn't enough of was the biting wit that was so prevelant in Graves work. Unfortunly starting with the third installment I saw the old Colleen McCullough coming through. The bestselling author who has written The Thornbirds and Tim. It was obvious that the research was done and the dramatic stage set was built. Now Ms. McCullough is simply filling in with her trademark writing. Instead of a series of Roman novels now we have a soap opera with rather modern characters running around in togas. Instead of intruiging and fleshed out historical personas we have hero worship of Julius Ceaser and two dimensional characters. I made it through the fourth installment and gave up. More tired then disgusted - for what had been rather unusual has now become typical and could just as easily be set in New York City of today. I reccommend the first two novels highly. In my opinion they reach a level higher then the average summertime read, but after that one has mind candy pure and simple. Instead read I, Claudius and Claudius the God and his wife Messalina by Robert Graves if you want truly enertaining fiction set in the Roman Empire. Vale.
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am 24. August 1999
The label "epic" is often overused in modern literature. Works by authors as disparate as Steven King, L. Ron Hubbard, Michael Shaara, and Tom Clancy have received this lofty praise throughout the course of their esteemed careers. But there is a difference between "epic" and merely "exhaustive," and although each of these wordsmiths have scribed remarkable and praiseworthy volumes, it is the rare writer indeed whose creations truly earn the timeless reverence the word "epic" promises. Colleen McCullough is one such writer.
When I first picked up "The First Man in Rome," first in her sweeping saga of ancient Rome, I glanced at the cover and flinched, noticing that McCullough had also authored "The Thorn Birds." "Well, I thought, if it turns out to be too mushy, I can always give it to my wife." I had just finished re-reading James Clavell's "Shogun," and was still in the mood for an historical saga. Less than fifty pages into "First Man," I decided that I would never again underestimate a book by my prejudices against the writer's resume.
I won't bother to go into the plot. I will merely say that I have fallen in love, completely and unreservedly, with McCullough's story. I can't tell where her voluminous research ends, and her imagination begins, and frankly, that's half the fun. "The First Man in Rome" encapsulates so completely the magic of the ancient capital, stirs so astonishingly the pulse and the mind, that I simply cannot think of another work of fiction that measures up. It is the very best of historically based fiction, and this high praise comes from a man whose previous favorite novel was "The Killer Angels." Now I may have to revise my list. McCullough has simply redefined the historical novel. This is the very best novel I have read in decades.
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am 7. Januar 2000
I throughly enjoyed "The First Man in Rome". It is a great historical novel with timeless appeal. So far, I have read three novels in the Masters of Rome Series, the other two were "Caesar's Women" and "Caesar: The Novel". Of these three, "The First Man in Rome" is the best.
I especially enjoyed the characters in this novel. While "Caesar", for example, was completely devoid of character development, this novel is overflowing with wonderful and well-structured character portraits. I was particularly impressed by Sulla. Instead of portraying him as a wild psychopath that he undoubtedly was, Colleen McCullough turned him into a psychopath with a tender side. Her description of his childhood and especially his relationship with his tutor brought tears to my eyes. Although Sulla is quite despicable in his action, McCullough uncovers a complex person under all the madness. A great achievement!
I also appreciated her depiction of Gaius Marius. In history class, I learned that he was extremely lucky but rather unremarkable in his talent. That never sat well with me because I thought that even if he wasn't a genius, he must have been capable enough to secure the number of consulships that he had. McCullough very nicely goes into Gaius Marius' head and examines how and what is driving him.
Not all the characters were well-developed. Julia or Julia Major was extremely boring and could have used more complexity because she appears to be such a paragon of virtue that she does not seem human. Jugurtha also suffered because in the book he is too one-dementional. That's too bad since he is quite fascinating.
Most other characters are sublime: from Metellus Numidicus (Piggle-wiggle) to Scaurus to Saturninus to Julilla or Julia Minor to Drusus to Aurelia. At first, I was against the idea that McCullough create Julilla but after reading "The First Man in Rome" I realized how well she served the author's purpose. Also, her ordeal is quite heart-breaking.
I was a little bit disappointed by Colleen McCullough's depiction of the political scene. Everyone who read Masters of Rome series said that the best political novel in the series is "The First Man in Rome". I disagree. Although McCullough writes wonderfully about political squabbles in Rome, she mostly uses letters and dialogues between characters to relate these events to the readers. Although she is extremely good at letter- and speech-writing, in "Caesar's Women" she actually describes what goes on as it happens. This helps with absorbing the atmosphere and also captivates the readers better.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Roman political history or Ancient history in general. The Masters of Rome series is superb and I hope Colleen McCullough will continue to add on to the series for many years to come.
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am 15. August 2015
The perfect companion for all Roman history enthusiasts is the ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERRoma Victrix Wein Becher

The first book in McCullough's Masters of Rome series is well worth the investment of time (#984 pages!) and brain power (getting started felt like enrolling in Ancient History 101 what with the maps, glossary, pronunciation key, etc.)

