Robert Harris recommends 6 books about the final years of the Roman republic
The best-selling author recommends works by Julius Caesar, Tom Holland, and more
Best-selling author Robert Harris recommends works by Julius Caesar, Tom Holland, and more:
Cicero: Select Letters (Cambridge, $40). Arguably not until 1933 to 1945 was there a more seismic event in Western history than the fall of the Roman republic. First and foremost on my list of indispensable books on the topic is D.R. Shackleton Bailey's brilliant translation of Cicero. Rome's greatest orator and elder statesman gave a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour account of the crisis engulfing the city and its empire. Cicero was a supporter of the Senate who nevertheless became disillusioned with the incompetence of its leader, Pompey.
The Civil War by Julius Caesar (Oxford, $12). Caesar recounts the same events from the opposite point of view, seeking here to justify his decision to invade the homeland with his Gallic armies and declare himself dictator — a desperate military venture that spread havoc across the entire Mediterranean world.
The Roman Revolution by Ronald Syme (Oxford, $30). Still essential three-quarters of a century after its publication. The Roman Revolution, which first appeared in 1939, is an excoriating account of the corruption of the old regime, full of the encroaching menace of a new age of dictators and disillusionment with democracy.
Rubicon by Tom Holland (Anchor, $17). The best modern single-volume account of the last 30 years of the republic. In his 2003 book, Holland provides vivid character sketches of the era's political leaders, including that fascinating, inflexible Roman neocon, Cato the Younger, who inspired a generation to fight tyranny and helped lead it to disaster.
Cicero by Anthony Everitt (Random House, $17). Everitt's 2001 biography is the best at illuminating the life of a man who can lay claim to being the world's first professional politician.
The Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss (Simon & Schuster, $27). Strauss' account of the world's most famous assassination is as thrilling as any novel. It justifies Cicero's damning assessment of Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators. There never was a deed carried out with more manly resolution or a more childish lack of preparation.