Robert Graves's "I, Claudius" transports us back to an Ancient Rome whirling with intrigue, grandeur, and violence. Told from the point of view of Claudius (before he became emperor), this book covers the period of time from Julius Caesar to the ascension of Claudius. Graves draws on historical sources as well as his fertile imagination to bring the members of the imperial family to life, painting particularly stunning portraits of Livia, Tiberius, and Caligula. Graves does an excellent job of helping us keep all the names and relationships straight as we delve into the depraved lifestyles of the Roman elite. All the sex scandals, wild spending, gambling on chariot races, and murders... certainly gave me a longer-view historical perspective on our comparatively tame current political situation! And Livia! My understanding is that there isn't firm historical evidence for all of the poisonings and assassinations that Livia carried out, but damn.
Claudius narrates the book in a delightful tone, full of witty observations, backhanded compliments, and snide quips throughout. The publication date - 1934 - of this book surprised me. Graves's style felt quite modern and natural. And while he may have taken some interpretive liberties with Roman history, his book really helped me get a handle on the complex dynamics of that turbulent period in Roman history. I'm looking forward to reading his followup book, "Claudius the God." The audiobook narration is excellently done as well.