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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An attempt to humanise a rather unlikeable man...
Through Latin A level and later at university, I read a great deal of Marcus Tullius Cicero's writings and found them, unusually, very hard going. While we all appreciate that he pulled himself up by his bootstraps, brain and linguistic ability, he comes across, nonetheless, as an arrogant bore, stuffed full of himself and with an incredbile ability to irritate others...
Published on 7 Mar 2008 by Mr. Thomas Thatcher

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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good recreation of ancient Rome
Robert Harris ventures into the murky world of 1st century BC Rome, and tells the tale of the lawyer and orator Cicero, as told by his secretary Tiro - the man credited with inventing the world's first workable shorthand system.

Harris efficiently and effectively creates the last decades of the Roman Republic. However, somehow for me he doesn't quite bring off...
Published on 21 Sep 2006 by Tim62


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mint Imperial, 9 May 2011
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This review is from: Imperium (Paperback)
I have always viewed Robert Harris as the thinking man's thriller writer. He sets most of his books in historic eras, or bases the plot on history, and researches brilliantly. However, too often I find that as his books reach their end they descend into the realm of the bizarre e.g. `The Ghosts' confused finale or `Archangel's crazy twists. Harris is perhaps a less thinking man's writer than I first imagined. That is until I read `Imperium', his best and most intelligent book to date. Gone are the thrills to please the masses and instead Harris allows the wonderful story of Cicero and his note taker Tiro to capture the reader.

Cicero came to prominence in one of the most iconic periods of Rome; he was there for Pompeii and the rise/fall of Julius Caesar. In his lifetime the structure of the Roman Empire would change. The great historic events are enough to whet my appetite, but Harris research skills and great writing add so much more. Harris imbues Cicero with many elements of our own politicians; he is willing to bend his values to pursue power. This does not make him a bad person, just someone who is believable. After `Imperium' Harris went on to write `The Ghost', I felt that his Roman epic had more to say about a certain former British Prime Minister than his modern set thriller ever did.

With a great story fill of intrigue, `Imperium' is only made better by Harris' quality writing. The book is improved further by the fact a lot of what Harris wrote actually happened. Rome has been an inspiration to writers for centuries and if they continue to produce as good a book as here, this process will continue for many centuries more.

Sammy Recommendation
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Republican virtues, 23 Jan 2011
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Paperback)
I have not read much of Harris's work (shorthand for not remembering reading any) but I have read this one twice. It is a very immersive novel on the career of M Tullius Cicero up to his election as Consul of Rome in 63 BC. Cicero was a " new man" in all but one area - he married money, and new men are perhaps easier for us, as modern readers, to understand. His practice of advocacy, the political management that led to election and the tang of a state in change are all well sketched without any need to turn matters into a modern day tale. Politicians in most western democracies will recognise the nature of the beast even so. Of course the down side for some readers will be the absence of military action (though not of coercive force). It may be hard in these days to find the activities of a lawyer and ward-heeler interesting (thank goodness he was not a banker) but I found the novel fascinating, and its imagining of how ancient Roman society functioned both interesting and persuasive. I recommend it.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good recreation of ancient Rome, 21 Sep 2006
By 
Tim62 "history buff" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Hardcover)
Robert Harris ventures into the murky world of 1st century BC Rome, and tells the tale of the lawyer and orator Cicero, as told by his secretary Tiro - the man credited with inventing the world's first workable shorthand system.

Harris efficiently and effectively creates the last decades of the Roman Republic. However, somehow for me he doesn't quite bring off the sheer dislocating terror that must have been felt by many as their political world spiralled graduially out of control.

The political systems of the late Republic were incapable of squaring the circle of the political pressures the state found itself under, and the immense conflicts of interest which arose.

A political system designed to run a small Italian city state, could not cope with the needs of the Mediterranean world's first true super power -- which is what Rome had become by the mid-1st century BC. Much of this is there, but for me his prose doesn't have the intensity of some of Steven Saylor's works.

I have given this book 3 stars because the story of the fall of the republic is one worth telling, but in this book we are only frustratingly given a few years worth of coverage.

Of course there is a problem in trying to tell this story in novel form - as it took more than a hundred years to kill of the old Republic; from the fall of the Gracchii, through the Social Wars and the Civil Wars, to Octavian's eventual triumph at Actium and the establishment of the Principate amd Empire.

So to tell the story interestingly you probably need several books -- like Colleen McCullough's series, or even Steven Saylor's Roma sub rosa with Gordianus the Finder.

