Do you like war, treachery, betrayal, plots and schemes, conspiracies and even a little (or maybe a lot) of murder? Yes? Well, then I, Claudius is the book for you.
The story is of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of the Roman Empire (44BC to 41AD) is told from the perception of Claudius (the forth Emperor of Rome) who is born disabled and develops a stammer as he grows up. For these reasons, he is shunted off to the side by his family and makes the perfect observer of events as they unfold (his family's disregard of him is also one of the only reasons he survived, i.e. because no one thought him to be a threat to anyone's power). He tells the story of his power drunk grandmother Livia who basically uses her power, contacts and lack of conscious to plot, scheme and murder her way to more power and control of the Empire. None of her family, excepting "poor Claudius" is exempt from her scheming. She's entirely Machiavellian in her belief that the end more than justifies the means.
As the novel progresses, the reader's sympathies are turned and twisted along with the events. Very few of the characters seem to possess the kind of self-disinterested qualities that make them sympathetic to the reader. However, what eventually becomes quite apparent is that, as scheming as Livia is, she is actually the only force that holds the Empire on a stable, if immoral, course. She manages to keep factions from forming which would ultimately destroy the empire by tearing it apart. In the end, you don't really know whether to hate her or admire her. To say more would, again, give the plot away.
I, Claudius was an interesting and good read. I think I'd recommend it for anyone trying to get teenagers interested in history, and Roman history in particular. Not all of the story correlates with fact, but it does make history a lot more interesting than dry facts and would have done more to motivate me to read history than any history textbook or fear of getting a bad grade. All in all two thumbs up for this one.