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Imperium by Robert Harris

Imperium (2006)

by Robert Harris

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Cicero (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8081062,078 (3.89)145
  1. 21
    Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland (YossarianXeno)
    YossarianXeno: Rubicon and Imperium are both exceptionally well-written and researched accounts, one non-fiction and the other fiction, of the politics of Rome covering much of the period.
  2. 00
    The Accusers by Lindsey Davis (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 00
    Fatherland by Robert Harris (HenriMoreaux)
    HenriMoreaux: Another great Robert Harris book
  4. 00
    Julian by Gore Vidal (YossarianXeno)
    YossarianXeno: Both excellent fictional accounts of different periods of Roman history
  5. 00
    Letters to Atticus by Marcus Tullius Cicero (Anonymous user)
  6. 01
    Vote for Caesar: How the Ancient Greeks and Romans Solved the Problems of Today by Peter Jones (bergs47)

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» See also 145 mentions

English (95)  German (3)  Italian (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (2)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All (106)
Showing 1-5 of 95 (next | show all)
Excerpts from my original GR review of Apr 01 '09 (read the book Jan 08):
-Narrated by a very aged former aide to Cicero, he tells of the adventurous (and daring) political rise of the great Roman orator. His courtroom battle to expose political corruption on the protectorate of Sicily is the centerpiece, with ongoing intrigue involving the young and already ambitious Caesar, the warrior and buffoon Pompey and so many others.
-A sharp and dynamic historic fiction.. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Oct 10, 2017 |
I think a lot of the appeal of this book is that it slanted in such a way as to be as much a commentary on modern politics as it is about Roman history. Harris has shown a lot of skill in giving us an account which in its basics is true to history while at the same time inviting readers to see the parallels with their politicians, whatever country they happen to be from. Whether Harris is right in presenting politicians as invariably being scheming people or whether he has distorted the way Romans went about their politics doesn’t really matter much in fiction. I’m always put off when films (or less often, books) make claims that they are based on ‘true stories’ as if this is going to endear the viewer/reader more to what they are about to sample. For me it’s a matter of how convincing and thought-provoking a book is as well as how far its style appeals to me.

I think ‘Imperium’ scores quite well in all three areas. Cicero seems largely to be convincing enough – a scheming, ambitious man, ready to do whatever it takes to assume power – and how many politicians do we know today who are just the same! His family relationships, with wife, brother, cousin and children, all also strike an authentis chord. In one spat between Cicero and his wife in their often fractious relationship we find ‘Like most arguments between husband and wife it was not about the thing itself, but a different matter entirely’.

It’s Tiro with whom I have the most difficulty. Yes, we read two or three times of his aspirations but not of any resentment at not being freed, not even at the end when Cicero had promised this to him. I think Harris has used him so much as a man in a position to record everything that happens that he failed to develop his narrator’s personality, his personal comments being restricted to views of Cicero and what was going on. As says, ‘Poor Tiro – you are not any kind of type, that I can see’ – and he isn’t! When Tiro does tell Cicero what he wants, we find Cicero telling him ‘let us have no more talk of such foolishness’ and Tiro’s reaction is simply ‘and that was the end of my pastoral idyll’.