My copy of Imperium doesn't say it is the first in a series. However, I hope there are, because the ending is flat for a stand-alone novel. It feels like we are only half-way through Cicero's (and Tiro's) tale.

So a good book. I still think Fatherland is his best novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph, 17 Jan 2010
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Paperback)
This is the first volume of a trilogy of historical novels about the life of Cicero. (At the time of writing, the second, `Lustrum', has been published; the third is to come.)

My knowledge of Roman History is very general, and so I cannot tell exactly what is fact and what is fiction in this book (except that, surely, the several references to paper are an anachronism?) But to me it seems an utterly convincing account of the life and times it describes; the constitutional and legal niceties of the period clearly explained without one feeling that one is reading a lecture; the importance of family connections and of Roman tribes and centuries; the geography of Rome lies before us; the colourful ceremonials come alive, as do the tumultuous politics in a period when rich and poor alike were passionate about them, and in which so many posts were elected annually that `it always seemed to be election season in those days.'. Class divisions and snobberies were acute, but it was still a democracy of sorts and the aristocrats could never be entirely secure, either with regard to the lesser orders or to army generals.

In this world the ambitious lawyer Cicero, a `new man' without the benefit of an old aristocratic background, slowly climbed to power. Money is a leitmotif in this story: large amounts of it were necessary to achieve anything in politics - whether to buy support or to silence opposition. A wealthy marriage had enabled Cicero to become a junior senator. And then he took a tremendous risk: he decided to prosecute Verres, the cruel and greedy governor of Sicily whose reign of terror had never been challenged before: he had massively bribed the Roman Establishment and secured Hortensius, at the time the most famous lawyer in Rome, to defend him. The first half of the book describes how Verres and Hortensius used every legal device to frustrate Cicero. The story of how Cicero overcame all this is gripping, and the final trial scene is quite magnificent. Cicero's eloquence and effectiveness as a speaker are of course famous, and I imagine that Harris simply needed to let Cicero speak for himself by translating his speeches (of which records exist) into English.

In the second part of the book we see Cicero taking steps to advance his career further. These are unprincipled, but show a sophisticated understanding of political psychology, a mastery of tactics, and a readiness to do the totally unexpected. Again dramatic scenes punctuate the story, for it is often a hair-raising gamble whether Cicero will succeed. And when Cicero manages to secure for Pompey an unprecedented concentration of naval and military commands, he is uneasily aware that he may have set in motion the beginning of the end of Roman republicanism.

We have in this half the tortuous beginning of his contact with Catiline, as vicious and ruthless a governor of Africa as Verres had been of Sicily. (It is astonishing what provincial governors could get away with for years, and I am constantly reminded by the terrifying lawlessness of these men of Uday, the son of Saddam Hussein.)

Many of those triple Roman names are hard to remember, and a list of them at the beginning or end of the book would have been helpful (as would have been a more detailed map of Rome); but the characterizations of the most important ones (and of some lesser ones) are superb: Cicero himself, of course, subtle and ambitious; his fiery patrician wife Terentia, fiercely critical of Cicero's populism, but proud of him at the same time; his secretary-slave Tiro, the narrator of the whole story and a fine example of how a slave could be a trusted companion; suave villains like Hortensius, Verres, Catiline; Pompey, charismatic, a blunt soldier accustomed to command, but so much less subtle than his client Cicero; Pompey's rival, the choleric Crassus, working secretly behind the scenes, dispensing his untold wealth in bribery; the sharp up-and-coming Julius Caesar, transferring his allegiance from Pompey to Crassus - just one example of constantly shifting alliances, with the most remarkable one, which brings Cicero to the Consulate, coming in the last few pages

The book, fluently written, is as fast-paced as any thriller, and I look forward to the next instalment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars John Grisham in togas, 4 Sep 2007
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Paperback)
Not normally a fan of historical novels, I make an exception for those of Robert Harris. With well drawn characters and consistently good writing, he brings alive ancient Rome and makes the political machinations of the long-gone Empire seem as relevant and exciting as modern issues.

Imperium is a novel of politics and intrigue, rather like a John Grisham in togas. The narrator is Tiro, a slave and the secretary of the principal character, Cicero. Tiro makes a good choice for narrator - his position means he has sufficient access to witness the action, yet whilst retaining a degree of independence from it.

