I picked this book up on a whim, just looking for something to read during my lunch hour. I had good memories of a previous book of his, “Fatherland”, so I figured he would be a safe bet. I ended up reading an amazing historical novel about the quest for and the use of power – Imperium – during the height of republican Rome, told through the lens of one of its most famous senators, Cicero.
Harris has researched the era thoroughly and uses historical documents to build the framework of his novel, taking Cicero from a freshly-minted, stuttering senator loathed by the nobles into one of the most powerful people in the empire. It’s an ancient story but with modern sensibilities – this is a book about politics, but it reads like a courtroom thriller. The tale is told through the recollection of Tiro, Cicero’s slave and closest assistant, as Cicero trains himself to become a excellent speaker and lawyer, and starts to climb the ladder of fame and respect.
Cicero comes into contact with other notables like Crassus, Pompey, and even a scheming newcomer named Caesar. The novel reaches its height when Cicero unravels a plan by other senators to grab power and ends with Cicero at the height of his career, achieving the previously-unthinkable rank of consul. It’s all absorbing stuff. Harris knows his history and is an excellent writer, filling courtroom scenes with real tension, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.
Somewhat in the same vein, I hope you all have seen the trailer for 300, the film adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel about the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae. It looks amazing, and captures Miller’s images and feel perfectly, just like Sin City did. The battle at Thermopylae has always been one of my favorite stories in history: a small group of Greek soldiers holds off the largest army the world had yet seen in order to buy time for its nation to quit squabbling and get its act together or else face extermination. The fate of Western civilization was at stake, and even though the Greeks fell, they inspired the nation to eventually defeat the Persians and keep the flame of democracy and philosophy alive. With all that going for it, I really hope the film doesn’t suck. It’s a story worth telling well.
(Incidentally, if you haven’t read “Gates of Fire“, Steven Pressfield’s amazing fictional account of the battle, please do so. Breathtaking. It was so good, I forgave Pressfield for writing “The Legend of Bagger Vance”.)