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Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome Paperback – August 7, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–The tumultuous history of Rome from 79 to 64 B.C. comes alive in this fictional biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero, the politician and superb orator who rose to the empire's highest office after starting as an outsider from the provinces. His first legal case drew him into a long battle with powerful Gaius Verres, the dangerously corrupt governor of Sicily. Cicero displayed his wit and talent for oration and strategy to triumph over Verres and other opponents in high-profile cases. Harris has written a fast-paced tale, the first part of a trilogy. He examines the full spectrum of Roman society, including its dark side of corruption, class divisions, betrayal, and cruelty. Cicero, who sought imperium, or ultimate power of the state, is portrayed as a sympathetic figure whose allegiance was to the idea of Republic. 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.–Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; Reprint edition (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743498666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743498661
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (318 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

291 of 298 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne Cross on September 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I give this novel my highest personal rating: it performs the extremely difficult task of making Cicero, a rather stuffy icon for 2 millennia, as accessible and as politically understandable as the national news in your local paper and to paint his turbulent times in a way anyone can identify with and understand. It is simply the best novel I've ever read, in terms of historical accuracy and intelligent reading of complex personalities, about the failing Roman Republic.

I have always had problems with Cicero. You have the "lawyer's briefs," his speeches and trials; you have the wonderful intimate, flawed, and somehow endearing correspondence in which Cicero proves he was far from able to navigate the complex political currents of his remarkable day; then you have his alliance with the Optimates, the rich nobles whose refusal to reform the Roman Republic made it, in part, possible for military strong-men like Pompey and Caesar to threaten and finally help destroy it.

Harris is simply superb. He uses Cicero's actual slave, Tiro (famous as his closest assistant) as the narrator of the remarkable and tragic events of those final years. I've read enough of Cicero to feel that Harris has somehow internalized and channeled both his speeches and correspondence; the context is effortlessly painted. Harris' comprehensive knowledge of Rome in the period roughly 70 BC is so meticulous that he makes it seem as easy to paint as an artist in a modern Chinatown. I've read enough of Harris' earlier novels to know that he's a fine plotter and draws clear characters. But I did not expect how he would recreate living men and women in a vanished time with such comfort and authenticity.
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96 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Colin P. Lindsey VINE VOICE on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What a treat this book is and what an extraordinary author is Robert Harris. His scholarship is impeccable, his story-telling is mesmerizing, and his writing is a pure treat. This novel, depicting the early career of Marcus Tullius Cicero, is presented as the recollections of Tiro, Cicero's personal secretary and assistant throughout his life. There was an actual publication by Tiro on the life of Cicero which was lost forever during the tumult during the 6th century and the fall of empire. Harris writes a plausible, and thoroughly enjoyable, recreation of that lost tract. If you enjoy Roman history you will be entranced with this novel. In my opinion it is better even than his popular "Pompeii" which was a smashingly good book.

The novel covers the first twenty years of Cicero's career from when Tiro was first given to Cicero in their early twenties, their travels through Greece to learn philosophy and their sojourn on the island of Rhodes to learn public speaking from Molon, the brilliant legal career of the young Cicero on his return to Rome including his infamous prosecution of Gaius Verres, the wicked governor of Sicily, and his rise to the seat of Consul during the years of strife between Crassus and Pompey.

As the book itself points out, Cicero was never an able, dashing general, nor an aristocrat; he was an upstart young attorney from the country, a "new man" with no friends or fortune. So how, in the face of adversity, and the enmity of the ruling class, did he climb the cursus honorum to become Consul of Rome? Why, when he controlled no armies, conquered no territory, amassed no fortune, is the name of Cicero still remembered and revered today along with the likes of Crassus, Julius Caesar, and Pompey?
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By B. Joseph on March 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
How did Cicero, an country lawyer become a Roman Consul? Harris has written a superb easily understandable account. The story is told by Tiro, Cicero's talented slave and assistant (Tiro invented the shorthand). Tiro written account of Cicero's life never survived beyond the 6th century. Harris does an admirable job describing Cicero's and Tiro's lives with historical accuracy.

Harris' knowledge of Rome in the period 70 BC is so extensive that he effortlessly recreates the time period with authority and authenticity. Cicero's initial claim to fame was his prosecution of a powerful noble, Gaius Verres, for corruption and extortion. This prosecution required real political courage, and at the same time he had to compromise some of his principles to achieve victory. He used this victory to rise up the ladder of power. Usually in order to become a Consul one needs either money or connections or military victories. Cicero had none of these and this makes his feat truly remarkable.

Our founding fathers read Cicero and the history of the Roman empire and Greek civilization to formulate our laws. One feels right at home reading about special prosecutors, corrupt senators, ruthless businessman and cut throat lawyers. What happened in 70 BC was no different from what is happening in the modern era. I now understand Roman civilization now more than I ever had previously and I also can see how it was destroyed by power hungry men such as Caesar who showed contempt for Roman law.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Tullius Wardo on October 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I unconditionally recommend Robert Harris' latest novel to any fan of historical fiction. This novel is a must-read for any of the following: (1) Roman history fans; (2) lawyers, particularly litigators; (3) political wonks. (I am among the first two of those three and strongly suspect that I'm right for the third category.)

Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of the most memorable figures from an era of great men who, among them, competed to tear apart or preserve the Roman republic. Cicero was a "new man" -- a provincial who rose from the middle class, doing so neither through wealth or military service but rather as a consummate trial lawyer -- and his rise to power is both an inspirational and cautionary tale. The two halves of "Imperium" tell the story of Cicero's prosecution for extortion against Verres and Cicero's campaign to become consul (the highest office a Roman could hold). While Roman history fans know the story and ending for both episodes, Harris fills in the ellipses left by the written records of the era with fine storytelling and educated speculation as to how the events played out in the eyes of a contemporary. Using Cicero's personal secretary to tell the story is a great device. Through the slave Tiro, Harris brings not only Cicero to life, but his wife Terentia, along with Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, and so many other interesting characters from the era.

Harris' narrative of the prosecution of Verres is some of the most memorable courtroom drama I have ever read. Any fan of legal fiction -- regardless of whether you are interested in Roman history -- will enjoy the courtroom scenes. The story of Cicero's campaign to become consul similarly should entertain any fan of electoral politics.
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