Power brings a man many luxuries, Robert Harris’ Tiro writes, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them. Tiro, who invented shorthand, was the slave-secretary to the Roman senator Cicero, and in Harris’ novel Imperium, he is the narrator. In this novel, the first of a series about Cicero, Tiro, an aging freeman, looks back at Cicero’s rise from a provincial youth to a Roman consul. As a “New Man,” the first in his family to become a senator, Cicero struggles against the aristocrats who controlled and governed the city since the beginning of its history. His goal is to conquer Rome, not with military force but with political power.
I like novels about ancient Rome, and I believe Imperium one of the best I read. Unlike most novels about Rome, which focus on Rome’s wars, there is nothing military in this novel. Since Cicero sought power with court cases and senate speeches, he had no need for military experience. As described by Tiro, he was a man who knew his strengths and his foes’ weaknesses. Tiro’s voice comes across as honest and authentic, and he tells a fascinating tale of political cat-and-mouse.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially about ancient Rome. Those who enjoy courtroom and political dramas will most likely also enjoy this novel.