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How to Be a Bad Emperor

An Ancient Guide to Truly Terrible Leaders

Ed. by Osgood, Josiah

Series:Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers


    39,95 € / $45.00 / £35.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
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    To be published:
    February 2020
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    Aims and Scope

    What would Caligula do? What the worst Roman emperors can teach us about how not to lead

    If recent history has taught us anything, it's that sometimes the best guide to leadership is the negative example. But that insight is hardly new. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Suetonius wrote Lives of the Caesars, perhaps the greatest negative leadership book of all time. He was ideally suited to write about terrible political leaders; after all, he was also the author of Famous Prostitutes and Words of Insult, both sadly lost. In How to Be a Bad Emperor, Josiah Osgood provides crisp new translations of Suetonius's briskly paced, darkly comic biographies of the Roman emperors Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. Entertaining and shocking, the stories of these ancient anti-role models show how power inflames leaders' worst tendencies, causing almost incalculable damage.

    Complete with an introduction and the original Latin on facing pages, How to Be a Bad Emperor is a both a gleeful romp through some of the nastiest bits of Roman history and a perceptive account of leadership gone monstrously awry. We meet Caesar, using his aunt's funeral to brag about his descent from gods and kings—and hiding his bald head with a comb-over and a laurel crown; Tiberius, neglecting public affairs in favor of wine, perverse sex, tortures, and executions; the insomniac sadist Caligula, flaunting his skill at cruel put-downs; and the matricide Nero, indulging his mania for public performance.

    In a world bristling with strongmen eager to cast themselves as the Caesars of our day, How to Be a Bad Emperor is a delightfully enlightening guide to the dangers of power without character.


    General/trade;Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

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    Josiah Osgood is professor and chair of classics at Georgetown University and the author of many books, including Rome and the Making of a World State, 150 BCE–20 BCE. He lives in Washington, DC.


    "If you're fascinated by the Roman emperorsand who isn't?you'll enjoy this clever and expertly translated set of selections from the granddaddy of all Caesar watchers, Suetonius."—Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine

    "This enticing selection from Suetonius's Lives highlights the role of four Roman emperors as anti-role models—egregious examples of how not to behave, which may also resonate with more recent political leaders."—Catharine Edwards, author of Death in Ancient Rome

    "Readers of this evocative translation will immediately see the power of Suetonius's Lives, the acuity of his descriptions, and the immediate relevance of his study of individual characters and their leadership qualities. How to Be a Bad Emperor is a unique and appealing book."—Edward J. Watts, author of Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny

    "In the present crisis of leadership, How to Be a Bad Emperor is quite delicious. What continues to make Suetonius's rogues' gallery of Roman rulers worthwhile as well as entertaining is what he has to say about power as an enabler of human awfulness, at every level."—Cynthia Damon, editor and translator of Caesar's Civil War

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