I started listening to podcasts at just the right time: There was a minor explosion of good historical subjects going on. This was largely due to Mike Duncan, and his History of Rome podcast. Not that you can tell by listening to the very early episodes; it took a while for his delivery to loosen up and become a very good podcast.

But it did become a very good podcast, and so is his later Revolutions podcast. So, I’m a little embarrassed that it’s taken me seven years to read his first book, especially since its a look at a period of Roman history that needs more attention.

And hey, Mike Duncan agrees with me, it’s why he wrote this particular book. This is a popular history book, and even less dense than most of those. It’s not particularly long, coming in at 265 pages in hardcover.

But, then there’s extensive endnotes, and a lengthy index. While this is geared to someone just taking an interest in history, all the tools to dig deeper are provided. In fact, the endnotes are particularly geared at getting you to the relevant primary sources. This is great place to begin if you want to develop an interest in the period. (One entry in the index, “murders”, then references eleven people killed in his narrative, and then cross-references to “killings, political”, with another seven sub-entries.)

And I should mention that period covers from the first real crisis of the Republic, the rise of the Gracchi brothers, and gives some nice background to the social forces at play at the time. From there, Duncan goes on to events in Africa and Spain, with Jugurtha rising to power, and the troubles in Spain leading to the siege of Numantia, and then to Marius and Sulla, whose attempt to rework the Republic into something more stable concludes the book (along with Duncan’s thoughts on why it didn’t work). So, for those of you used to McCullough’s Master of Rome series, the first half of this is before the series, and covers everything she talks about from before the first book, through the first three books of the series.

Duncan’s prose is very readable, the contents very informative, and overall he takes as neutral a stance as possible on what unfolds in his pages. Even if you’ve read up on Roman history, 146–78 BC is a period you may know much about, and this is a very good starter book on the period.