This one is different. It’s essentially historical fiction, but with much more historical and much less fiction. If you like historical fiction, you’ll probably like it. If you strongly prefer pure fiction, you might pass on this one.
The First Man in Rome focuses on two characters with strong ties to Julius Caesar, but predating him: Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Marius, being the titular First Man, gets the main protagonist role, but Sulla gets plenty of ink himself.
McCullough gathered a considerable amount of research on the pair, spanning a decade at the height of Marius’ career. The sheer effort and meticulousness that task must have required is worthy of applause on its own, but to fill in that history with dialogue and sensible bridges comes across as a work of love.
Still, there isn’t much dialogue and bridging, so I can see how some might get turned off to it. I would describe it as a Ken Burns documentary with a tighter focus on particular characters. Or a memoir peppered with letters and transcripts of private conversations.
If that’s not your cup of tea, I understand. Still, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
4.5 out of 5 stars