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Marcus Aurelius


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Frank McLynn is the author of many critically acclaimed biographies, including Richard & John and Napoleon. He has been a visiting professor at Strathclyde University. He lives in England.


Pat Buchanan once said that George W. Bush was no Marcus Aurelius, while Bill Clinton claimed that he read and reread Aurelius' Meditations as president. McLynn, author of biographies of figures from Napoleon to Jung, argues that the emperor and Stoic philosopher satisfies a thirst for guidance that modern philosophers have largely abandoned. But McLynn fails to make his case in a book that veers between biography and a defense of an emperor more famous for his words than for his actions. Drawing on Aurelius' Meditations, letters with his tutor and other ancient sources of disputed authenticity, McLynn ploddingly narrates Aurelius' rise to emperor in 161 C.E.-a role to which he was, McLynn acknowledges, temperamentally unsuited-and the challenges he faced, mostly unsuccessfully, during his 19-year reign. Attempting to protect the Roman Empire from the German barbarians, for example, he gave land to these foreign tribes. This strategy backfired, creating new economic and social divisions. Marcus Aurelius emerges from McLynn's biography as a disappointing political figure who could do nothing to unite the Roman Empire in its waning days and who remains most memorable for his aphorisms, such as "By a tranquil mind I mean a well-ordered one." 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

The life of this Roman emperor and stoic philosopher, author of the Meditations, remains relevant (President Clinton claimed to have read him while in office). In this interesting account of Marcus's life and writings, McLynn (Richard and John: Kings at War) clearly mines his own published expertise on other persons and eras for comparisons-more than are really useful, but they provide helpful road maps to readers unfamiliar with the arcane world of the Antonine emperors. With his frequent digressions, and his evident enjoyment in arguing, McLynn's book is too long, but he does provide a substantial introduction to a man who "still speaks to us today." While recommended for lovers of history, philosophy, and things Greco-Roman, this Marcus Aurelius may defeat general readers. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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