As far as being thought-provoking goes, I find Harris rather confirms what must be most people’s feelings about politicians. There are many, many examples. We can recognise the present day appication of ‘Cicero and Catilina might be consuls together, in which case his dream of supreme imperium would degenerate into a yearlong running battle, and the business of the republic would be paralysed by their acrimony’.
Another example of a broader nature comes when Tiro talks about the antipathy between Crassus and Cicero: ‘Cicero and Crassus were two such men. This is what the Stoics fail to grasp when they assert that reason rather than emotion should play the dominant part in human affairs. I am afraid the reverse is true, and always will be, even – perhaps especially – in the supposedly calculating world of politics. And if reason cannot rule in politics, what hope is there for it in any other sphere?’ The unanticipated election of Trump and the Brexit vote both illustrate ‘election is a living thing – you might almost say, the most vigorously alive thing there is – with thousands upon thousands of brains and limbs and eyes and thoughts and desires, and it will wriggle and turn and run off in directions no one ever predicted, sometimes just for the joy of proving the wiseacres wrong’, and of course ‘Imperium’ was written well before these two votes. And the way decisions are made: ‘simply because a measure is honest and sensible does not guarantee that it will be adopted; rather the opposite, in my experience’. More applicable to the average reader is this last bit of advice coming from Cicero: “Cicero smiled at us. ‘The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one’s spirit by worrying about them too far in advance’”. This sort of comment helps to include the reader, another being ‘The unspoken dreads which attend all births – of agony, death and deformity – are banished, and in their place comes this miracle of a fresh life. Relief and joy are intertwined’.

I found aspects of the book informative. I’m sure Harris put Narnia first in a list of decentsized towns so that readers might mull over whether this was what gave CS Lewis his idea for his seven books set in a country called this. And we learn the origin of the word ‘rostrum’ (the captured beaks of fifty pirate triremes and was nowadays known as the domus rostra’) which I found interesting. Then what epicureans really practised: ‘I hasten to add that he was an Epicurean not in the commonly misunderstood sense, as a seeker after luxury, but in the true meaning, as a pursuer of what the Greeks call ataraxia, or freedom from disturbance’.

Perhaps Harris’ greatest achievement comes in his style. It’s not a feature for the most part that draws the reader’s attention – and that’s part of Harris’ skill – making the story hold our attention without any sense of the words being forced or overwrought. One or two parts were, though, particularly effective. I liked the way he wrote ‘I pictured his quick thoughts running ahead in the way that water runs along the cracks in a tiled floor – first onwards, and then spreading to either side, blocked in one spot, advancing in another, widening and branching out, all the little possibilities and implications and likelihoods in shimmering fluid motion’. I also appreciated the touches of humour such as ‘One of Pompey’s peculiarities, I later discovered, was that he always tended to love his wife, whoever she happened to be at the time’ and Tiro asserting of his shorthand ‘in theory even a woman could become a stenographer’, the humour here ironic in that shorthand did become more of a woman’s profession.

While, every now and then I felt lists of historical figures went on too long, on the whole this aspect of Harris’ research was restrained and the way of presenting historical facts was done naturally such as in this bit: ‘I should explain, for those not familiar with the case, that this Fonteius had been governor of Further Gaul about five years earlier’.

I’m always wary about books that set up sequels but Harris is restrained in his foreshadowing, the most we get, I think, being Lucius’s warning: ‘as with all men, your great strength is also your weakness, Marcus, and I am sorry for you, absolutely I am, because soon you will not be able to tell your tricks from the truth’, an anticipation of how power will corrupt Cicero.

Altogether, then, I found this an entertaining book, the antithesis of the pretentious ‘Damascus Gate’ that I had recently read. ( )
  evening | Sep 10, 2017 |
This is the first book in the Cicero trilogy and covers his beginnings as a young lawyer up until he becomes consul. It is told from the perspective of his slave, Tiro, who purports to have invented shorthand. Tiro is perfectly placed to narrate the story of Cicero, both in terms of access to the man himself and distance, because he is not that man personally. Being somewhat familiar with Roman history, I enjoyed this book a fair bit, although now I want to read some non-fiction about Cicero to make sure that the history is correct, or at least correct enough.

