Dictator by Robert Harris (2015)

 

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This is my third Robert Harris novel (Pompeii and An Officer and a Spy), and I have several more on my list. I so appreciate his ability to take historical events, fictionalize them into a well-constructed story, and adhere to as much historical fact as possible. This book, Dictator, is a story about the collapse of the Roman Republic, but it’s told from the point of view of Cicero’s servant and personal secretary, Tiro.  So the focus is the last 15 years in the life of the famous Roman statesman and orator, Cicero, but the story is delivered through Tiro who did, in fact, write a biography of Cicero. Though that book did not survive beyond the days of the Roman Empire, many other writers reference such a book, so from that historical fact, Harris has recreated what such a story might look like. And it is indeed a great story: politics, power, corruption, Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, Brutus, Mark Antony, Octavian…the whole crowd. It’s a great way to learn/re-learn history, to appreciate Cicero, and to immerse yourself in a page turning story. Two passages stand out above all else.  In the first, our narrator, Tiro, tells says of the arrogant and brutal Clodius, “There is always this to be said for politics: it is never static.  If the good times do not last, neither do the bad. Like Nature, it follows perpetual cycle of growth and decay and no statesman however cunning, is immune to this process” (39). Let us hope this to be true of politics in 2019 just as it was in the last century BC. And my other favorite passage takes place when our narrator moves into his new house and quotes one of Cicero’s letters about moving to a new property: “I have put out my books and now my house has a soul” (295). That is precisely how I  feel each time I move. This is a captivating read.

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