The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar

Written by Peter Stothard
Review by Kristen Hannum

From its first pages, The Last Assassin is a trustworthy and compelling read, qualities the best histories share.

I thought I’d dipped enough into classical history (OK, and Shakespeare) to understand how the Roman Republic ended and became a dictatorship—even though Julius Caesar, who had made himself dictator for life, died. Reading The Last Assassin was a wonderful exercise in discovering how little I really knew.

The author, Peter Stothard, follows Julius Caesar’s 13 assassins through the days, months and years following their deed. He also sets the stage and walks us through the assassination, with Caesar crying out “Ista quidem vis est!” — “Why this is violence!” Then the tenuous aftermath, the assassins waiting for praise that never arrived, Cicero’s support coming to nothing. Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son and heir, hunted down the assassins and their supporters in the years 43 BC to 30 BC. The last survivor, Cassius Parmensis, who fled to Athens to escape Octavian’s wrath “after the assassination that failed to change the world” begins and ends the story.

It’s a history of power politics at its most brutal, with sides of the poetry, philosophy, place, wealth, and battles that drove its characters—helpfully listed in three groups (assassins, supporters, and avengers) at the book’s beginning.

This is the opposite of dry history. It’s filled with vivid scenes of places and people.

Stothard has impressive credentials. He’s the only journalist to have been both editor of The Times and the Times Literary Supplement. He was also the U.S. editor of The Times. He wrote a book about Tony Blair, but his next two books combined memoir with history. And he knows his Latin.

I’ve discovered new authors through the Historical Novel Society several times, authors I’ve come to love. Stothard is my newest find. Recommended.