The epistolary novel (one composed entirely of letters) is supposed to have died in the late 18th century. No one writes them anymore. Except John Williams. His political novel, Augustus, about the great Roman emperor, is composed entirely of correspondence, mostly by other people writing about the title character.

Before I read it, I would never have believed an ancient form like that could prove so compelling. I recall falling asleep with Pamela as an undergrad. Augustus, though, was too good to put down. It provides all the drama and intrigue of The West Wing without the political correctness. Plus, it shows how politics infects all aspects of the players’ lives. No wonder it won the National Book Award!