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)

My score:-  3.5/5

Book Review: India from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond by Shashi Tharoor

RATING : 2.5/5

India from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond by Shashi Tharoor was, in many ways, disappointing. It is not  the overall readability of the book, or of the topics covered or of the beauty of the language used ; but it is the lack of  expected depth of the book which gives that impression. And especially when its title makes one assume that it must cover the whole of Independent India’s history.

No one can deny that Mr. Tharoor remains a narrator without much parallel among the modern political observers of India. However, one could see only a few instances elaborated as the only ones which defined the period under consideration. Plainly speaking, too much of information and anecdotes have been provided on a handful of topics. This gives the book a handsome superficial width, but a depth as thin as a sheet (although not quite the alternate pronunciation).

At one instance he narrates an anecdote to hint at the success of affirmative action for removal of caste disparities in Kerala. The narrative gets almost an entire chapter on caste. Apparently, it happened to be one of national prominence as the all important author was personally involved. A lot of similar issues abound the book.

A good book, if you are fond of one-liners. But for them, I would rather read The Great Indian Novel by the same author.

Recommended: for people with less interest in the depth of political affairs, as they will at least find something in the political discourse which is interesting. It still remains a book, which might invoke some interest in the disinterested.

Not Recommended: There is hardly anything new for people who have been reading books of this genre for a long time. Not an advisable read for those in search of information.

Good one-liners and remarks make the book light and enjoyable. That provides the extra 0.5 in my ratings.