Thames & Hudson, £14.95, 240pp £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Chronicle of the Roman Emperors, By Chris Scarre
Expertly unpicking the tangled imperial lineage, Scarre provides lively detail about suicides (Nero stabbed himself in the neck aged 30), poisonings (Claudius, "ever the gourmand", met his end with tainted mushrooms) and stabbings (Caracalla was dispatched in the lavatory while suffering from a stomach upset) that ensured a rapid turnover at the top.
Hadrian was not "the confirmed homosexual" of modern historians but "a man of mixed sexual proclivities".
The notorious Caligula hated being called Caligula, a nickname meaning Little Boots or, according to Tacitus, Bootikins.
In keeping with tradition, he was stabbed during a stomach upset - this time by 30 blows, just to make sure.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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