The story is set in ~ 100 B.C. in the time of Gaius Marius who became the military and political leader of Rome against the odds. It also gives us the sordid backstory of Sulla destined to become a dictator of Rome. Along the way one is engulfed in Ancient Rome -- we march with the legions through Numidia and against the truly frightening Germanic 'barbarians', recline in the patrician dining rooms, gather in the Forum to bear witness to political intrigue. McCullough has a way of making what could be rather dry stuff (a la Robert Graves in I, Claudius) into high drama that is quite easy reading when it comes right down to it. I do think she probably took certain liberties with the dialogue to make it accessible -- I mean did ancient Romans really say things like "turd in a punchbowl." But overall this is a very satisfying reading experience which actually taught me a lot about the roots of government and civilization -- I will gladly read onwards.

I do take issue with her maps though -- at least in my edition the tiny cursive is illegible and they are WAY too detailed for the purposes of the story. Ditto for the glossary which may have been more effective as a set of concise endnotes.
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am 23. August 1998
Those looking for a novel about the lives of average people in ancient Rome will be sorely dissapointed by The First Man in Rome. Those looking for a novel about the "power brokers" of that dynamic scene will be more than satisfied. A good analogy, I suppose, would be to compare the book to one about present-day America focusing on Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Jesse Helms. Mrs. McCullough certainly did her homework, the political intrigue is top-notch, the book is well paced and the writing style is excellent. Despite all this I found the book to be somewhat hard to follow (too many names like Marcus Aemelius Scaurus and Quintus Servilius Caepio to keep track of in several different story lines) and a very slow read. In addition, many of the too numerous characters are necessarily sketchily drawn. This is a book worth reading, but one should be aware of the limitations that the subject matter places upon the pure entertainment value of the work.
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am 23. März 1998
When my sister gave me Colleen McCullough's The First Man in Rome as a birthday present, I groaned. I just knew it was going to be one of those pitifully inept "historical novels" that focuses more on sex than on history. When I finally started reading it, I was most favourably impressed. As a classics major and Romanophile, I am extremely familiar with the history of late republican Rome. Even so, McCullough's research produced information that I had never heard of. She has produced a work that is truly stunning in its scope and accuracy.
The First Man in Rome breathes new life into a period of history that has too long been stifled by the ponderous weight of scholarly texts. I highly recommend this book to any student of Roman history.
In particular, I would like to thank McCullough for vindicating the character of Gaius Marius, who has been deprecated for years by the historical establishment. McCullough offers a refreshing perspective on Marius'life which remains utterly plausible and solidly based on extant biographical information.
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am 3. Dezember 1999
Nothing prepared me for the complexity, depth and shear sense of reality that Colleen McCullogh's The First Man in Rome provided. I have read a lot of historical fiction and was used to authors routinely ignoring the real nitty gritty of daily life in previous ages in order to get on with their story. McCollogh manages to infuse a lively plot with a significant amount of period lore, domestic detail and even hitorical exposition without ever losing the reader's interest. Her characters and their story - taken straight from history - manage to be both larger than life and believably human at the same time.
Among the devices she uses to achieve a kind of verisimilitude are imagined conversations, letters, and maps (drawn by her own hand). Where there are unknowns in the historical record, her inventions are based on careful research and are, if not correct, certainly plausible.
I can't praise this book (and the four that follow it in the series) highly enough. Standing in the remains of the original forum in Rome last year, I felt as if I had actually experienced that place before. So much of the story told in these books takes place in the limited confines of the forum and the nearby Palitine and Capitoline hills, and her description of the space was so accurate - even with the passage of two thousand years - that it was easy to imagine how it must have looked then.
Anyone who loves historical fiction - that is, real history presented in novel form - owes it to themselves to experience this book. It is both a work of scholarship and a great imaginative achievement written by a master of language. No story totally invented could be half as interesting as this tale of real people that McCollough brings to life in these pages. A great book.
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am 7. Oktober 1999
As a scholar of ancient civilizations, I find so many historical fictions books completely without basis and wholly inaccurate. Having read this book all the way through once (having started and stopped several times due to the myriad of characters to remember) now, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and can't wait to read the 2nd installment in The Grass Crown. The portrayals of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla are believable and completely in line with the personalities and other traits as I understand them from my studies.
Ms. McCullough has outdone herself yet again. The Thorn Birds can never be unseated, but this book is a close second. The myriad of maps, definitions and other reference materials only added to the enjoyment of the book (if not also the length and weight).
Kudos
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am 22. September 1998
You'll never learn as much and as easy as you do when you read this book. The main reason why I read McCollough's books in english is that I don't finish them in one day - this way it takes a week. Colleen McCollough describes the circumstances in Rome at this time more detailed than I thought it possible without being boring. Just read the first 50 pages and try to stop !
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am 23. August 1998
There have been some Colleen McCollouch books I liked, but I thought this one was pretty bad. It was over long, and while fairly well researched contained some inaccuracies-- also, the writing was pretty bad, a suprise for me since I have always thought McCollough was a pretty good writer. She uses a few too many hackneyed cliches in this one, though.
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