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Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Romeby Robert Harris
Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of Fatherland and Pompeii comes the most provocative and brilliant novel of antiquity since I, Claudius — a cautionary tale of Cicero, the greatest orator of all time, and his extraordinary struggle for power in Rome.
When Tiro, the confidential secretary (and slave) of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually propel his master into one of the most suspenseful courtroom dramas in history. The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island's corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Marcus Cicero — an ambitious young lawyer and spellbinding orator, who at the age of twenty-seven is determined to attain imperium — supreme power in the state.
Of all the great figures of the Roman world, none was more fascinating or charismatic than Cicero. And Tiro — the inventor of shorthand and author of numerous books, including a celebrated biography of his master (which was lost in the Dark Ages) — was always by his side.
Compellingly written in Tiro's voice, Imperium is the re-creation of his vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero's quest for glory, competing with some of the most powerful and intimidating figures of his — or any other — age: Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and the many other powerful Romans who changed history.
Robert Harris, the world's master of innovative historical fiction, lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics at once exotically different from and yet startlingly similar to our own — a world of Senate intrigue and electoral corruption, special prosecutors and political adventurism — to describe how one clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable man fought to reach the top.
"Bestselling British author Harris (Pompeii; Enigma) returns to ancient Rome for this entertaining and enlightening novel of Marcus Cicero's rise to power. Narrated by a household slave named Tiro, who actually served as Cicero's 'confidential secretary' for 36 years, this fictional biography follows the statesman and orator from his early career as an outsider — a 'new man' from the provinces — to his election to the consulship, Rome's highest office, in 64 B.C. Loathed by the aristocrats, Cicero lived by his wits in a tireless quest for imperium — the ultimate power of life and death — and achieves 'his life's ambition' after uncovering a plot by Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar to rig the elections and seize control of the government. Harris's description of Rome's labyrinthine, and sometimes deadly, political scene is fascinating and instructive. The action is relentless, and readers will be disappointed when Harris leaves Cicero at the moment of his greatest triumph. Given Cicero's stormy consulship, his continuing opposition to Julius Caesar and his own assassination, readers can only hope a sequel is in the works. Until then, this serves as a superb first act. 350,000 announced first priting; 10-city author tour. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"I sure could have used this book while taking third-year Latin. Robert Harris reminds readers that Marcus Tullius Cicero was more than just a writer of tormenting prose. He was also one of the Roman Republic's consummate politicians, a self-made lawyer who took daring chances and usually succeeded. Running from 79 to 64 B.C., the story is narrated by Tiro, Cicero's slave and secretary, who... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) is credited with inventing shorthand, living to age 100 and writing a life of his master, now lost. 'Imperium,' the first volume of a planned trilogy, is an imaginary recreation of that missing work, and Tiro makes a useful narrator: He can ask about matters for which a slave (as well as the modern reader) needs background information even as he sits in on high-level strategy sessions. The first of the book's two parts pits Cicero against Gaius Verres, a hoggishly corrupt governor of Sicily. Students of Latin will recall that the case inspired Cicero's Verrine orations, and that as a villain Verres comes in second only to the egregious Lucius Sergius Catilina, who himself appears in these pages, just prior to attempting the coup that Cicero exposed in his most brilliant series of speeches. Harris, who has also written 'Fatherland,' a thriller that reimagines German history, sets up formidable barriers between Cicero and a successful prosecution of Verres, especially time constraints (if the case doesn't finish soon, a new and hostile judge will take it over, and Verres' lawyer is a master of dilatory tactics). Then Harris shows Cicero using cunning and bravado to knock those barriers down. Along the way, both author and protagonist evince a flair for politics that will remind many Washingtonians of what originally brought them here. 'Politics? Boring?' Cicero rejoins to a jaded relative. 'Politics is history on the wing! ... You might as well say that life itself is boring!' The second part of the novel depicts Cicero making the moves that win him election to the republic's highest office, the consulship. Here again Harris' zest for political machinations serves the material well. Toward the end comes a walk-on by Publius Clodius Pulcher, the most beautiful man in Rome, who figures prominently in another splendid novel of antiquity, Thornton Wilder's 'The Ides of March.' I can think of no better endorsement of 'Imperium' than to mention those two books in the same breath. Dennis Drabelle is a contributing editor of The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Harris's work provides an interesting glimpse into the lives of the rich, famous, corrupt, and powerful of Rome during the age of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and, of course, Cicero himself." Library Journal
"[Q]uite possibly his most accomplished work to date." Los Angeles Times
"Harris...returns to ancient Rome in this historical tour de force....A brilliant fictional biography of one of antiquity's most complex and triumphant characters." Booklist
"The author paints a vivid picture of everyday life, and the courtroom dramas are, at times, riveting. Readers will recognize other famous Romans who pop up in the story, including Julius Caesar and Pompey. They may also recognize the timelessness of the pursuit of power." School Library Journal
"[A] fascinating novel....Harris' novel succeeds because he breathes life into the history by revealing the game's high stakes and holding the outcome close until the final moments of revelation." Denver Post
"[Harris] brilliantly captures the physical, political and moral ambience of Rome....His storytelling is, as always, gripping, and even those who did not read Cicero in high school Latin class will find themselves comfortable in the Roman's company." Dallas Morning News
"[E]ngrossing....Imperium is meticulous, absorbing and informative — a gripping novel about ancient Rome with barely a net or a trident in sight." Marcel Theroux, The New York Times Book Review
"The result is not short on interesting historical tidbits....Yet, perhaps hamstrung by the truthiness of his task, Robert Harris fails to breathe much life into his characters. (Grade: B-)" Entertainment Weekly
From the New York Times bestselling author of Fatherland and Pompeii comes an epic blockbuster about the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics- and the struggle for supreme power.
About the Author
Robert Harris was born in Nottingham in 1957. He has been a BBC journalist, Political Editor of the Observer, and a columnist for The Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph. In 2003 he was named Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards. He is the author of the number one bestsellers Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, and Pompeii, as well as five non-fiction books.
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