Why: He writes historical fiction at it’s finest.
An author can’t write a great book without a great subject. In his Imperium series, Robert Harris chose one of the most important historical figures of all time: Cicero.
The old adage is that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. Cicero’s story is important for our time. Cicero grew up with asthma and a weak body. He abhorred physical violence. By training and willpower he rose to the top of a society that idolized a warrior culture.
Sixty years before Christ’s birth, Rome was in flux. It was founded as a republic that was held together by warrior-farmer class which possessed a great work ethic, reverence for it’s religion, and an abundance of patriotism. Over generations Rome became more successful, more belligerent to it’s neighbors. Conquering generals became idolized because they brought wealth to the empire. Wealthy men bought votes and principles were discarded. Bread and Circuses made rich men into powerful politicians.
Cicero was a canny politician but he was a Roman first. He won many battles against power-hungry men. His speeches still exist. He urged his fellow citizens to keep the form of the republic, to obey the traditions and ancient laws. For this he was betrayed and executed. His murderers had statues carved in their honor.
But it is clear, by examination of history and especially by Harris’ books, who the real hero was.
After Cicero’s assassination, Rome plunged into a bloody civil war. The republican government was replaced by an emperor. While some emperors were well intended men, Rome trended into a lazy, morally degraded society.
In history we tend to focus on men like Hitler, Napoleon, and Tamerlane. Perhaps we should focus on the heroes like Cicero who risked their lives to do what was right.