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Saturday, January 31, 2015

RIP Colleen McCullough

Razib Khan mentioned her death at Unz:
I was aware that Colleen McCullough was ill, so sadly it is no surprise that she has died. To many McCullough is known for her Masters of Rome series. I particularly think that the first two books in the series, The First Man in Rome and Grass Crown were exceptional. The later novels cover the career of Julius Caesar and his heirs (both Augustus and Antony), which are rather well known to us. In contrast the life and times of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla are not familiar to many modern people. In fact it is likely that their names would not ring a bell with the vast majority of people due to the decline of the classical education (which was the province of a narrow elite in any case when it was in vogue). But these were significant figures in their time whose influence echoes down the generations.
I never read The Thorne Birds, but I did enjoy the first three Rome novels. The Masters of Rome series inexplicably fell off a cliff with the fourth novel, Caesar's Women, but the first three were both entertaining and educational. I even suspect, to a small extent, they may have had some influence on my choice of Rome's Social War as a conceptual start to Arts of Dark and Light.

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16 Comments:

Blogger Cataline Sergius January 31, 2015 2:47 PM  

The first two were the best of the series but I did rather enjoy, Fortune's Favourites.

Her view of Spartacus was in my opinion, way closer to reality than the communist uprising fantasies of Hollywood.

Spartacus way too effective of a commander to have been some illiterate mining slave.

Anonymous Stg58 / Animal Mother January 31, 2015 4:12 PM  

Gladiator had a touch of that. Effective commander of slave revolt turns out to be former General Bad Ass. When do uneducated people lead any revolt?

Anonymous jack January 31, 2015 4:16 PM  

Yet, in the end, Spartacus allowed his command to be split with the known bad ending. My understanding of the slave army was that they had made it to, or near to, Cisalpine Gaul and were on the doorstep of escape and freedom when decisions were made to return to central Italy and take out Rome.
Now, Spartacus may have had little choice in all this but, if he made those ultimately bad decisions not under duress then hubris may have been his undoing.

Blogger Eric Wilson January 31, 2015 5:25 PM  

The Thorne Birds was pretty good but got a little slow towards the end. But it's depiction of the Outback was incredible.

Anonymous Susan January 31, 2015 7:58 PM  

A sad day for the literary world when she passed. There has been a huge kerfuffle in the media over the rudeness of the obituary published regarding one of the best selling authors in the world.
She might have been able to help her size, but she could not help it if her personality wasn't the most sparkling. It was rude of the media in Oz to mock her for those things before they even got to the subject of her books.
I suspect a lot of envy from the hacker gallery over her success.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 31, 2015 9:52 PM  

I wouldn't even say it went all that much downhill with Caesar's Women. However, by Anthony and Cleopatra it had become embarrassing.

"Spartacus way too effective of a commander to have been some illiterate mining slave."

I am inclined to agree with you and her; however, there is such a thing as natural talent.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 31, 2015 9:56 PM  

"Yet, in the end, Spartacus allowed his command to be split with the known bad ending."

It's less than clear that he was a commander so much as first among equals in an unstable coalition. And then there's the logistic issue. In an area where 100000 wandering people might do well, twice that may well starve. It is by no means improbable that some of those fragments that separated from the main army were invited to leave by Spartacus to conserve food and even to give the Romans somebody else to destroy.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 31, 2015 9:57 PM  

"When do uneducated people lead any revolt?"

Ummm.. you mean besides Mohammad?

It's actually not that uncommon; see comment on natural talent, above. Success is, of course, less common, still, but not unheard of.

Blogger Zimri January 31, 2015 10:35 PM  

If we are acting as Speakers For The Dead here, or at least For The Deadites' Books, then I will deliver my opinions of the dead chick's book:

I got Colleen McCullough's "First Man in Rome" for free, and it had a used-book price-tag of $2. It was too long and there was a lot of male-on-male sodomy in it. I didn't finish the book. The anal-abseilers can keep her.

Blogger Tom Kratman January 31, 2015 11:15 PM  

You're certainly within your rights to object, Zimri, and even more so not to read. But in condeming someone for describing the world as it is, you're aligning yourself - at a really deep level of principle - with the social justice warriors.

Anonymous . February 01, 2015 12:29 AM  

I got Colleen McCullough's "First Man in Rome" for free, and it had a used-book price-tag of $2. It was too long and there was a lot of male-on-male sodomy in it. I didn't finish the book.

The historical record, such as it is, says Sulla was bisexual.

But really, if that was the main thing that stuck in your mind about the book, you didn't read it very carefully.

Anonymous . February 01, 2015 12:31 AM  

"When do uneducated people lead any revolt?"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_peasant_revolts

Note that "suppression of the rebellion" is the usual outcome.

Anonymous . February 01, 2015 12:37 AM  

"by Anthony and Cleopatra it had become embarrassing."

She liked Caesar too much. He was really too much of a good thing in the later books. And once she lost him as a character, she really should have just quit at that point.

Blogger Cataline Sergius February 01, 2015 6:29 AM  

My own impression of Spartacus is that of a trained company grade officer, thrown in way over his head. Mind you that is just an impression, not empirical historical analysis, by any means. The original source material is sketchy at best.

However the punishment of Damnation in the Arena for a disgraced solider, is well documented for that period.

Kirk Douglas movies not withstanding, the life of a gladiator wasn't a bad one by first century BC standards,(* though possibly an intolerable one to a high born young man*). The surprising thing being there was a revolt at the ludus in first place.

Blogger Cataline Sergius February 01, 2015 6:44 AM  

...by Anthony and Cleopatra it had become embarrassing.

Indeed.

She was at her best in the series when she was treading on virgin ground. Lots of great material, just laying on the ground and only ancient history professors were playing with it. Part of the problem for the later books, is that she had nothing new or original to say on that period. It has been done to death, pretty much for the last two thousand years. You could tell she was trying to be historically accurate and have something original to say. In the end it proved impossible.

Antony and Cleopatra bears all the classic signs of an author who has just run out of steam on a project and is now only chugging along to collect a paycheck.

Anonymous RedJack February 01, 2015 10:57 PM  

The first few books in the "Masters of Rome" sent me off on a life long love of Roman history. I bought the first book on a whim with a gift certificate given to me by my old roommates crazy ex girlfriend. The books started well, but crashed at the end for what has been noted.

She will be missed.

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