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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Roman Politics Brought Vividly To Life

Imperium  - Robert Harris

Imperium is the first of two novels based on the life of Roman orator and politician Cicero. Told from the perspective of Tiro, Cicero's secretary and reading like a contemporary thriller, it starts with the case that made Cicero's name: the prosecution of Verres, the corrupt governor of Sicily, and follows the subsequent political tight-rope walk that finally leads him to become the youngest ever Roman Consul.

Harris paints Cicero as an immensely talented, utterly driven outsider who is forced to make a series of compromises in his attempt to penetrate the inner circles of power. We observe the effects of these compromises on Cicero's own life and on the lives of those who surround him. Events are played out against a backdrop featuring some of history's greatest figures including, Pompey, Julius Caesar and Rome's richest man, the ambitious and unprincipled Crassus.

I studied this period of ancient history at school and it entirely failed to capture my imagination. Harris, however, manages to bring it so vividly to life and to make the world of Ancient Rome and the lives of its inhabitants so entirely recognisable that I could not put the book down until I had reached the end.