June 11th, 2008

reading, activism, writing

Book #20: Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome, by Robert Harris

Cicero, Rome's best known orator and wiley politician, earned his reputation for public speaking by taking on the most unwanted court cases and winning them. For a man without the benefit of an aristocratic background or the glory of military victories to smooth his path, he rose to the pinnacle of Roman Republican power on his intellect, his sharp wit, and his able tongue.

Many of the character's names are familiar to even the most casual reader of history: Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Mark Antony, Atticus, and Crassus. But what is remarkable about Harris' absorbing tale of political intrigue, is that what he wrote is, for the most part, true. He used Cicero's letters describing the in's and out's of Ancient Roman politics, from the floor of the Senate to the teaming Roman streets, as a basis for the drama.

What Harris chooses to show in Imperium is Cicero's rise to political greatness. We get hints of what is to come, including Julius Caesar's rise to power and the end of the Republic, but we never see that part of history most commonly portrayed in movies and television series.

I've read and loved one of Harris' previous novels, Pompeii, set on the day of the city's demise. Harris immerses himself into the historical period with great zeal and it's a pleasure to travel with him.