Author Archives: lbujold

What’s New in the New Local History Room

It’s time to take a look at the Local History Room’s recent arrivals, and there are great picks to choose from.

FirstWish you were here : hand-tinted postcards from Winnipeg’s halcyon days by author and photographer Stan Milosevic is a treat for readers who delight in going through books of historical photography. Stan has collected historical postcards of Winnipeg for years and he shares a portion of it in this book with a selection that illustrates the city as it was around the turn of the 20th century.

Cover image for Our forgotten heritage : the streetcars of Winnipeg

Winnipeggers have had a long and strong relationship with public transit and for many years, until they were discontinued in 1955, its presence was embodied by streetcars. Our forgotten heritage : the streetcars of Winnipeg is not the first book ever published on the subject but it is one of the better illustrated and full of details.  This partly due to the fact that the book’s author, Brian Darragh, was a streetcar operator himself and wanted to share his experiences and the importance of streetcars to the growth of Winnipeg, especially before the first city buses appeared here after the First World War. His added personal observations and anecdotes make this a strong recommended read.

Notable trials from Manitoba’s legal history by Norm Larsen is the story of 15 trials that took place in the province within the span of a century, starting in 1845 with a murder trial where a man was convicted and executed in a matter of days, to the case of a man who was tried three times in twenty years for murder only to be finally declared innocent in the 1980s. Cases of national importance are also covered, such as the trial of Louis Riel’s government in the murder of Thomas Scott and the trial of the 1919 General Strike leaders, which is interesting because that aspect of the strike has gotten very little coverage in the history books. Each trial included says something about the legal context of its time; we see the evolution of legal justice from frontier society to present issues.


Winnipeg in the decade before the Second World War is the focus of Premonitions of War by Robert Young.  The author dedicates his book to “the memory of those who warned”, and it is notable that the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper, led by John Dafoe and his editorial team, was an early and isolated voice warning of the rise of Fascism, often running against the grain of those who preferred appeasement to confrontation in order to avoid war. The book benefits from good illustrations and original content from the pages of the Free Press, including political cartoons and even advertising of the time. It also covers other stories that were popular with Winnipeg readers like the Dust Bowl, the coronation and visit of the new British King or the Olympic Games.

 Farblonget in the Wilds of North Winnipeg is the biography of WWII veteran Winnipeg Free Press writer Wilfred Mindess told in a series of humorous vignettes filled with his personal experiences during the Great Depression, the war, the flood of 1950, and all the places he visited as a “newsman”.  It’s a fun, light read and a good reminder that the Local History Room makes stories from ordinary Manitobans like this one available to all.

Finally, an overdue book about one of Winnipeg’s local celebrities with Dancing Gabe: One Step at a Time by Daniel Perron. Gabriel Langlois had been a fixture of Winnipeg’s sporting scene long before he was christened Dancing Gabe in 1991 when Winnipeg Jets executive Mike O’Hearn spotted him energising the crowd with his dance moves and presented him with a jersey. The author was put in touch with Gabriel’s older brother and the idea to do a biographic work about the life of a superfan who is much more than that, and the many people who helped him on his journey after being diagnosed with autism as young child.

Come visit the Local History Room in its new location on the 4th floor of the Millennium Library to look at these, and other, great new titles.


Become a Maker


Have you ever heard of makerspaces?  Though the idea behind the word is not exactly new, it has become more and more mainstream.  A makerspace can take many forms to suit its users’ needs but the basic concept consists of space where people are offered the opportunity to come share their skills and knowledge to tinker, experiment, and create things.  It can mean computers with specialized programs used to record music or create movies.  It can be a programming room where younger library users are introduced to scientific concepts through educational games and workshops.  It can also mean any place where someone offers his/her expertise to teach various crafts and allow access to tools to let people make their own projects.

In the last few years, makerspaces have made their way into libraries nationwide as a tool to encourage lifelong learning with a fresh approach.  Like many libraries nationwide, the Winnipeg Public Library is looking into offering a makerspace of its own in the near future.  In the meantime, we offer books that can help inspire and help makers of all ages start their own maker projects, whatever the form.

