Book Review: Julius Caesar: Lessons in Leadership from the Great Conqueror by Bill Yenne

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

I am someone who loves the ancients and loves reading the their stories. That being said, I am much more likely to read Caesar’s Commentaries or Plutarch’s Life of Caesar than a modern day biography derived from those sources. In fact, I have read all those ancient works, most in both English and the original Latin. This book was a pleasure to read anyway.   Bill Yenne has put together a comprehensive account of Caesar’s life that someone unfamiliar with Caesar’s exploits can enjoy. The book is separated into twenty thematic chapters with epilogue, source note, and index. It is not a large book at only 193 pages but the author manages to pack everything he needs into those pages.

The book begins with an account of what we know of Caesar’s birth and early life and segues easily into the meat of the story, his exploits in Gaul and the Civil War. Bill Yenne is at his best when describing the military campaigns of Caesar. he brings the battles alive and his descriptions are vivid enough that the reader can form a mind’s eye picture of the terrain. He describes the political relationships between Caesar and the various Germanic and Gallic tribes well. He also does an excellent job of describing the course of the Civil War. The book is really more of a straightforward narrative of the events of Caesar’s life and he does not attempt to analyze Caesar’s actions for fault, that type of analysis he leaves to the reader, which very refreshing from my perspective.

I did not really see where the subtitle of the book came in as I was reading it. It was actually only after I finished the book that it hit me. As Mr. Yenne narrates the story he throws in asides about modern events that occurred in the areas where Caesar campaigned. The vast majority of these asides relate to the allied campaign in France in World War II but he does mention World War I a time or two. Generally he relates the differences between the modern campaign and the way in which Caesar campaigned there. I did not really feel that there were a lot of lessons pointed out for modern military leaders from Caesar’s campaigns or actions, at least nothing explicitly pointed out as such. That lack does not detract from the book itself though, it can stand perfectly alone as a biography of one of the greatest military leaders of all time.

The chapters flow easily from one to the other and the index is useful and actually more comprehensive than I expected it to be. The source note is just that, a note explaining the major sources he used in writing the book. I am sure it is not everything he consulted and I would much rather see a bibliography than source note, that is a minor complaint though as this book is meant for the lay market and not academia or college students.   The only other complaint I have is the lack of citations but that is also probably the latent academic in me complaining and does not really detract from the quality of the book.

As a biography of Julius Caesar for people who are not historians, Bill Yenne has produced an excellent book. One of the best aspects of this book is that he relied on the ancient writers who were closer to the events for sources. He also writes in a clear, easy to understand style that makes some of the complex events of Caesar’s life easy to understand. All in all this is an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone with a casual interest in antiquity or even those wishing to reacquaint themselves with the life of Caesar.