Readers of this magazine need no introduction to Frank McLynn. They know him as a reviewer ready to tackle a huge variety of subjects, from film to psychoanalysis to obscure periods of history, and to write with lively and opinionated authority on all of them. His career as a biographer and historian has also been remarkable. Disdaining the restrictions that conscientious academic historians impose on themselves – ‘not my period’ – he has written on subjects ranging from the Jacobites to Jung, from Robert Louis Stevenson to Napoleon, from Pancho Villa and Zapata to Richard the Lionheart and his brother John Lackland. Now he has turned to the ancient world with a biography of Marcus Aurelius, last of the Five Good Emperors in the age of the Antonines, soldier and philosopher, and author of the Meditations, which influenced Pascal and John Stuart Mill, and were quoted by Jeeves to the bemusement of Bertie Wooster.
Marcus Aurelius, whose statue imposingly confronts tourists mounting the steps of the Capitol in Rome, is, McLynn asserts, undoubtedly the greatest of Roman Emperors, though he adds characteristically that this is no great praise since most of them were frightful. (Sweeping judgements are part of the charm of