The novel was rather less of a thriller in the literal sense than I expected - the tension and excitement derives purely from politics, speeches and declamations in court. While the lives of the characters are vaugely threatened at some points, it is political death that is more feared here (though in the brutal Roman days, sometimes the two were the same).

The Roman Empire is brought vividly to life and the reader is quickly immersed in a society that is so different from - and yet in many ways so similar to - our own. There is a wonderful cast of believable, rounded characters - some decent, some corrupt, some weak, but all utterly human. Imperium is full of good observations of human nature and behaviour.

Mostly an easy read, I sometimes found all of the long, similar sounding Roman names a bit confusing and occasionally had to thumb back to work out who was who and why a certain thing was significant. But on the whole Harris does fairly well at putting in little reminders and clues to help the bemused reader. Some knowledge of Roman history and customs may make the novel a little easier to follow, but I managed well enough without any - and of course it makes the events more of a surprise!

Overall, Imperium is a surprisingly gripping read which mostly maintains a good pace. There are some slower sections but the reader's interest and investment in the likeable characters, and the general quality of the writing, is enough to get through these easily enough. This is a rather original read and would appeal to anyone who likes a good story, but especially those with an interest in politics or history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 6 Feb 2010
This review is from: Imperium (Mass Market Paperback)
Have you ever wondered about the career development of Cicero, the Roman orator and politician? No, neither have I. How about almost 500 pages detailing his progress through the labrynthine Roman political system? Sounds EXTREMELY dull, doesn't it?

And yet Harris makes it supremely vibrant, human, convincing and full of the flavour of modern politics, without making heavy allusions between present and past. I really am almost in awe of the way Harris writes. It is so compassionate and full of changes in pace.

I read 'The Ghost' last year and was less impressed; I really think that Rome is a context that suits this writer naturally, as maybe Berlin or South America suited Graham Greene.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imperious, 2 Sep 2006
By 
Robert J. Prosser (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Hardcover)
Robert Harris novels are always worth the wait and Imperium is no exception. Charting the rise the prominence of Cicero as written by his slave/secretary Tiro. Robert Harris' meticulous research allows him to create an utterly convincing recreation of Rome. At the same time he does not allow this to bog down the narrative. If you've enjoyed Harris' books before you'll not be disappointed in Imperium. Highly recommended!!!
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book !, 24 Oct 2006
By 
sgeoff (North Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Hardcover)
I have enjoyed all of Robert Harris' books, but rate this as his best yet. I was hooked from page 1 and the interest and intrigue was maintained right to the end. Cicero, and ancient Rome, came alive in these pages, with evocative descriptions and the story told with clarity (and sometimes humour) by Cicero's secretary Tiro. I now want to read more about Cicero, and certainly hope Harris writes a follow-up book covering the rest of his life. For anyone interested in ancient Rome, or intrigue in general, or modern politics (there are some interesting parallels) this is a great read. Recommended without reservation !
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but not a thriller, 17 Nov 2006
By 
M. Dyson (East Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Hardcover)
When I started reading this book I was expecting a page-turning thriller along the lines of Harris' other four books. In this repect, I was sorely disappointed as "Imperium" is more of a biography, albeit one with a mixture of fact and fiction.

Once I'd got over the initial disappointment, though, I did really enjoy this book and wanted to see how it ended; like other reviewers here I'll be extremely surprised if there isn't a sequel.

In short, a very good book. Especially if you don't have preconceived ideas of it being a thriller before you start.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars verum absorbeo, 7 July 2009
By 
Tan y ddraig (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Imperium (Mass Market Paperback)
Having read and enjoyed previous works by this author I bought this book confident of an entertaining read, yet somewhat sceptical of whether its subject matter would hit the mark.

I needn't have worried, for rarely have I been so enthralled by what is essentially an historical narrative with more 'fact' than 'fiction'.
Within minutes I found myself engulfed in the vividly portrayed theatre of ancient Rome and carried through at great speed to the book's conclusion. As stated by several reviewers, many parallels can be drawn with current day events, proving that history does indeed have a habit of repeating itself.

The lessons are there and ignored at one's peril, for the fabric of one's life is irrevocably intertwined with the threads of the past...

If the author's mission was to whet the appetite for further knowledge of ancient Rome, then he has done so with aplomb and left this reader starving for more. Thankfully, this is just the first book in the planned Ciceronian trilogy, with Lustrum to be published shortly....

Sit vis vobiscum Mr Harris.
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Imperium
Imperium by Robert Harris (Hardcover - 4 Sep 2006)
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