The Last King of the Jews
By Jean-Claude Lattès
Translated by William Rodarmor
Éditions Robert Laffont
14 January 2014
I know very little about Jewish history, so reading an entire book about Agrippa kind of out of the blue was certainly an experience. Most of what I do know centers around Jesus (because I was raised Christian) and World War II (in a “let’s never do that again” kind of way). I was worried that The Last King of the Jews would be reminiscent of Last King of Scotland, but thankfully, Agrippa was a “peace-loving, thoughtful, tolerant ruler” and therefore nothing at all like Idi Amin.
At the beginning of this biography, after a brief section which details the cast of characters (which I admit blurred together a bit for me), the author makes a number of notations. First, the story presented is a staged novel, complete with points of view, judgments, and the prejudices of the era. Second, and more importantly for me, there’s an appendix at the end that gives a very brief history of the Jews and Judea up to 43 BCE, definitely recommended reading for someone who knows as little Jewish history as I do.
In a case where I need to flip back and forth for end notes and appendices, as I did with The Last King of the Jews, I really prefer to have a hardcopy rather than the ebook version I was provided, if only for ease of use on my part, but that’s not a point against the biography itself, just the format. I don’t think that it’s being sold in print form (only as an ebook, as far as I’m aware), however, so take that into consideration when purchasing. To the publisher’s credit, the virtual copy I received was well-formatted, and I was able to move back and forth between sections with only basic difficulty.
After reading the survey of Jewish history, I still think that The Last King is at least an intermediary text rather than an introductory one. On every page, names I probably should’ve recognized (at least recognized in context) just flew by without sticking. I was able to get the feel for recurring characters, of course, but not in the sense that I could connect them to any actual historical personage outside the context of the story. (The one exception to this was that I was able to place Herod, the king who sent the three wise men to visit Jesus.)
It was like reading a historical novel, honestly, and if I hadn’t known it was actually a biography, I might’ve just taken the story as fiction. (See how much I don’t know about Jewish history? Sad, I know.) The Last King has so much information in it, however, that trying to absorb it all makes it a slow, albeit entertaining, read. I’ll have to return to Agrippa again in the future in order to take in more of the history, which was at times overwhelming the first read through.
DISCLAIMER: I received The Last King of the Jews free from Open Road Integrated Media for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.