John Williams was a major force in fiction for a decade, regarded in the same light as luminaries such as Bellow, Roth, and Updike. His novel of politics and corruption in ancient Rome was relevant in 1972 and remains today as a fictional study of how power always becomes a destructive force.— From Bill's 2016 picks and older
WINNER OF THE 1973 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
By the Author of Stoner
In Augustus, his third great novel, John Williams took on an entirely new challenge, a historical narrative set in classical Rome, exploring the life of the founder of the Roman Empire. To tell the story, Williams turned to the epistolary novel, a genre 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.
About the Author
John Williams (1922–1994) was born and raised in northeast Texas. Despite a talent for writing and acting, Williams flunked out of a local junior college after his first year. He reluctantly joined the war effort, enlisting in the Army Air Corps, and managed to write a draft of his first novel while there. Once home, Williams found a small publisher for the novel and enrolled at the University of Denver, where he was eventually to receive both his B.A. and M.A., and where he was to return as an instructor in 1954.
He remained on the staff of the creative writing program at the University of Denver until his retirement in 1985. During these years, he was an active guest lecturer and writer, editing an anthology of English Renaissance poetry and publishing two volumes of his own poems, as well as three novels, Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and the National Book Award–winning Augustus (all published as NYRB Classics).
Daniel Mendelsohn was born in 1960 and studied classics at the University of Virginia and at Princeton, where he received his doctorate. His essays and reviews appear regularly in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review. His books include The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; a memoir, The Elusive Embrace; and the collection Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, published by New York Review Books. He teaches at Bard College.
“The finest historical novel ever written by an American.” —The Washington Post
“[In Augustus] 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 format, and in the end all these voices, like a collage, meld together around the main character . . . Read it in conjunction with Robert Graves’s more flamboyant I, Claudius and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian.” —Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation
“A novel of extraordinary range, yet of extraordinary minuteness, that manages never to sacrifice one quality for the other.” —Financial Times
“Williams has fashioned an always engaging, psychologically convincing work of fiction—a consistent and well-realized portrait.” —Thomas Lask, The New York Times
"Readers of both Stoner and Butcher’s Crossing will here encounter an altogether new version of the John Williams they’ve come to know: Augustus is an epistolary novel set in classical Rome. It’s a rare genius who can reinvent himself in his final work and earn high praise for doing so." —The Millions
"Augustus is gripping, brimming with life." —Dan Piepenbring, The Paris Review Daily
“This novel of an aged emperor will be intensely illuminating to anyone who is ready to put modern morality aside for a moment in order to acquire a little knowledge of himself or herself … The genius of this astonishing American writer is that he shows how lives that seem utterly strange can be very like our own.” —John Gray, New Statesman