Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Gaius Julius Caesar remains a towering figure from an age crowded with talented and ambitious men. Any biography of him deals—at least on some level—with the question of what made this man so extraordinary. A master politician and a great general, Julius Caesar also authored books still read for their historical value and clear prose. Isenberg addresses all these aspects of his life in Caesar.

Caesar the public man is an endlessly intriguing figure. The few fragmentary historical glimpses of his private life and personality available to biographers include tales circulated by Roman gossips. Unfortunately these originally sprang from such mixed motives, and now are so encrusted with legend, that they are almost useless for a true understanding of the man.

Of Caesar's ambition there can be no doubt. Every step he takes is partly calculated to advance his own political fortunes, a trait not unusual for men of his social class and era. He demonstrates his cool confidence and grace under pressure while still in his early twenties. When captured by pirates, he entertains them with speeches and poems and insists that they raise the amount of his ransom because he is worth more. When released, he proceeds to capture and hang them, proving his courage and decisiveness as well. His very success in staying alive and advancing in a deadly political arena shows his understanding of human motives and of the exercise of power.

Caesar spends a large portion of his life commanding armies. If Isenberg's biography has a defect, it is in the many pages devoted to his subject's military successes, to the...

(The entire section is 668 words.)