Cover image for Makerspaces and hackerspaces

Makerspaces and Hackerspaces:  Makers as Innovators 21st Century Skills Innovation Library is a short and simple introduction to what a makerspace is about and who is a “maker,” gives examples of what can be done in them, and how to look for one in your community.  The book also offers a list of online resources to jump-start your maker imagination.

For more ambitious readers, author and maker Adam Kemp created the book The Makerspace Workbench : Tools, Technologies, and Techniques for making for everyone interested in using a makerspace or to even create one for themselves and their community; whether in a garage, school or a library!  The book covers the different tools needed and how to best use them along with instructions for fun projects to allow you to experiment and learn.

Cover image for Makerspaces : top trailblazing projects

In Makerpsaces: Top Trailblazing Projects, Caitlin Bagley examines nine makerspaces in public, academic, and school libraries in the United States. She describes their design and technical decisions, the process that each took to determine what form it would take, and shows how each space is doing something unique and different, under a wide range of budgets and project offerings.


Cover image for 3D printing

 Idiot’s Guides: 3D Printing can be useful.  In addition to providing instructions for fun projects, the guide also explains the different kinds of printers available and which to choose depending on what you want to use it for, troubleshooting tips for common problems with 3D printing.


Cover image for Getting started with Arduino

Getting Started with Arduino is about learning to use an Arduino board: a platform that can be connected to sensors, lights, motors and other devices that interact with their environment to create electronic projects, like a motion-activated light for example.  Through the book, you can learn about the basics of electricity and electronics and help readers to get up to speed with how Arduino works quickly so they can begin building projects.


Cover image for Build and program your own LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robots

A very popular maker item accessible to people of all ages interested in science and robotics are LEGO Mindstorm kits which allows the creation of programmable robots of all shapes and sizes without the need for soldering or wiring.  Build and Program Your Own LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Robots by Marziah Karch explains how to use regular LEGO blocks with “bricks” (programmable computers used for controlling the robots’ actions), sensors and motors.  The book includes projects with step-by-step instructions to try, but the real fun comes from using this knowledge to make your own creations.

Also of interest, the database LyndaLibrary  offers video courses on a multiple of topics including how to use software for 3D animation, film-making and music.

What would you like to do in a makerspace?  What related books/resources would you like to have available at the library?  Please share your ideas in the comment section.  Your feedback will help determine how our own makerspace will shape up.


Novel Destinations through TV Series and Films

While we are in the middle of the Novel Destinations Reading Game, I’d like to share a few recommendations for your viewing pleasure that will allow you to travel and discover (or re-discover) foreign destinations. Though the series and movies below are all fictional, the filming locations are all genuine and help set the tone of the stories, as well as often providing gorgeous visuals.

Outlander is a TV series that allows viewers to be transported not only to a new geographical location, but through time as well. While on her second honeymoon, ex-World War II nurse Claire Randall is sent back to the 1740s, in the middle of the Jacobite Uprising pitting Scottish clans against the British army. Forced to adapt to an unfamiliar world and caught between two hostile factions, Claire must learn to survive in harsh conditions, all while growing close to a young Highlander whose wounds she treated, and unwittingly becoming his clan’s healer. The Scottish locations are beautiful, as well as the historical pageantry. Recommended for fans of romance and action/adventure tales.

Cover image for Henning Mankell's Wallander [DVD videorecording]

In Henning Mankell’s Wallender, Sweden is almost a character in itself and helps shape a unique atmosphere, with many panoramic shots of summertime seaside coasts, urban landscapes and cold wintery forests.  In the town of Ystad, veteran Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team take on cases that reflect dark themes. The series portrays its characters as human beings, not perfect superheroes, doing their best in tough situations that leave no one involved unscathed – least of all Kurt himself, who takes most cases he works on quite personally. The pacing is slower and more contemplative than most North American TV series, but this also adds to the realism. The series and the novels they are based on have created a small tourist industry in Ystad, where locations and streets mentioned in the stories are promoted to visitors.

