Summary and book reviews of Imperium by Robert Harris

Imperium

A Novel of Ancient Rome

By Robert Harris

Imperium
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2006,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2007,
    496 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
Imperium

It had been my intention to describe in detail the trial of Gaius Verres, but now I come to set it down, I see there is no point. After Cicero's tactical masterstroke on that first day, Verres and his advocates resembled nothing so much as the victims of a siege: holed up in their little fortress, surrounded by their enemies, battered day after day by a rain of missiles, and their crumbling walls undermined by tunnels. They had no means of fighting back. Their only hope was somehow to withstand the onslaught for the nine days remaining, and then try to regroup during the lull enforced by Pompey's games. Cicero's objective was equally clear: to obliterate Verres's defenses so completely that by the time he had finished laying out his case, not even the most corrupt senatorial jury in Rome would dare to acquit him.

He set about this mission with his usual discipline. The prosecution team would gather before dawn. While Cicero performed his exercises, ...

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Reviews

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The first half of the book is taken up with Cicero's prosecution of the former governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres, a truly nasty piece of work whose gross injustices against the people of Sicily still make the blood boil two-thousand years after the fact; the second half is taken up with Cicero's political battles to get himself elected. Both are grippingly brought to life with wonderful human touches such as the great military leader, but oratorical klutz, Pompey stumbling through his first Senate speech with a a "bluffer's guide to procedure written out for him by the famous scholar Varro".   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Washington Post - Dennis Drabelle

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.

Library Journal

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.

Publishers Weekly

[An] entertaining and enlightening novel... Harris's description of Rome's labyrinthine, and sometimes deadly, political scene is fascinating and instructive. The action is relentless...readers can only hope a sequel is in the works. Until then, this serves as a superb first act.

Booklist - Margaret Flanagan

A brilliant fictional biography of one of antiquity's most complex and triumphant characters.

Reader Reviews
Kim

Historical fiction at its finest
This book won't be for everyone, but for those who relish historical fiction in all its intricate detail will love this book. It deals with a fascinating period of Roman history and politics. I found it very difficult to put down (but then, I ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

49-year-old Robert Harris, the son of a printer, was brought up in Nottingham, England. He studied history at Cambridge where he was president of the Cambridge Union and editor of the student newspaper, Varsity. 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 have been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

He got started as a writer of books when he won a contract to write a biography of John le Carré; but le Carré said the book could not be published until his death, so Harris started roughing out a novel ...

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