P.A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic: A short but influential sketch by Brunt, demonstrating that plebeian unrest was more than the backdrop to the politics of the Republic. I would rather have been reading Brunt's Fall of the Roman Republic, but that thing is over $200; Oxford U P seems squarely on the side of the optimates.
... Here's an interesting quote from Brunt's book:
By modern standards the ancient world was always poor and "under-developed." If any progress was to be made, it was inevitable that the majority should hew and carry in order that a very few might have the means and leisure to cultivate the arts and sciences. Even in democratic Athens property was unequally distributed; slave labour supported the wants of poets and philosophers and enabled quite humble citizens to devote some of their energy to war and government. Plato had said that in his day, the fourth century, every city was divided into the city of the rich and the city of the poor, just as Disraeli said that in nineteenth-century England there were "two nations." What distinguished Rome was neither economic inequality nor exploitation but the enormity in the scale of both. Whether or not this be deemed a fit matter for moral condemnation, the facts are of the highest historical importance, for revolution was to spring from the misery and resentment of the masses.Brunt's obituary in the Telegraph is also worth quoting:
He liked to tell the story of how he had once dozed off in the presence of an undergraduate, and woke to hear himself declaring: "No, that cannot be correct." He quickly asked his student to repeat the last two sentences of his essay, and was relieved to discover a flagrant errorRoland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom: A good pop biography of a man too sensible for his times. May lead me to actually read my copy of The Praise of Folly.