It may help to be a little bit familiar with Roman history, although Harris does provide a cast of characters and a glossary of terms related to ancient Rome. If this is a subject that interests you, you may want to read this book! ( )
  rabbitprincess | Aug 29, 2017 |
We were so pleased with recently listening to the audio version of CONCLAVE that we
decided to follow it up with another by the same author. IMPERIUM did not disappoint.
It is the first of what is now known as the Cicero Trilogy and traces Cicero's rise from lawyer, to senator, and then to consul. At nearly 14 hours it makes a long audio book but it is fascinating listening.
The rest of the series is
2. Lustrum (2009)
aka Conspirata
3. Dictator (2015) and I can see that we will be following it to the end, and then maybe venturing into some other Harris books. ( )
  smik | Feb 11, 2017 |
A very entertaining and well-written book. I'd recommend it for fans of historical fiction looking for a relatively light read. ( )
  StefanieBrookTrout | Feb 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 95 (next | show all)
In his new novel, “Imperium,” the British author Robert Harris fictionalizes Cicero’s less-known early career as a young lawyer on the make. He paints an engrossing picture of the caldron of Roman politics and presents a Cicero for our own times, a man who is the lineal ancestor of the modern career politician.
The result is an experiment as bold as it is unexpected: a novel that draws so scrupulously on the Roman source material that it forgoes much of what are traditionally regarded as the prime features of the thriller. Although there is detective work, there is no detective; although there are twists and turns, there is rarely any artificial ratcheting up of suspense. Instead, Harris trusts to the rhythm of the republic's politics to generate his trademark readability, a rhythm that the Romans themselves enshrined in their literature as something relentlessly exciting: in short, a thriller. Genres ancient and modern have rarely been so skilfully synthesised.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Harris, Robertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carlsen, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piggott, ReginaldCartographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
van Horn, MiebethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zwart, JannekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Innumerabilia tua sunt in me officia, forensia, urbana, provincialia, in re privata, in publica, in studiis, in litteris nostris . . .'

'Your services to me are beyond count - in my home and out of it, in Rome and abroad, in private affairs and public, in my studies and literary work . . .'

Cicero, letter to Tiro, 7 November 50 BC
Audrey Harris
and for
First words
My name is Tiro.
Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.
The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one's spirit by worrying about them too far in advance.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Of all the great figures of Roman times, none was more fascinating or attractive than Marcus Cicero. A brilliant lawyer and orator, a famous wit and philosopher, he launched himself at the age of twenty-seven into the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics. Cicero was determined to attain imperium, the supreme power in the state. Beside him at all times in his struggle to reach the top — the office of Consul — was his confidential secretary, Tiro. An accomplished man, Tiro was the inventor of shorthand and the author of numerous books, including a famous life of Cicero, unfortunately lost in the Dark Ages.

In Imperium, Robert Harris recreates Tiro’s vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero’s rise to power, from radical young lawyer to first citizen of Rome, competing with men such as Pompey, Caesar, Crassus and Cato.

Harris’s Cicero is an immensely sympathetic figure. In his introduction to this imaginary memoir, Taro states: “Cicero was unique in the history of the Roman republic in that he pursued supreme power with no resources to help him apart from his own talent... All he had was his voice, and by sheer effort of will, he turned it into the most famous voice in the world.”
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 074326603X, Hardcover)

When Tiro, the confidential secretary of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events which will eventually propel his master into one of the most famous courtroom dramas in history. The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island's corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Cicero, a brilliant young lawyer and spellbinding orator, determined to attain imperium - supreme power in the state. This is the starting-point of Robert Harris' most accomplished novel to date. Compellingly written in Tiro's voice, it takes us inside the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics, to describe how one man - clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable - fought to reach the top. 'Sometimes it is foolish to articulate an ambition too early - exposing it prematurely to the laughter and scepticism of the world can destroy it before it is even properly born. But sometimes the opposite occurs, and the very act of mentioning a thing makes it suddenly seem possible, even plausible. That was how it was that night. When Cicero pronounced the word "consul" he planted it in the ground like a standard for us all to admire. And for a moment we glimpsed the brilliant, starry future through his eyes, and saw that he was right: that if he took down Verres, he had a chance; that he might - just - with luck - go all the way to the summit...'

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:37 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A tale inspired by the writings of Tiro, Cicero's confidential secretary, traces the life of the ancient Roman orator from his beginnings as a young lawyer through his competitions with Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus in the political arena.

» see all 9 descriptions

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