Tag Archives: Robert Harris

Recommended Read – Dictator by Robert Harris

There was a time when Cicero held Caesar’s life in the palm of his hand. But now Caesar is the dominant figure and Cicero’s life is in ruins. Exiled, separated from his wife and children, his possessions confiscated, his life constantly in danger, Cicero is tormented by the knowledge that he has sacrificed power for the sake of his principles. His comeback requires wit, skill and courage – and for a brief and glorious period, the legendary orator is once more the supreme senator in Rome. But politics is never static and no statesman, however cunning, can safeguard against the ambition and corruption of others.

Riveting and tumultuous, DICTATOR encompasses some of the most epic events in human history yet is also an intimate portrait of a brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful yet ultimately brave man – a hero for his time and for ours. This is an unforgettable tour de force from a master storyteller.

Dictator tells the story of Cicero, the great Roman statesman and orator, from the time he was forced to flee Rome to escape Julius Caesar to his eventual death*. Written in the style of a biography (purportedly by his former slave and secretary, Tiro) it gives us a glimpse into the tumultuous times which saw the death of the Roman Republic and the birth of an Empire. Tiro collated the works of Cicero as well as recording speeches in the senate verbatim (he developed the first system of shorthand, we still use some of his symbols today – &, etc., i.e., NB, e.g.), and it is his works which Robert Harris has drawn on to create his descriptions of the key characters in the early days of the Roman Empire, the political turmoil and martial conflict which they lived through.

It would be impossible to write about this period of history without a focus on politics, but Mr Harris cleverly entwines this with the personal lives of his characters, people whom he brings to life in all their complexity. We see their loves and hates, their strength of character, the ebb and flow of their allegiances; and it is these well-rounded characters who breathe life into this engrossing novel. Mr Harris is a skilful author who creates a believable Cicero, a man of lowly birth who rose to the greatest heights in the Roman Republic, a man of incredible intellect who had the gift of holding an audience in the palm of his hand with the strength of his oratory; a Cicero who we can all believe in and sympathise with. The descriptions of Roman life, the cities, travel by sea and on land, all are well researched and believable as Mr Harris utilises his apparently simple style to great effect, weaving a world which we can almost feel and smell and taste.

Many people believe that Cicero was one of the greatest Romans, not only as a politician and statesman but also a philosopher with deep insights into the human condition, a man who studied the ethics of the Greek masters and tried to apply them to his own time. All of this is portrayed in Dictator through Cicero’s own letters and speeches, bringing to life a man of personal courage whose strong principles had a profound impact on his world, for good and evil. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history and the human condition.

*I saw Dictator on the shelves in the library and it immediately appealed to me; it was not until I was half way through the book that I became aware that it is the final part of a trilogy about Cicero by Robert Harris. I enjoyed the book immensely and will definitely go back and read the first two parts – Imperium and Lustrum. If my review of Dictator appeals to you then I would recommend reading these two books first!

Dictator can be found on  Amazon

You can find out more about Robert Harris here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

Book Review – ‘An Officer And A Spy’ by Robert Harris

an officer and a spyParis in 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer, has just been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, and stripped of his rank in front of a baying crowd of twenty-thousand. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, the ambitious, intellectual, recently promoted head of the counterespionage agency that “proved” Dreyfus had passed secrets to the Germans. At first, Picquart firmly believes in Dreyfus’s guilt. But it is not long after Dreyfus is delivered to his desolate prison that Picquart stumbles on information that leads him to suspect that there is still a spy at large in the French military. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself.

I can remember a brief study of the Dreyfus Affair while I was at school. It intrigued me but I never followed up on it, so when I saw ‘An Officer And A Spy’ by Robert Harris I felt I had to read it. I was not disappointed.

This book is an amazing read. Mr Harris has utilised all of the primary sources and leading academic works on the subject to create an incredibly detailed novel, drawing on court records, and also Dreyfus’ own writings. This may give the impression that ‘An Office And A Spy’ is a dry history book, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Mr Harris has written a gripping novel which draws you in – I certainly found it difficult to put down. The scenic descriptions are detailed, giving a great feel for time and place, the characters are well drawn, the dialogue totally believable. But what is most compelling about the novel is the complex plotting. Spying, forged documents, trials and hearings, attempted assassinations and attempted government cover-ups all lead to a taut thriller. I had to stop a number of times and remind myself that this story is real, a true accounting of an historical event, yet it reads like a novel by John le Carré, Robert Ludlum or Frederick Forsyth.

Mr Harris has brought to life the divisions of the Third Republic in France, the racism and anti-semitism, the corruption within the army and the government. From the initial miscarriage of justice, through the search for the truth by Georges Picquart and the defence of the free press in Zola’s J’accuse speech, we are led to the final triumph of justice and release of an innocent man.

The Dreyfus Affair, a scandal and one of the most famous miscarriages of justice of all time, has lain in dusty history books for 120 years, but in ‘An Officer And A Spy’ Mr Harris has transformed it into a spellbinding, gripping thriller which I hope that someone will one day make into a movie. If only all history books could be this exciting!

Robert Haris’s web page

‘An Officer And A Spy’ on Amazon

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