Robert Harris (born 7 March 1957) is a British writer best known for his works of historical fiction. The books go down well with historians because they are carefully researched and you can learn a lot about the past by reading them. At the same time, his writing style is pageturner-y and the books are hard to put down. With the Cicero trilogy and Pompeii, he brought everyday life in Ancient Rome alive, but his books range widely across the centuries. His nonfiction writing includes Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries, about a fascinating episode in the early 1980s when even eminent historians of Nazism were taken in by a fake diary of the German leader.
Books by Robert Harris
by Robert Harris
Pompeii is Robert Harris's book about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD79. It opens very memorably with an engineer, Attilius, who is the aquarius in charge of the Aqua Augusta, one of the most complex aqueducts the Romans built, as he tries to figure out strange things that are going on around Misenum, the home base of the Roman fleet and located on the other side of the Bay of Naples from Pompeii and Vesuvius.
Act of Oblivion
by Robert Harris
New historical novels by British writer Robert Harris are always worth looking out for so don't let the blitz of marketing surrounding his latest, Act of Oblivion, put you off. It's set at an interesting point in English history: the immediate aftermath of the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Through the reflections of one of the main characters, we see the events leading up to the execution of Charles I more than a decade previously, in 1649, as well as the battles of the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. Puritan America is also an important part of the setting. If you're interested in history and don't know the details of this period, it's an interesting book, not least because you can't help but reflect on what it takes to tip a country into civil war.
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
***Winner of the 2014 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction***
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris is a brilliant work of historical fiction based on the real people and events of the Dreyfus affair, which rocked France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and led to one of the most famous newspaper articles ever written, Emile Zola's "J'Accuse." This is an important historical event, and Harris's book is a page-turning way to learn about the awful injustice whereby a French army officer, who happened to be Jewish, was falsely accused of spying for the Germans, spent years in a horrendous prison on Devil's Island in French Guiana, and even longer clearing his name even after it became obvious he was innocent.
“We’ll start with my favourite book on this list, and that’s Robert Harris, An Officer and a Spy. It’s a retelling of the story of the Dreyfus Affair. It’s fiction, but it’s based on the actual history of the story, and it’s got facts, references to the real ambassadors, generals and diplomats who took part. It tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair from the viewpoint of Georges Picquart, who was the man who investigated it, who was at the time part of the French intelligence service. So the story follows him and his uncovering of the Dreyfus Affair and how people in high places in the French army and government had been actively working against Dreyfus, to protect the honour of the French army, even after the truth came out that he was in fact innocent.” Read more...
The Best History Books for Teenagers
Alex (age 16), Children
Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome
by Robert Harris
If you like history, Robert Harris is one of the best historical novelists around. Pompeii (about the eruption of Vesuvius), An Officer and A Spy (about the Dreyfus Affair), even Archangel (set in Soviet Russia) are fabulous thrillers that bring the past alive. But when it came to Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman, Harris really went to town and wrote an entire trilogy about him: Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator. The reason Harris was able to do this with a degree of accuracy is because Cicero wrote so much—indeed we have Cicero to thank for large chunks of our knowledge of the Latin language. The trilogy is just a wonderful evocation of what it was like to be an ambitious person in the days of the late Roman republic, as it fell apart and became an empire.
Do remember, though, that this is fiction, told from Cicero’s point of view, and (for example) Julius Caesar may not have been quite as bad as he is portrayed by Robert Harris. According to Classics teacher Olly Murphy, in his interview on the best Classics books for teenagers, Harris “does put in things which now we might say are controversial or we’re not sure about but, for the most part, his portrayal of what it would have been like for a senator going about his daily business is absolutely spot on.”
“Many good thrillers ask: “What if … ?” The question here is: What if Hitler had won? That is such a bold and interesting concept. It is true that others writers had played with this concept before, but Robert Harris brilliantly executed it and sketches in an entire world of early 1960s Hitlerite Berlin.” Read more...
Sam Bourne, Journalist
“This is great fun, a ripping yarn, lovely suspense, great story, but still touching on some pretty serious, pretty contemporary issues: notably what happens to a government when the values that we’ve been talking about begin to evaporate…It’s hard not to make that assumption. This is a book about what happens when the rules of the game no longer apply, and it’s about picking up the pieces and dealing with the consequences of that and trying to understand how people can be mesmerised and drunk on their own confidence. But, most of all, it’s a lovely classic thriller. I think it’s a nice conceit that you’ve got this protagonist, the Prime Minister’s ghostwriter, who has just drifted into this and is fairly morally neutral about everything; it’s a nice way to bring the reader in, and then he obviously discovers various things.” Read more...
The best books on Human Rights
Shami Chakrabarti, Lawyer
by Robert Harris
Archangel by Robert Harris is our favourite of his 'what if?' books, sometimes called 'alternative history.' We won't give the plot away, but it's set in post-Soviet Russia and the descriptions of both the present and the past feel very real.
Interviews where books by Robert Harris were recommended
The best books on Human Rights, recommended by Shami Chakrabarti
Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti says Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a thinly veiled metaphor for the War on Terror
The Best Classic Thrillers, recommended by Sam Bourne
The bestselling author tells us how his other job as a political journalist helps with thriller writing, and what makes le Carré, Forsyth and Buchan such masters of their trade
The Best Classics Books for Teenagers, recommended by Olly Murphy
Caesar, Cicero, Achilles, Socrates, Plato: millennia later, we still talk about them. Olly Murphy, classics teacher at Wycombe Abbey, one of England’s top girls’ schools, recommends books and explains why classics remains one of the most exciting subjects for teenagers to study.
The Best History Books for Teenagers, recommended by Alex (age 16)
It’s tricky finding history books for teenagers at an age when they are too old for children’s books, but not yet ready to read long, weighty tomes with lots of footnotes. Alex, a UK-based history fan who previously chose books for us age 10, returns to Five Books to recommend his selection of the best history books for teenagers.