Cover image for Death in paradise. Season one [DVD videorecording]

Death in Paradise is another detective series which sees uptight, by-the-book but quite competent London detective Richard Poole move to the Caribbean island of Saint-Marie to investigate the death of his predecessor. This is a fish-out-of-water tale where the protagonist has to learn how to work in a police department with a fraction of the resources he once had at his disposal but aided by resourceful colleagues. There is very much a mystery-of-the-week formula with an emphasis on seemingly impossible crimes being resolved though deductive skills, but there is a good mix of humor, sunny settings and interesting characters. Richard’s yin is contrasted with local detective Camille Bordey’s yang, as they learn to play to each other’s strengths while often clashing due to their very different personalities.

Cover image for Jack Irish. Set 1 [DVD videorecording]

Melbourne is showcased prominently in the Australian series Jack Irish, whose titular protagonist’s life as an upscale defense lawyer was shattered by the murder of his wife. Years later, fighting his demons with gambling and alcohol, he now earns a living as a private detective and debt collector. Jack is forced to return to his former life when a former client is found dead, and while a loner, he will have to learn to rely on new friends, many of them with shady sides but not lacking humanity or even heroic qualities, to solve the case and try to rebuild his life.

Abouna  (meaning “our father”) is a French dramatic comedy taking place in the city of N’Djamena  in the African Republic of Chad, about two brothers, Amine and Tahir, who discover one day that their father has disappeared. While most villagers, including their mother, believe he just abandoned them, they set out to try to find him, even going as far as stealing film reels they believe he appeared in, until their mischief leads them to being sent to a Koranic school. Will they be able to escape? This coming-of-age story is very much from the point of view of the children, their hopes and illusions, and about learning responsibility to themselves and the people around them. This is a film for those interested in discovering realities as the film avoids easy answers or sentimental contrivances.

Present-day Moscow and Paris are the destinations of the French film The Concert and provide a bittersweet portrayal of post-Soviet Russian society as well as scenes of great musical beauty. Andrei Filipov used to be an acclaimed conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra until he was purged for refusing to fire his Jewish musicians during the 1980s. Thirty years later, he stumbles on an opportunity to play in Paris, if he can reform his orchestra (all its members having moved in their lives as best as they could) and gain the participation of a French violin virtuoso, Anne-Marie Jacquet, with whom he shares a mysterious connection. Overall the movie is a light comedy, but it also deals with serious topics like living with regrets and misfortune, and trying to heal old wounds by correcting past mistakes. Those who are fans of classical music (particularly Tchaikovsky) or just curious about present day Russia should have a look.

Even if you are staying put this summer, it doesn’t mean you can’t do a bit of travelling!


Novel Destinations for Armchair Travellers

Cover image for Novel destinations : literary landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West

In honour of the theme of the library’s summer reading game, Novel Destinations, this post is all about travelling to new destinations without leaving home. Starting June 29, adults can pick up a Novel Destinations game passport at any branch of Winnipeg Public Library. Play throughout the summer, and when you have completed a task from the passport, ask Library Staff for a ballot. All ballots will be entered into a prize draw for an iPad mini when the game wraps up in August. Check your branch for full details.

Cover image for Where the locals go : more than 300 places around the world to eat, play, shop, celebrate, and relax

Travelling for leisure is now available to an ever greater number of people, but it still requires money and time, which is not a given. This is why Travel Literature has continual appeal: one can experience the world through the experiences of others, and there is plenty to recommend from these recent library arrivals. First, it should go without saying that all library branches have great collections of up-to-date travel guides for destinations throughout the world. Such guides are useful to help one learn about popular attractions, good hotels, practical tips about the country to which you are going, and advice about how best to have a good time at the chosen destination. Where the Locals Go: More than 300 Places Around the World to Eat, Play, Shop, Celebrate, and Relax is different in that its authors went to hundreds of destinations around the globe in search of recommendations for best travel experiences from the people who live there.

Cover image for How to be the world's smartest traveler (and save time, money, and hassle)

If you need a book about how to prepare yourself to travel, How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle) by experienced travel expert Chris Elliott is what you are looking for. The author takes you through every step, from the best ways to plan a trip within your budget (what essentials to pack, what documents to bring, and how to choose insurance); what transportation to book (whether its by plane, cruise ship, or car); how to choose proper lodging (hotel or rental home); and how to stay safe and healthy, wherever your voyage takes you. Descriptions of worst case scenarios (lost luggage, missed flights) and suggestions on how best to deal with them are also included.

