The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician
By Anthony Everitt
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780375758959, 400pp.)
Publication Date: May 6, 2003
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“All ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher combined.”
He squared off against Caesar and was friends with young Brutus. He advised the legendary Pompey on his somewhat botched transition from military hero to politician. He lambasted Mark Antony and was master of the smear campaign, as feared for his wit as he was for exposing his opponents’ sexual peccadilloes. Brilliant, voluble, cranky, a genius of political manipulation but also a true patriot and idealist, Cicero was Rome’s most feared politician, one of the greatest lawyers and statesmen of all times. Machiavelli, Queen Elizabeth, John Adams and Winston Churchill all studied his example. No man has loomed larger in the political history of mankind.
In this dynamic and engaging biography, Anthony Everitt plunges us into the fascinating, scandal-ridden world of ancient Rome in its most glorious heyday. Accessible to us through his legendary speeches but also through an unrivaled collection of unguarded letters to his close friend Atticus, Cicero comes to life in these pages as a witty and cunning political operator.
Cicero leapt onto the public stage at twenty-six, came of age during Spartacus’ famous revolt of the gladiators and presided over Roman law and politics for almost half a century. He foiled the legendary Catiline conspiracy, advised Pompey, the victorious general who brought the Middle East under Roman rule, and fought to mobilize the Senate against Caesar. He witnessed the conquest of Gaul, the civil war that followed and Caesar’s dictatorship and assassination. Cicero was a legendary defender of freedom and a model, later, to French and American revolutionaries who saw themselves as following in his footsteps in their resistance to tyranny.
Anthony Everitt’s biography paints a caustic picture of Roman politics—where Senators were endlessly filibustering legislation, walking out, rigging the calendar and exposing one another’s sexual escapades, real or imagined, to discredit their opponents. This was a time before slander and libel laws, and the stories—about dubious pardons, campaign finance scandals, widespread corruption, buying and rigging votes, wife-swapping, and so on—make the Lewinsky affair and the U.S. Congress seem chaste.
Cicero was a wily political operator. As a lawyer, he knew no equal. Boastful, often incapable of making up his mind, emotional enough to wander through the woods weeping when his beloved daughter died in childbirth, he emerges in these pages as intensely human, yet he was also the most eloquent and astute witness to the last days of Republican Rome.
“He taught us how to think."
“I tasted the beauties of language, I breathed the spirit of freedom, and I imbibed from his precepts and examples the public and private sense of a man.”
“Who was Cicero: a great speaker or a demagogue?”
Anthony Everitt’s fascination with ancient Rome began when he studied classics in school and has persisted ever since. He read English literature at Cambridge University and served four years as secretary general of the Arts Council for Great Britain. A visiting professor of arts and cultural policy at Nottingham Trent University and City University, Everitt has written extensively on European culture and development, and has contributed to the Guardian and Financial Times since 1994. Cicero, his first biography, was chosen by both Allan Massie and Andrew Roberts as the best book of the year in the United Kingdom. Anthony Everitt lives near Colchester, England’s first recorded town, founded by the Romans, and is working on a biography of Augustus.
'Just a note to say how much I enjoyed Anthony Everitt's Cicero, which I will certainly be choosing as my Book of the Year. I found it the most wonderfully written and perfectly paced book I've read (or reviewed) in ages. The way Everitt carefully and comprehensively unfolded the drama brought back the excitement of ancient history superbly. Congratulations on spotting a real winner."-Andrew Roberts, author of Napoleon and Wellington and Salisbury
"Anthony Everitt is a brilliant guide to the intricacies of Roman politics… Everitt has written a book which is unobtrusively crammed with fascinating information about Roman life and customs, splendidly clear and coherent in its narrative and altogether convincing in its portraiture." -Sunday Independent (Dublin)
"We know more about Cicero than about almost any other figure of antiquity. We know so much about him, thanks to the happy chance which has seen so much of his correspondence preserved, that it is possible to write the sort of biography of Cicero that one might write about someone from, say, the nineteenth century. Anthony Everitt has done just that, sympathetically and very well. This is an engrossing book, written lucidly for the general reader, and one that only a foolish expert would disdain." -Allan Massie, Literary Review
"Of all the arts, that of politics has advanced least since the days of Greece and Rome. This week's new biography of Rome's most famous politician by Anthony Everitt tries to answer the question, why?…Cicero mastered the essence of politics. He preached the difference between authority and power. He was an orator who wrote poetry, a politician who read history, ruthless yet able to articulate the demands of clemency, democracy and the rights of free men under law…If good government is rooted in history and history in biography, Cicero is the man of the hour." -Simon Jenkins, The Times
"In the course of Cicero's long life, he made several powerful enemies, often through his own witty put-downs, and he was accused of everything from cowardice and self-importance to histrionics, homosexuality, and incest. But the great majority of his contemporaries - and of course posterity itself - were much kinder to Cicero, and this engrossing new biography by Anthony Everitt does a superb job of explaining why…Cicero's political life forms the real backbone of this book…As an explicator, Everitt is admirably informative and free from breathlessness. He has a sophisticated conception of character, too, including a willingness - so crucial in biographers - to embrace contradictions."-Independent on Sunday
"Mr. Everitt introduces the man graciously to a new generation, and will endear him anew to all those who never grasped the sense, let alone the beauty, of that multi-clausal prose." -The Economist
"Everitt is an attentive biographer who continuously rehearses and refines his account of the motives of his subject…His achievement is to have replaced the austere classroom effigy with an altogether rounder, more awkward and human person." -Financial Times