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VINE VOICEon 16 October 2009
Make no mistake, this book is about politics. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's Rome in 60BC - this novel could easily be set in Westminster or Washington, present day. In other words, politics and politicians don't change. They conspire, they lie, they seek alliances with enemies merely to further their own ambitions. And in the end, they're either found out or destroyed. Harris' novel 'The Ghost' has a very thinly-veiled Tony Blair and I don't think the present shenanigans can have been far from Harris' mind even when writing about Cicero. Take this from early on : "Now we have occupied Syria. What business do we have in Syria? This is going to require permanent legions stationed overseas." Sound familiar? Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the book very much. I thought at first it didn't have the sheer lust for power evident in 'Imperium' but once you start to see Julius Caesar's plotting, you realise this isn't the case. At the end, I found myself wondering how I felt about Cicero. Did I feel sorry for him or was he the victim of his own machinations? You can decide for yourself. Excellent cover, I thought - the hounds and the deer. Highly recommended but I'm not sure it's going to be to everyone's taste.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 October 2009
Lustrum is the deserving sequel to Harris's Imperium - though it is also readable on its own. It picks up where the first book of the trilogy-in-progress left off: Cicero has just been elected consul. The year 63BC begins. Cicero is faced with the same hostility from corrupt senatorial peers, oblivious to threats from the immensely wealthy Crassus and the rising stars of popular Rome that are Caesar and Pompey. But Cicero also makes mistakes. He turns down a land law amid rural distress, debt, and a grain shortage. The demagogues soon seize upon this to launch the murkiest and most desperate conspiracy the Republic has seen. This is led by none other than Catiline, the debauched patrician playboy whom Cicero had to defeat at the consular stakes. And Catiline has friends, he is unafraid of violence, and is bent on vengeance.

Cicero's life was eventful in itself, but it also took place within the most tumultuous of Roman times. And Cicero's own writings were profuse. So Harris's trilogy can afford to rely on, at times becoming almost a palimpsest of, the original documents, and the Imperium series are that rare thing: a historically faithful work that is at the same time a great yarn. Though I'd read and enjoyed some Harris before, I heard of the Ciceronian trilogy through an eminent professor of classics. She said she found no historical mistake in it, and that it captures the spirit of the times as she imagines it. This is isn't to belittle Harris as a storyteller. He knows when to build anticipation and what to insist on for drama. The idea was brilliant of having the story told by Tiro, Cicero's slave secretary, who actually existed and wrote a lost biography of his master. If anything, Lustrum offers more action and tension than Imperium. It is also darker, beginning with the murder of a child, and more lurid, answering our fantasies of Roman decadence.

Lustrum became the term for the five-year period between each taking of the census, when the censors purged the morally unfit from the body politic, especially from the senate. As the late Republic's conflicts became increasingly acrimonious, one after the other of the censuses failed to be performed - and Cicero became ever more anxious at what he saw as a double tale of moral and constitutional decay. We will eagerly be awaiting the final episode of Harris's trilogy: into the Civil War.
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on 5 October 2009
Magnificent historical recollection of tragic times through the life of a protagonist, the staunch defensor of the Roman Republic Marcus Tullius Cicero.I like how the Catiline Conspiracy is narrated as if it were a modern polytical thriller,yet making us feel immersed in those ancient times quite convincingly,making us appreciate the tragic moral dilemmas Cicero had to face, amidst ambiguous friends,unrelenting foes,and powerful men as Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. A great novel to rival Steven Saylor's "Catilina's Riddle" in Roma sub Rosa series!
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Following Imperium, Robert Harris continues the story of Cicero's career, told by his slave Tiro. This picks up immediately in 63 BCE, the year of Cicero's consulship, and runs through to 58 BCE, the year of his exile from Rome.

If you enjoyed Imperium then you'll like this too - but, conversely, this contains many of the same faults both structurally and in execution of the first book. The biggest problem I have with both books is the simplification of Roman politics: so Harris re-orders the republican system into a two-party parliamentary system of the `patricians' and the `populists' as he calls them, aligned more or less with the right and the left respectively. And the left are shown, in his books, to be comprised of psychopaths (Catilina), sexual deviants (Clodius Pulcher), and megalomaniacs (Caesar). Roman politics under the republic are actually far more complex since the idea of political parties didn't exist and, while factions might come together over a particular issue, such as land bills, the members of that particular faction might equally oppose each other on another point.

I particularly disliked the idea of making Catalina a psychopath who enjoys killing and mutilating boys and women in this book as it felt unnecessarily lurid and, again, very simplistic in its delineation of Catalina. Harris' Caesar, too, is branded by historical foresight so a huge number of characters spend a lot of time predicting his future career - again, from a very biased point of view.

I know this is fiction but there are lots of slippages in the research: armed legionaries wander around the city as a kind of police force and then Harris contradicts this picture himself when he quite rightly mentions that arms were forbidden to be carried within the city. He has Tullia get married in white which was a mourning colour: Roman brides married in saffron. Most irritatingly, Harris actually contradicts the historical sources: so his Caesar is unequivocally on the side of Catiline and supportive of his armed attempt to invade Rome. And Curius' mistress, Fulvia, is unnamed (despite the details of her role given in Sallust's [[ASIN:0140449485 Catiline's War) so that she can be murdered and eviscerated, and then appears under her own name to marry Clodius (this is the same Fulvia later married to Mark Antony).