Cover image for Great journeys : travel the world's most spectacular routes.

What if you don’t know where you want to go on your next trip and are looking  for inspiration? Great Journeys: Travel the World’s Most Spectacular Routes is all about offering ideas for memorable trips, whether a road trip on Route 66 through the United States, train trek from Moscow to Beijing via the trans-Siberian railway, or a sea voyage through Norway’s fjords. You can follow the trail of Che Guevara’s motorcycle odyssey trough Latin America or even Homer’s Odyssey in the Mediterranean. Many of these suggestions are quite ambitious and may appeal only to the more adventurous (not to mention richer) travellers, but reading about ancient trade and pilgrimage routes is in itself rewarding, and the book is also filled with gorgeous photography and fascinating historical information about explorers and the people who have made the journeys.

For the armchair traveller who is also a fan of famous authors, a fitting recommendation is Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West. The book’s first half takes the reader to the places that were once the homes and stomping grounds of writers like William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, and provides contact information for museums and other institutions where travellers can visit and be inspired. The other half is dedicated to helping one find the locations that were featured in works of literature: places like restaurants, hotels, and libraries that the authors themselves often frequented.  Lists of walking tours and festivals honouring particular authors are also included.

Cover image for 100 places you will never visit : the world's most secret locations

Another great feature of travel literature is that it allows you to explore more off-the-beaten-track destinations that may not be listed in your travel brochures.  The book 100 Places You Will Never Visit goes to the extreme and invites you to catch a brief glimpse of the most secret and/or inaccessible locations on earth.  Some of the featured locales are pretty well known: the fabled Area 51, the Vatican archives, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the Tower of London Jewel House, and Air Force One, to name a few. Some more obscure destinations are included as well: Snake Island (as the name indicates, it is filled with deadly snakes), the Google Data Centre in Oregon (where their servers are), and La Basse Cour farm in Belgium (where the biggest unexploded First World War mine is still lying underground). Each location has a brief description that explains its secrecy and/or lack of accessibility to the public.

Cover image for National geographic guide to the world's supernatural places : more than 250 spine-chilling destinations around the globe

Though travelling usually entails relaxation and fun, others do it to get their adrenaline flowing and one way to obtain it is through fright. Ghost tours in major cities with a history of otherworldly creatures and spirits have become very popular, and this is the subject of Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places by Sarah Bartlett. The guide showcases 250 destinations filled with history and folklore, including haunted castles, mysterious landmarks, sacred sites, and even alien visitations hot spots. Though some of the legends are quite macabre, readers interested in legendary creatures and secret orders from all continents and cultures will learn a lot and many of these places have become popular tourist attractions.

What about you? Where has your reading taken you?


What’s new in Science Fiction?

Cover image for Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy's greatest science fiction

Even though I grew up assiduously reading and watching science-fiction, I am more a reader of non-fiction these days.  But every now and then, it’s pleasant to go back to one’s “roots” and discover what you have missed.

An excellent title to discover or re-explore the genre in all its shapes and forms is Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy’s greatest science fiction.  This comprehensive volume provides examples of the greatest works from every country in the world, from the 19th century to the present, citing the important classics and their influence on culture and society through books and their adaptations in movies and television, followed by comics and even video games.  There are articles about famous writers (of every media), descriptions of the popular themes that were explored by science-fiction throughout history and lots of great illustrations and photographs.  Overall this is an excellent reference book accessible to everyone.

Cover image for Year zero : a novel  Cover image for Redshirts

Dystopian fiction is a very popular theme in science-fiction, and for good reasons, but it is refreshing to find titles that can include comedy.

In Rob Reid’s Year Zero, an everyman entertainment lawyer discovers that we are not alone in the universe. It is in fact filled with alien civilizations and earth songs have been smash hits with them for decades.  That’s the good news; the bad news is that earth copyright laws would bankrupt the entire inhabited universe and many see the destruction of humanity as the most expedient (and cheapest) solution.  It is up to our hero and two extraterrestrial visitors (disguised as a nun and a mullah) to find a solution while avoiding being eliminated by less-friendly alien agents.  For those who are thinking Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is definitely a resemblance but with a lot more pop culture humor.

