I hate Robert Harris because his books are so damn good. I am gnawed with envy, feeling that he and I are quite similar people. He is one year older than I, and also went to Oxbridge, and I feel close to him in spirit. We have a shared outlook on history and a parallel sense of curiosity. Whereas my energy and time has been devoted into writing financial product essays, he has allowed himself to delve into more vivid subjects and in a more public way. I earn good money from a very private and specialised niche, while he researches and vivifies history, and has a much wider public fame. But it is evident that he has a knack for creating a good story which I have not proved in any way.
This book, ‘Imperium’ is about Cicero. It is fascinating and educative, bringing the reader back to one of the important foundation stones of European civilization: Ancient Rome. I was only vaguely aware that Cicero was a great orator, but knew little about his life. This book tells us the story, based firmly on history and his speeches, from 79 to 64 BC. Since Cicero lived until 43 BC there are evidently further books on Cicero to come. ‘Imperium’ is in two parts, the first mainly concerning his prosecution of Verres and his attainment of being a Praetorian. The second part concerns how he climbed the greasy and treacherous pole of Roman politics to being voted consul.
The plethora of characters is hard to keep up with, but key figures such as Pompey and Caesar come sharply into focus. It brings all those vague memories of Roman history and Shakespeare plays into clear shape. I feel far more educated and aware, after reading this book. So I am grateful – but still envious.
His other books, all of them thoroughly recommended, are ‘Fatherland’, ‘Enigma’, ‘Archangel’ and ‘Pompeii’.