The two reviews are valid when taking this book at face value; that is a biography. But this book is not, instead it is written to those who already understand the fundamentals or “timeline” of Caesar. For example he gives very limited details on Caesar’s beautifully conceived siege of Alesia. No general before or since has “entombed” their entire army in a line of contravallation and countervallation and then decimated one army and annihilated the other, all with a personally financed and trained professional army and its materiel.
This is not an oversight or a lack of historical detail since Meir’s intentions is to provide a literary work that didn’t regurgitate what we already know. Instead what appears to be bogging down in the daily minutiae of the Roman Senate and its vicissitudes is instead puts the reader in daily grind of how politics and government is so radically different from both the monarchs or tribal leaders of the “rest of the world” yet in no way whatsoever could be designated a democracy. It was a Republic who’s laws were founded solely on two precepts: first all the power should remain firmly under the control of a small number of affluent citizens in the form of the Senate and second its selected leaders (there were always “two” consul of equal rank and a 12 month term), generals (praetors) and governors (proconsuls) must be subject to almost immediate turnover. Even the vaunted title of “dictator” with absolute power was immediately dissolved after 6 months or sooner.
Caesar, when crossing the Rubicon was nothing pioneering or a gamble into uncharted waters. In his lifetime he had watched it happen with front row seats when Sulla returned from Greece to March on Rome and usurp the legitimate power from the Consul Cinna and his counterpart. Completely disregarding the fact that title and position of “dictator” had disappeared through attrition since the city of Rome was no longer a tenable military target by any other foe or that it must be relinquished in less than 6 months, never to be re-elected even by unanimous Senate vote, he not only declared himself “supreme warlord” but expelled or murdered those Senators that refused to acquiesce only to hand select their replacements. Then in a final insult he increased the size of the Senate, which was no doubt needed to manage their ever expanding empire, but through perfidy cloaked in sophism filled these new ranks with his unlimited line of sycophants.
So what elevates Caesar to mythical proportions over Sulla or other would be traitors that execute acts of blatant “high treason”. The fact is the Rubicon could have never entered our lexicon if the Senate simply allowed Caesar to run again for the post of consul. Nothing sinister as many Senators had been re-elected after the ‘required’ time had passed. Only lasting a year he would find himself at the end of the term without his private legions he undoubtedly would have faded away into history as a Great Captain equal to Hannibal, Marius or Scipio.
This brings us right square in the face of the crux of this literary piece: the Senatus consultum ultimum (or "Ultimate decree of the Senate"), which had slowly replaced the requirement to appoint a dictator by authorizing special powers to the two active consuls and their praetors to eliminate the defined threat with the full weight of the Republics vast resources. This would be tantamount to General MacArthur ignoring President Truman’s order to step down from his direct command in Korea, finishing the war through atomic strikes and then return to America with our soldiers to march on Washington effectively dissolving our democracy through a popularly voted civilian President, Assembly of Lawmakers and its Judges. Most importantly it would have shredded up the most important law document since the Magna Carter: our US Constitution.
Finally, we must remember the book is purely a translation from German and so all types of nuances and idiosyncrasies materialize to exactly duplicate original text. While Old English is a purely Germanic vocabulary it successors, Middle and Modern English can only be conveyed through its Latin derived words yet still is notably different than being classified as a Romance language. For Germans run on words, run on sentences and run on paragraphs coupled with abrupt changes of topic within a single chapter are accepted as grammatically correct and considered an encomium in terms of style.