Likewise, the pleasure of reading Redshirts by John Scalzi is the self-aware humor based on the concept of expendable “extras” that start to realize their true role and try to escape their pre-assigned fate.  An ensign newly posted on the starship Intrepid realizes the high mortality rate of low-level crew members that accompany the higher officers on away missions (who always manage to survive – sound familiar?).  His fellow crewmates all suspect something fishy is going on, but when Ensign Dahl uncovers the truth, it threatens to unravel everything he believes about his existence.  The story makes fun of a lot of classic shows and their conventions, and if you are fan of Star Trek, you will nod more than once at the inside jokes and commentaries.

Cover image for Influx

On a more serious note, Influx  by Daniel Suarez mixes conspiracy and futuristic element.  The book’s premise is that our current civilization is far more advanced technologically than we suspect.  A group called the Bureau of Technology Control has been working in the shadows to keep revolutionary inventions from being publically revealed and made available to humanity “for its own good”, thus keeping humanity artificially stunted by decades.  The main hero the book, a physicist who is on the cusp of inventing something revolutionary is “eliminated” under the guise of a terrorist plot.  In fact, he is given the choice of working for the Bureau and join the conspiracy, or live the rest of his life imprisoned in a secret facility.  But he has no intention to take either options and set about changing humanity’s future.

Cover image for SecondWorld

In SecondWorld, it is an old enemy that threatens to rise again and set about the destruction of humanity as we know it.  Lincoln Miller, an NCIS agent sent to an underwater facility near Miami returns to the surface to an horrifying reality: his city, and others around the globe have been covered with a film of red particles that has killed all life by absorbing the oxygen from the air.  As the apparent sole survivor to look for an explanation to the disaster he comes to learn that it is merely the beginning of a doomsday plan set in motion in 1945 to bring about a new world order.  This is for fans of quick-paced action and high-stakes thrillers.

Cover image for Blindsight

Blindsight by Peter Watts offers a scenario resembling first contact with extraterrestrial life, but with a very unique terrestrial crew.  In the late 21st century, the earth is briefly approached by what seems to be alien probes which leads humanity to a signal originating from the edge of the solar system.  A ship is sent to investigate equipped with an advanced artificial intelligence, crewed by individuals with unique gifts and traits including a “vampire” linguistic officer, a cyborg biologist, a man with only half a brain but with an amazing gift for predicting the behavior of others and another with multiple personalities.  Will they be able to contact and understand what is truly alien?  The novel explores the concept of transhumans (augmented or altered humanity) and consciousness (human and otherwise) and how one can define these things.  This is a more challenging read but explores fascinating questions.

Cover image for Fiddlehead : a novel of the Clockwork Century

As a long-time fan of both the steampunk and alternate history genres, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series of novels come as a treat that I highly recommend.  The stories take place in a United States still in the throes of civil war well into the 1880’s, where retro-futuristic inventions have spread both progress and carnage.  In Fiddlehead, Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd must help the inventor of a prototype computer to find allies on both sides of the conflict in order to stop a zombie plague from spreading to the entire continent while war profiteers are determined to extend the conflict for as long as they can.  The mixing of historical settings and characters (including here ex-president Lincoln, still very much alive) with futuristic machines is always a joy to read.

What would you like to recommend for good sci-fi reading?


What’s New for Genealogists?

Cover image for How to do everything. Genealogy  Cover image for Finding your roots : easy-to-do genealogy and family history

There are new and exciting titles for family history enthusiasts at the library as well as new trends in the field of genealogy itself.  There has never been a time where high quality tools and information were as easily accessible to so many who want to do family research.  More information is continually being made available through digital collections (like the Ancestry Plus database available on-site in all our libraries) and on the Web on a daily basis.  Also, the capacity to collaborate with other like-minded people from all over the world has greatly expanded the ability to trace back your ancestry much farther in time than ever before.  However; genealogy remains just as frustrating as it is exhilarating. It requires patience, good problem-solving skills and a strong research methodology if you hope to find what you’re looking for.  So whether you are just starting have experience in the field, here are some resources and books that could help you in your progress.

