Daniel Mendelsohn, who wrote the introduction to this new edition of John Williams' award-winning novel Augustus, discusses the book and Williams' body of work with novelist and critic William Giraldi.
In Augustus, the third of his great novels, John Williams took on an entirely new challenge, a historical novel set in classical Rome, exploring the life of the founder of the Roman Empire, whose greatness was matched by his brutality. To tell the story, Williams also turned to a genre, the epistolary novel, that was new to him, transforming and transcending it just as he did the western in Butcher’s Crossing and the campus novel in Stoner. Augustus is the final triumph of a writer who has come to be recognized around the world as an American master.
"John Williams re-creates the Roman Empire from the death of Julius Caesar to the last days of Augustus, the machinations of the court, the Senate, and the people, from the sickly boy to the sickly man who almost dies during expeditions to what would seem to be the ruthless ruler. He uses an epistolary, polylogic format, and in the end all these voices, like a collage, meld together around the main character. Monologue becomes action, but action never becomes character. Instead, an image of brutality questions its own origins. Read it in conjunction with Robert Graves’s more flamboyant Claudius and Claudius the God, Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil, and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian." —Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation
Daniel Mendelsohn, the author of the international bestseller The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, is an award-winning writer, critic and translator. His essays, reviews and articles appear in many publications, most frequently in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review, where he is a columnist for "Bookends." Formerly the weekly book critic for New York magazine, he is presently a Contributing Editor at Travel + Leisure.
William Giraldi teaches at Boston University and is Senior Fiction Editor for AGNI. His nonfiction and fiction have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Georgia Review, Bookforum, Southern Review, The Believer, Kenyon Review, Poets & Writers, Yale Review, The American Scholar, Antioch Review, TriQuarterly, and Salmagundi. His essay on amateur bodybuilding, “Freaky Beasts,” received a Pushcart Prize and was listed among Most Notable Essays in Best American Essays 2010. His essay “The Physics of Speed” was a finalist for a 2011 National Magazine Award. Giraldi lives in Boston with his wife and son.
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