Dictator

Dictator (Cicero, #3)Dictator by Robert Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third volume on the life of Cicero, we finally get to see Cicero the philosopher and the writer. Exiled from Rome, he retires from politics and turns to the work that he is perhaps best known for. Seen through the eyes of his former slave and now secretary, Tiro, this is one man’s candid assessment, warts and all, of Cicero’s great accomplishments and his great failures. Because politics takes more of a back seat, at least in the first half of the book, we see a bit more of Cicero’s family, and I think a little more of Tiro as well. From afar, we see the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, and the chaos and violence following his assassination that calls a reluctant Cicero back to Rome. Ultimately, the aging statesman cannot compete with the greed and militarism of his younger compatriots. It’s tempting to draw parallels with current politics and that is not a comforting thought. The quest of right versus might is as old as mankind, along with the desire to both live well and die well.

Audiobook read by David Rintoul

Description: At the age of forty-eight, Cicero—the greatest orator of his time—is in exile, his power sacrificed on the altar of his principles. The only way to return to Rome is to pledge his support to a charismatic and dangerous enemy: Julius Caesar. Harnessing his political cunning, unrivalled intellect, and the sheer brilliance of his words, Cicero fights his way back to prominence. Yet no public figure is completely safeguarded against the unscrupulous ambition of others. Riveting and tumultuous, Dictator encompasses the most epic events in ancient history, including the collapse of the Roman Republic, the murder of Pompey, and the assassination of Caesar. But its central question is a timeless one: how to keep political freedom unsullied by personal gain, vested interests, and the corrosive effects of ceaseless foreign wars. In Robert Harris’s indelible portrait, Cicero is a deeply fascinating hero for his own time and for ours.

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Conspirata

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient RomeConspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although it has been almost two years since I read the first book in this trilogy about the life of Cicero, I was quickly reminded of the compelling way Robert Harris writes, which sucks you right into the time and place. At the same time it feels more contemporary than historical. Perhaps that is because in many ways our country and our politics has more in common with ancient Rome than with the medieval kings and queens of Europe. We left off in the previous book just as Cicero has achieved the rank of consul, and this one covers the five-year period ending with Cicero’s exile in 59 BC. [The title of the British edition of Conspirata is “Lustrum,” which is the Latin term for a 5-year time period.] It is not necessary to have read the first book. I think each of these could stand alone.

More tightly plotted than Imperium, this book centers around the conspiracy of Catalina. While initially successful at stopping it, and executing 5 of the conspirators, Cicero’s actions will eventually cause his own downfall. We also witness a deepening rift between Cicero and Julius Caesar. Told from the point of view of Cicero’s secretary, we get to see the heroism of his dedication to the Republic, but also a man not immune to hubris and greed. I felt this got a bit muddled in the middle, and I got a little tired of all politics all the time (would love to have seen more of Cicero’s private life – his wife and children – his writing, etc.) but I am continuing on with book number 3.

Narrated once again by Simon Jones.

Description: Elected by the public, yet hated by the patricians and populists, Marcus Cicero prepares for his inauguration as consul of Rome. However, the grisly murder of a boy overshadows his induction and ignites fear throughout a city already plagued by crime and civil unrest. To add to Cicero’s worries, he hears rumors of an attack on his life by the hands of young Roman senator Gaius Julius Caesar.

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Imperium

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome (Cicero, #1)Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite being inundated with politics in this presidential election year, I found this to be a fascinating look at politics in ancient Rome. With impeccable historical research, Harris brings the people and places alive. Particularly interesting is the voice of Tiro, writing the biography of Cicero in his great old age. The first half of the book, which begins with the young Cicero becoming quaestor in 75 BC and his involvement with the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres, was riveting. I loved the description of his gathering evidence, his oratorical skills, persuading witnesses to testify, and finally winning the case in a dramatic court battle against the best lawyer in Rome. It got a bit boring after that, as we follow Cicero’s growing political career as he successively becomes aedile, praetor, and finally consul in 63 BC at the still young age of 43. And he accomplishes this without coming from a political or military family, or the wealth his rich wife won’t let him use, but on the strength of his oratory. It’s not a lot of comfort to realize that after 2000 years we still have not learned the dangers of too much money in politics. It is very uncomfortably familiar!

Description: Tiro, slave and secretary of the brilliant orator and senator Marcus Cicero, tells this tale of one man’s rise from obscurity to the most powerful position in the state. As the second-best lawyer in Rome, Cicero cunningly matches wits with the best when he takes on a case that attacks the amoral aristocracy. His victory catapults him into the realm of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. There he develops a consuming passion for this ultimately deadly political theatre. Harris presents a vividly realistic portrait of the quest for the consummate position of power.

Narrated by Simon Jones.