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Capsule Review

The War for Gaul: A New Translation

In This Review

The War for Gaul: A New Translation
The War for Gaul: A New Translation
By Julius Caesar. Translated by James J. O’Donnell
Princeton University Press, 2019, 324 pp. Purchase

Julius Caesar’s war stories are so associated with Latin textbooks that they tend to get forgotten as contributions to military history. Originally dispatches sent back to the Senate in Rome, they explained how well Caesar was doing in his battles with a variety of rugged foes. They aimed to boost Caesar’s reputation as a great general and support his bid for power, but they also serve as useful records of events, if not quite the unvarnished truth. O’Donnell has produced a vigorous, modern, and uncluttered translation, removing sections added to the commentaries by later authors and adding few footnotes. He encourages readers to focus on the candor and cruelty with which Caesar describes his victories and his negotiations with foreign leaders. In a jaunty introduction, O’Donnell demonstrates how to appreciate the book as a major contribution to martial literature while deploring its morals. This is, he declares, “the best bad man’s book ever written.”

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