By chance, I picked up and read Tom Holland's "Rubicon", subtitled 'The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic'. This is a fascinating book, which starts with the foundation of Rome and winds up with the death of Augustus Caesar and the end of the republic. It paints a very harsh picture of the city of Rome and the Roman way of life, a remarkable picture of men and women of extraordinary capability who are out for their own glory at the expense of friend and family and who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. It is extremely readable.
I say, by chance, because my decision to read "Rubicon" came only a week or so before the premier episode of HBO's "Rome", which covers much of the same ground, but beginning with Julius Caesar's victory over the Gauls and the civil war between Julius and Pompey. The miniseries is touted as bringing to the fore an unglorified picture of Rome and Roman life, much as Holland's book does.
Having just seen the first of the series, which I enjoyed, I can appreciate the similarities between the book and the show, although I know of no direct connection. And, had I not read "Rubicon", I am sure that my appreciation of the episode #1 would have been much diminished.
The picture of Rome and the Romans both in the book and on television clearly come after a lot of research on the topic. How different from another book on Julius Caesar (obviously there have been many), the fictionalized version found in Thornton Wilder's "The Ides of March".
I happen to have a copy of that book, which has been annotated in some detail by Wilder himself. His Rome is different from Holland's. And clearly came with no heavy research background. As Wilder notes in the margin at the start of the book:
"It looks as though this book required a lot of historical learning on the part of the reader (and of the author) -- Horsefeathers. I knew no more than anyone who happened to read a book on the later Roman republic. I began and made it all up as I went along. Later, I went back to the libraries and cleaned it up a little. I simply assumed that people have been around the same in all times and places."
Different strokes for different folks.