My First Amazon Review

September may have been the month for the trip to Graz, but before going – in fact while Alison was in Germany – I read Robert Harris’ novel Imperium.  After finishing it, I wrote a review on Amazon.  It didn’t appear for a few days, but I looked it up recently and it’s proved useful to some, so I repeat it here.  I gave it five stars as it was a cracking read.


Imperium is essentially a political and legal thriller. But it also informs as a history lesson. Harris goes to some length to give the reader an idea of the layout of Rome in ancient times and the kind of conditions people lived in – particularly the senators – so you often feel like you’re reading a political biography, which of course you are.

Harris explains the voting process – highlighting the role of democracy, public participation and the duty of every Roman citizen to vote. Of course it’s not just one man, one vote. Cicero’s slave and secretary, Tiro the narrator, doesn’t have a vote and we see that Republican Rome is a place of many contradictions.

Rome comes across as a city high on public participation. Our age is a sad shadow of this democracy in action. However as the narrative unfolds, the will of the people is manipulated by characters such as Pompey, Crassus and Caesar until the stage is set for the undermining of democracy and the fall of the Republic.

Is it a comment on the increase of powers given to governments to combat terrorism since 9/11? Of course it is and Harris isn’t subtle about it. Through Tiro’s narrative of Cicero’s experience with Pompey and Caesar, he warns that giving too much power too quickly while disregarding democratic precedent, even at the will of the people, is dangerous.

Although loaded with history and the references to the problems of our own time, it’s still a great story with real pace, humour, intrigue and of course a lust for political power. By the end you’re really rooting for Cicero and Tiro. They are the good guys – the “new men” against the old aristocracy, the regional players caught up in a race for power.

It’s not all politics though and there are some touching moments. Although the character development between Cicero and Tiro isn’t explored as fully as it could be, you sense that Harris is going to develop that in the next two parts.

Harris has chosen an amazing character in Cicero and a turning point in the history of Rome – from the Republic to the Empire.

Roll on the fall of the republic . . .

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