Books to consider: The Cicero Trilogy

by Robert Harris

Imperium: When Tiro, the confidential secretary (and slave) of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually propel his master into one of the most suspenseful courtroom dramas in history. The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island’s corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Marcus Cicero—an ambitious young lawyer and spellbinding orator, who at the age of twenty-seven is determined to attain imperium—supreme power in the state. 

Of all the great figures of the Roman world, none was more fascinating or charismatic than Cicero. And Tiro—the inventor of shorthand and author of numerous books, including a celebrated biography of his master (which was lost in the Dark Ages)—was always by his side. 

Compellingly written in Tiro’s voice, Imperium is the re-creation of his vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero’s quest for glory, competing with some of the most powerful and intimidating figures of his—or any other—age: Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and the many other powerful Romans who changed history. 

Conspirata: Cicero returns to continue his struggle to grasp supreme power in the state of Rome. Amidst treachery, vengeance, violence, and treason, this brilliant lawyer, orator, and philosopher finally reaches the summit of all his ambitions. Cicero becomes known as the world’s first professional politician, using his compassion, and deviousness, to overcome all obstacles.

Compelling historical fiction at its best: Harris employs historical detail and an engrosing plot to give readers a man who is by turns a sympathetic hero and compromising manipulator who sets himself up for his own massive, violent ruin. This trilogy charges forward, propelled by the strength of Harris’s stunningly fascinating prose.

Dictator: With Dictator, Robert Harris brings the saga of Cicero’s life to a time when some of the most epic events in human history occurred: the collapse of the Roman republic, the subsequent civil war, the murder of Pompey and the assassination of Julius Caesar. Yet the question it asks is a timeless one: how is political freedom to be safeguarded against the triple threat of unscrupulous personal ambition, of an electoral system dominated by vested financial interests, and of the corrupting impact of waging ceaseless foreign wars? And in the very human figure of Cicero—brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful, and yet ultimately brave—Harris gives us a hero for both his own time, and for ours.

Robert Harris, the world’s master of innovative historical fiction, lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics at once exotically different from and yet startlingly similar to our own—a world of Senate intrigue and electoral corruption, special prosecutors and political adventurism—to describe how one clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable man fought to reach the top.

[Get the books here, here, and here.]

Published by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

4 thoughts on “Books to consider: The Cicero Trilogy

  1. I have read all three books and they are marvellous reading. Harris’ research is impeccable. He recreates the spirit and mood of that milieu in a most convincing manner. This is history at its most enjoyable. The only thing which is comparable is the Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel. I now have Munich by Robert Harris on my desk. Good but it does not rise to the heights of his Cicero trilogy. Also very good are the Claudius books by Robert Graves who penned the memorable phrase “the future is not what it used to be”.

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    1. I don’t trust Graves, responsible for the Derek Jacobi image of Claudius that Massimo has already criticised here. But let me commend Harris’s An Officer and a Spy, about the Dreyfus Affair, and the fault lines it revealed in French society that were to re-emerge in 1940

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  2. I never cease to be astonished by the deep and lasting impact of Cicero. The books completely revised my opinion of Julius Caesar. I was too much influenced by his self serving Commentarii de Bello Gallico

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