Every genealogist started off as a beginner, but luckily there are plenty of resources at the library to help you figure out how best to start.  A definite recommendation for an introductory book is the How to Do Everything series volume about genealogy.  This title comes close to covering every step a new genealogist should take in their research: starting small with finding and organizing family documents, interviewing relatives and asking the right questions.  Then it moves to government records and shows how these were compiled, what kind of information you can hope to find in them and how best to gain access.  The book is highly versatile because it includes sections dealing with Canadian sources, as well as British and American ones.  It also illustrates how to search new online databases for best results as well as more traditional institutions like archives and libraries.

Finding your Roots : easy-to-do genealogy and family history, takes a more intimate approach to genealogy.  An important aspect that author Janice Shultz touches on are the motivations that fuels the passion for genealogy: a search for pride, a belonging to something greater than oneself.  How an individual’s sense of identity is linked to his or her ancestors, the greater understanding of larger historical events that can be brought through personal family narratives and experiences.  While the greater part of the book’s information focuses on U.S. records, there are sections for Canadian and other nationalities as well.

Cover image for Mastering census & military records  Cover image for Mastering online genealogy

If you are in need of works that deal with a specific type of genealogical records, the Quillen’s Essentials of Genealogy series is a new arrival that will be very useful for anyone needing help in using specific types of records, like Mastering Census & Military Records or Mastering Online Genealogy for example.

Cover image for Advanced genealogy research techniques

Now you may have moved beyond the basics, but almost every genealogist will encounter what are commonly known as “brick walls”: missing or contradictory information that blocks your progress.  Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques is aimed at readers who are beyond the basics and need help solving problems and offers innovative strategies to keep you moving forward.  Crowdsourcing, asking for assistance from like-minded individuals and organizations through online message boards or forums, is discussed as well as the science of DNA testing, a relatively new but increasingly popular method to trace one’s lineage genetically and estimate relatedness between two or more individuals.

Cover image for The juggler's children : a journey into family, legend and the genes that bind us

Equally interesting are the stories the experiences and dilemmas genealogists encounter in their search for the truth about their ancestors.  Sometimes the information gleaned in your research can reveal unpleasant truths and shatter some family’s myths, after all it is unlikely that all our ancestors lived their lives without leaving a few skeletons.  Carolyn Abraham, the author of The Juggler’s Children: a Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us, tells of her quest to explore her mixed ancestry using DNA testing and find out about her Great-Grandfathers, both from very different backgrounds and their pasts shrouded in mystery.  Her search led to her through India, China, Europe and Jamaica and she also takes the time to explain the different ways that DNA can be used to trace back different ancestors (different methods for male and female relatives, for example) and take genealogists in directions impossible with traditional records.

Cover image for Family tree. The complete first season [DVD videorecording]

Finally, if you are not interested in doing your family history yourself, but have an interest in the topic, I would recommend the comedy series Family Tree  (with Chris O’Dowd in the main role), about an average Englishman who sets out to discover his roots and try to gain a sense of who he is after inheriting a box of artefacts from a dead relative.  If you have watched the series Curb Your Enthusiasm, this show and its type of humour will be familiar to you (but with an added genealogy story arc tying each episodes).

In addition to books and online resources, the Winnipeg Public Library hosts genealogy workshops on various topics throughout the year, so keep checking the Library newsletter for schedules.


Fiction Set in Ancient Rome

First edition cover 

The past is said to be another country, and thus historical fiction fascinates because it has the power to transport us into different worlds.  If one goes all the way back to Antiquity, the transition can be quite jarring for the reader, and yet fascinating because while people will always be people in so many ways, the culture and belief structures was very different than our own.  For five hundred years, Roman society was a cradle democratic government (alongside Greece of course).  But Rome quickly grew from a city-state to cover an area so vast and its government corrupt and inefficient that the republic ended up being replaced by an Imperial state with a series of autocratic rulers.

