Book Review: Imperium, by Robert Harris

Prior to this, I had not read any book about ancient Rome-fiction or non fiction. Indeed my knowledge of ancient Rome can be credited mainly to discrete random bits of information. So Imperium (Cicero#1) by Robert Harris was probably the first book, and hence the first fictional novel I have read about Rome. My review of the novel should be therefore viewed in that context.

For a lover of politics, this book would come out to be a very good read. Ancient Rome and most importantly a significant period of the life of one of the greatest orators of all time, Marcus Tullius Cicero is presented in a very thought-provoking manner. The various aspects of the character of Cicero may be well delineated, although one might argue that the positive aspect of his character receives much more attention. The author is however not condescending, and brings about the fallacies in the great statesman.

The vivid description of senate sessions, tribune cases and the strategies employed by generals, aristocrats and the common plebs makes the narrative gripping. While it may be argued that the story stops suddenly at the consulship of Cicero rather than coming to an end, it captures the best part of Cicero’s life.

The first part describing the journey of Cicero-the senator to the office the praetor and his trial of Verres is very gripping. Cicero’s opportunism is presented, but is never criticized, nor is it given any strong ¬†justification. The second half is also interesting from the viewpoint of the political career of Cicero, and contains references to people like Crassus and Caesar. It ends with Cicero winning an unlikely citizen for the Consulship, the highest post in Rome.

The character I admired was the narrator Marcus Tullius Tiro, Cicero’s slave (and later freedman) one credited with the discovery of the shorthand system at that time, for his courage and loyalty.

For a person with limited knowledge on Rome, the book was both entertaining and informative. People may find startling anachronisms, but that is why it is a historical fiction not a non-fictional account. (It however claims to represent what happened, and what could have happened, but not anything that did not happen)

Recommended.
My score:-  3.5/5

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