Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #220: Et Tu, Brute? by Jason Novak

Can a high concept be brilliant? Can an idea be just so perfect for its form and execution that, even though it seems to be based on a glib idea, it's precisely what it should be?

I'd like to think so: I'd like to think any kind of artform, even ones so commercial as Cheap Impulse Purchases Stacked by the Cash-Wrap, can be done brilliantly. To believe that anything can be as good as the time and energy and thought and enthusiasm its creator pours into it.

You might not want to go that far: that's OK. But Et Tu, Brute? is pretty darn fun no matter how you  characterize it.

Here's the pitch, courtesy of cartoonist Jason Novak: for nearly five hundred years, Roman Emperors died, often in strange or unusual ways. There were a lot of them, too! Imagine a book with an amusing drawing of each dying emperor with a quick explanation of who killed him and how!

(Yes, a few emperors managed to die of natural causes. But, statistically, the average Roman emperor was fed poised food and then stabbed in the back by someone from his army.)

Novak made that book: every emperor from Augustus [1] (who was fed poisoned figs by his wife Livia in 14 AD) to Romulus Augustulus (who survived the conquest of the empire by the Goth Odoacer and whose death is unrecorded) get a page to die on and a lovely expressive inky drawing in which he does die. That's it: just the emperors of Rome -- none of those Byzantine pretenders here! -- in order and in their last moments.

It's a fun, amusing book, suitable to be made into a party game -- collect all of the poisoned emperors! gather a set of murdered-by-his-generals! -- and a book which may actually teach you some pointless trivia that you didn't know before.

[1] Julius Caesar basically codified the powers of the Roman emperors, and definitely ended the republic, but he was never actually named emperor. His nephew was.

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