Friends! Romans! Countrymen! Lend me your ears!
As I mentioned somewhat tangentially in my last column, I’m definitely a fan of history. Not just any specific period, I’m willing to learn no matter what the subject. That leads to me being interested in history audiobooks. Be it a release focused on the Spanish Civil War, one focusing on The Wars Of The Roses or the subject of this column in Ancient Rome. More specifically the period of the late Roman Republic.
If the name of the author sounds at all familiar to you it’s because he’s a semi famous podcaster who is known for doing two historical podcasts. For the simplified version a podcast is basically an internet radio show. However Mike Duncan’s podcasts have an historical focus namely from 2007 to 2012 he created The History Of Rome a 179 part (I’m not kidding!) series on Rome from its founding until its final destruction. After this he started another series called Revolutions in 2013 which focuses on major world revolutions going from the famous such as the French Revolution to the obscure such as The Haitian Revolution or his current project The Mexican Revolution.
Last year Mike Duncan surprised listeners with news he was working on a book – complete with an audio version narrated by himself – focusing on the period of the late Roman Republic. This means he gets to talk about a variety of important events such as The Jugurthine War or the Roman Civil War between two famous military commanders in the form of Marius – the ‘Third Founder of Rome’ – and Sulla one of his lieutenants who was the man to resurrect the political office of Dictator. But of course you can’t talk about this period in Roman history without mentioning the famous – or infamous (It depends who you ask!)–Gracchi brothers Tiberius and Gaius.
But don’t worry if you found history class boring in school or if you have no blinding clue who these people are. Mike Duncan does an excellent job in my opinion in explaining who they are and what exactly makes them important without making it sound dull as dishwater. He has a rather entertaining way of occasionally butting in with either his personal opinion on the topic at hand or a dry little comment about how stupid whatever just happened or is about to happen actually is in retrospect.
I may personally wish these asides were slightly more frequent than they are similar to the podcasts but then there are differences in the mediums and each person will have their own preferences in audiobooks regarding authors placing their own opinions into works and perspective on the topic at hand. One small criticism is that it can be somewhat easy to tell Mike’s views on the subject at hand due to his tone or inflection at times however he usually does a good job of making his biases clear and differentiating fact from opinion.
Personally I don’t have many other criticisms beside that. Sometimes it can be distracting during time jumps as there can be some time between the topics discussed – such as the eventual fate of Tiberius Gracchus and the introduction of his brother Gaius – however there is usually a suitable filling in for events that occurred in the mean time.
One other thing that didn’t bother me but might bother some other listeners is the fact that the focus tends to be a little more on political machinations than on epic battles or their descriptions however you soon learn to adapt! Mike’s voice as both author and narrator is distinct and clear as well as somewhat relaxing – to myself anyway!
In conclusion even if history isn’t on your list of favourite things I recommend giving this audiobook and the related podcasts a listen. You’d be surprised how fascinating topics can be when you find the right story teller!Give it a chance, you never know what might just interest you!