Et Tu, Brute?: The Deaths of the Roman Emperors HC
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Price: $19.95
Creator: Jason Novak
Format: 208 pgs., Black & White, Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-3936-3573-7
Age Rating:
ICv2 Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Jason Novak had an interesting idea, which was to draw one cartoon each for the Roman Emperors, showing approximately how that emperor died.  When there was doubt, he made up something visually startling, like a "death by tree stump."  In some cases, he made up outrageous details to go with a death that had little surviving history.

Thus, the book has very brief snippets about each one, a death date, cartoon, and one sentence about each death.  While these are pretty amusing, if that’s the right word to use about deaths, the fact is that this litany of deaths can become a little repetitive.  On the other hand, the book does explain just what dropsy really is.  It also explains why emperors probably shouldn’t go on military campaigns to Germany, but that’s another issue entirely.

Because the book is coming out in a hardcover edition, it’s not cheap.  Novak’s reputation as a cartoonist for the New Yorker and other publications will attract at least some readers.

The book will have little appeal for kids or teens, with its adult, rather twisted humor and violence, but the historically-minded will learn just how few Roman emperors died peacefully.  There’s a lesson in that, I’m sure, but I don’t know if it still applies.

--Nick Smith: Library Technician, Community Services, for the Pasadena Public Library in California.