Required Reading for The Ides of March


“Beware the ides of March,” said the soothsayer to Julius Caesar in a certain Shakespeare play. The silver-haired Italian historian, archaeologist, and European TV personality Valerio Massimo Manfredi wrote a book titled The Ides of March (Idi di marzo) a few years ago, but a better option is Thorton Wilder’s 1948 epistolary novel by the same title, which is set in Rome during Caesar’s reign. Wilder referred to it as “a fantasia on certain events and persons of the last days of the Roman republic.” With this in mind, we decided to do a roundup of books on treachery and deceit in honor of this fateful day in history. The books fall into two categories: military and strategic deceit, or duplicitous relationships. Many times, though, there are components of both at work. All is fair in love and war, we suppose.

Augustus by John Edward Williams

Williams writes an apocryphal coming of age tale in the life of Octavius Caesar, following the assassination of his uncle, Julius. Corrupt members of the Senate begin to conspire against young Caesar as they vied for control of the Roman Empire. Through a series of fictional letters, journal entries, and dispatches to the front, we see a sheltered boy adjust to his newfound power in order to become the first and arguably the most well-known Roman emperor in history.

Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War by Tammy M. Proctor

From debutante informants to auxiliaries on the front lines, Proctor details the range of experiences British women had leading up to and during the Great War. She points to the fact that despite their essential contributions, women earned half as much as their male counterparts, and were often hired as temporary workers. However, this book is not only an investigation of women’s contributions to British intelligence-gathering efforts — it also debunks the classic myth of women being at the periphery during conflict. Martha McKenna is quoted as saying, “I was a Secret Service agent, not a ridiculous young girl.”

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

The incredible story of World War II double agent Eddie Chapman, AKA Agent Zigzag, is aided by recently declassified British government documents and the deft hand of Macintyre, a historian and a columnist for the Times.Chapman was a criminal in the UK and his gift was cracking safes with stolen explosives. In the early 40s, he trained to be a spy for the Germans in occupied France and received a load of cash from the Nazi government for his efforts. But Chapman wasn’t satisfied with the job at hand, and contacted the MI5 (British Secret Service) in order to work both sides. He traipsed around Europe spreading disinformation and occasionally bedding beautiful women, and later claimed to have earned the coveted Iron Cross for his bravery on behalf of the Nazi government.

Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia

During this twenty-year period, from the 1980s to the 2000s, a group of gay men from different backgrounds fall in and out of love as they lose the key political ideals that shaped the era. The narrator, Elizabeth Lavellois, follows them along for the ride, documenting the AIDS epidemic as it spreads, as well as the limits of freedom. Paris Review party-boy Lorin Stein and Marion Duvert translated Garcia’s debut novel into English, and it was released to a US audience last October.

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marias

“No one ever expects that they might someday find themselves with a dead woman in their arm, a woman whose face they will never see again, but whose name they will remember.” This is the first line in Marias’s novel about a love affair, which is written in a type of speculative prose that includes excursus on life’s fleeting moments, and is expertly translated by Margaret Jull Costa. Marias’s father was imprisoned for his opposition to Franco, and yet he’s able to joke about “coarse, surly journalists of the old Franco and anti-Franco schools…” with ease in this social satire.