I have been a fan of Robert Harris since I read Fatherland, and he has written a trilogy centered on the life of the great Roman orator Cicero entitled Imperium.  The first volume of this fictional biography is told form the viewpoint of his secretary (and slave), writing of his master’s first steps as a provincial outsider and his rise as an orator and philosopher before going into politics and fulfilling his goal of becoming one of the most influential Consul in Roman history.  Though it is not light reading, it provides the reader with an insider view of the Roman government, its key players, and their struggles for absolute power.   A believer in republican ideals despite his own personal ambitions, Cicero would witness the civil war that would bring Julius Caesar to become dictator, as well as his downfall.

Masters of Rome is a series of novels by author Colleen McCullough, set during the last days of the old Roman Republic.  It is one of the best series of fiction for those interested in learning in depth about what it was like to live in ancient Roman society.  The books come complete with maps, timelines, and glossaries of Latin terms used, which allows even newcomers to stay with story.  The cast of The First Man in Rome is large, a who’s who of the figures that helped shape what was the “known world” of last century B.C., but it centers on the rise of general and statesman Gaius Marius and the power struggle that pitted him against the conservative aristocracy, most of whom regarded him as an upstart plebe.  Though Marius and his wife Sulla’s alliance was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the empire, the series is told by people of all classes and walks of life.  The author takes great care in respecting historical accuracy but also makes it fun and exciting to read, both for the personal dramas as well as the larger history lesson.

Cover image for Mistress of Rome Cover image for Under the eagle : a tale of military adventure and reckless heroism with the Roman legions

If you are more interested in the Roman world of its ordinary citizens (and non-citizens), there are series like Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn.  Thea is a slave girl from Judea, who survived the sacking of Jerusalem only to be sold to a Roman heiress.  Thanks to her wits and musical skills, she becomes her mistress’ rival for the love of a gladiator, and eventually confidante to Emperor Domitian himself.  If you enjoyed the HBO miniseries Rome, you will be in your element in this story, with action, drama, and romance included in the mix.

The Eagle series by Simon Scarrow focuses upon two main protagonists:  grizzled veteran Quintus Licinius Cato and the more bookish newbie Lucius Cornelius Macro, who are both Roman soldiers taking part in the invasion and occupation of Britain by Julius Ceasar.  This series is for fans of adventure/military tales with lots of action.

Even though Roman society did not have “detectives”, they did have delators – private informers who reported crimes to the courts.  I was unaware until recently of how vast a selection of detective fiction is set in Antiquity, and they offer a refreshing variation on the Victorian/contemporary stories.

Cover image for The silver pigs : [a Marcus Didius Falco novel]   Cover image for SPQR X : a point of law

Marcus Didius Falco is known as “The Informer” and is the narrator in a series of historical mystery novels by Lindsey Davis set in Imperial Rome during the reign of Vespasia.  The tales read much like our more modern detective novels and Falco’s description of his world is tinged with cynicism and, more surprisingly, a good dose of humor.  Of humble Plebeian origins, Falco has to endure grim trials and misfortunes, and he often has to rely on his fists as much as his wits to get out of situations alive.  In his first adventure, entitled The Silver Pigs, he is plunged into a political conspiracy involving stolen silver ingots (also known as “pigs”) and the murder of a senator’s niece.  If you do get hooked on the series, it is interesting to note that Falco’s daughter, Flavia Albia, eventually takes up the mantle of her father in later volumes.

In his acclaimed SPQR mystery series, John Maddox Roberts takes Readers back to the late days of the Republic.  Decius the Younger is a more cultivated “finder” than Falco, and comes from a powerful family and is involved with such figures as Pompey and Caesar.  Despite being another veteran, he relies more on his brain and wit rather than his brawn to resolve problems.  He also has the help of several interesting companions during his investigations, including slaves, a gladiator/physician, and a crooked political agitator.   His adventures are told in flashback form as he is writing his memoirs at the time of Octavian’s reign.  In A Point of Law, Decius, now raised to the rank of senator, must defend himself against accusations of corruption and even murder, while exploring some of the roots that led to the collapse of the republic’s political system.

If you are looking for something “new” and different in your leisure reading, I encourage you to have a look.