Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, January 30, 2015

Thoughts on Colleen McCullough

The recent death of Colleen McCullough has made me think back on her excellent First Man in Rome series.

In it, over the course of something like seven books, she traces the lives of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar and the early career of Octavian.

The writing is more workmanlike than literary, but the depth of her research, the quality of her characterisations and her sure touch in weaving together sometimes conflicting sources into an even and generally believable narrative is consistently impressive and rarely unsatisfying.

There are times in the later books that her admiration for Caesar the man compelled her to stretch too far in denying his fallibility, resulting in a weakening of her authorial authority through this refusal to contemplate any personal collusion with his enemies, but at her best her historical personages present as real, with credible personalities and plausible motivations. Her best-guess solutions to gaps in the historical record are often ingeniously sensible (her Caesar-fixation providing the odd exception!) and a pleasure to read for the enthusiast of the era who knows something of the stories.

I think the first two books in the series were the strongest, but Caesar's Women was a knowing portrayal of politics in the late Republic, and the entire series is worth reading, IMHO.

So here's a glass raised to Colleen McCullough. Ancient historical fiction is much the livelier for her contribution, and her passing brings a sad finality to a wonderful series of books and, by all accounts, a full and rich life.


  1. Rats! Didn't know that she had passed away - I liked those books.

  2. That's sad, I didn't know. I'll have to go back and take a look at the books!
    Another gamer in Japan.

  3. Thanks for posting Aaron. The books sound pretty interesting. I'll add them to my summer reading list. Of course, with kids at any age, it is still nigh impossible to actually get any reading done on Vacation!

  4. I raise my glass, too. Fine body of work. A thoughtful tribute, Prufrock.


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