I guess I could forgive all this if the narrative itself were exciting, but I'm afraid it all felt very lacklustre to me, with no excitement or passion in the writing - very strange given the contents. I still think Colleen McCullough does Rome far better than this, or you might skip fiction altogether and go back to Sallust.
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on 15 June 2016
I read and enjoyed this some time ago but my wife who has developed an interest in Ancient Rome following her reading of the first part of the trilogy; Imperium, is just about to start. Doing nothing by halves she is reading histories and watching Mary Beard's series and (best for me) watching, on Netflix, the series "Rome" swords, sandals and lots of sex and violence but rather blurry on accurate history if it gets in the way of a good story.
Robert Harris is an intelligent writer, perhaps my favourite, I've read most of his books and have never been disappointed. Basically the story is about the life and times of Cicero a staunch republican as seen through the eyes of his slave Tiro and set against the tumultuous backdrop of Rome's bloody transition from a republic to the short lived dictatorship of Julius Caesar. Cicero rose from humble beginnings to become a consul, the top job, of Rome. This is not a dry history book it is peopled with characters who have a life and about whom you begin to care. the history is there but as these were "exciting" times so is the history. This is an excellent book and may be read as a stand alone book but I recommend you read Imperium first. The third part of the trilogy (not yet read) is called Dictator.
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on 1 December 2015
Robert Harris, always so readable, manages to put flesh on the key players in the history of ancient Rome. He must have put many hours of research into this book - and the others in the Cicero trilogy - and I am very grateful to him. As a story alone, it would not have enthralled me..... but as a story worked around historical figures and events, it was a fascinating way to learn history and appreciate how Rome gradually moved from a workable and surprisingly democratic Republic to a dictatorship, spearheaded by the astute and scheming Julius Caesar.

My only slight problem was that the vast number of characters with similar Roman names and varying roles were quite hard to sort out, even with the excellent x-ray facility on my Kindle. I would have appreciated a few words to remind me of their significance when these characters reappeared in the narrative.

I am looking forward to completing the set by reading Dictator.
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Lustrum is the second volume of Harris's classical trilogy. Picking up where Imperium left off, after the election of Cicero as consul of Rome in 63 BC. Once again, the book continues in the set-up of the first novel, with the story told in the first-person from the point of view of Cicero's secretary Tiro. It follows on immediately from Imperium, starting with the beginning of Cicero's consulship and ending with his exile as a result of the enmity of Clodius.

One of Harris's great strengths is the thoroughness of his research and his absolute mastery of complex historical periods. As some readers of Lustrum will know strands of the story already and Harris weaves in well-known events. An example of this is the plot to assassinate Cicero, to create an utterly convincing quasi-historical narrative. For me this is a very well written and totally plausible life and politics of Cicero. An excellent read that is highly recommended.
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on 18 November 2009
Robert Harris is today's Robert Graves, not only in his choice of subject matter, but in his storytelling. Just as Graves chose a slave to tell the story of Count Belisarius in 1938, Harris chooses Tiro. This is no minor matter or coincidence, as the entire point of view comes from this narrator, giving him both intimacy and distance, a trick Graves used to excellent effect. Harris takes up Graves' cynical view of Rome - as in both the Claudius books and Belisarius - complete with a raging politics of immorality and power grabbing. The one missing ingredient is the centrality of venal women in all of Graves' books.In this day of feminism, women are minor characters characters, occasionally bad (Clodia, for example) or weak (wife Terentia -'Marriage to you has been the only purpose of my life!'), but the true villains are all testosterone fuelled men like Caesar, Pompey, Catilina, etc. This makes Lustrum read a bit old fashioned, and Graves much more modern.

Cicero is a legal Belisarius, moral and upright, in a world that does not value this kind of valour. Harris fills the story with wordy set pieces, so appropriate for his windbag hero. The best part of the story is how Cicero is brought down by his own hubris and blindness to other's resentments and designs. Is Cicero meant to be Harris's former friend Tony Blair, another windbag brought down by hubris? I enjoyed the tale despite all of this. I don't think Harris is great at dialogue, and his tale is also let down sometimes by leaden prose. But there is enough in Lustrum to keep you reading until the story comes to second act conclusion. Now we await the third.
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on 12 January 2016
This is the second of three books on the life of Cicero, the father of jurisprudence. It is a relatively long book, with a great deal of detail relating to the political life of Rome around 60bc. In my opinion, there is too much exact detail on individuals, almost as though Harris wishes to impress his reader about how thoroughly he has undertaken his research. Despite this misgiving, I enjoyed the book and found the final section to be excellent. The portrayal of Cicero intensifies and deepens, to great effect.The dissolution of the Roman Republic is well described, and the ruthlessness of Caesar is laid bare. His ultimate assassination seems inevitable following the portrayal in this novel. Rome's decadence and casual immorality is vividly painted.
Harris's literary style is interesting. I do not believe I have ever known an author make such frequent use of the colon in his writing. It seems to be used to force the reader to pause and focus on the next statement. Mostly, it works well but eventually I thought it's use to be excessive.
An affection for historical novels is needed to enjoy this book. I plan to read the third of the trilogy.
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on 28 January 2016
If you want a masterpiece, then don't read Robert Harris. If you want well-researched history, which uses dialogue and light character sketching to fill in the gaps left by Tacitus, Suetonius and others, then the three books of the Cicero Trilogy are richly rewarding. I have an interest in this period but it's very complicated and I confess I bought this one to help me grasp which Caesar was married to which Antonia, etc etc. I ended up reading all three books back-to-back and hugely enjoyed them.
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