This big, complex novel detailing the beginnings of the downfall of the Roman Republic is a startling change of pace for McCullough ( The Thorn Birds, LJ 5/1/77). Gaius Marius, an upstart New Man from the Italian provinces, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a patrician Roman brought up in the slums of the Subura, are both ambitious enough to want to become First Man in Rome, despite their social handicaps. The author deftly weaves politics, family rivalries, and battle scenes into a riveting story replete with fascinating details of everyday Roman life. The research is obviously painstaking; the author includes a large glossary of more than 100 pages as well as a pronunciation key for the Roman names. Highly recommended.