English novelist Robert Harris was born 7 March 1957 in Nottingham. Harris spent his childhood in a small rented house on a Nottingham council estate. His ambition to become a writer arose at an early age, from visits to the local printing plant where his father worked. Harris went to Belvoir High School in Bottesford, and then King Edward VII School, Melton Mowbray, where a hall was named after him. There he wrote plays and edited the school magazine. Harris read English literature at Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he was president of the Union and editor of the student newspaper Varsity. After leaving Cambridge, Harris joined the BBC as a Journalist and television reporter working on news and current affairs programmes such as Panorama and Newsnight. In 1987, at the age of thirty, he became political editor of The Observer. He later wrote regular columns for the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph.
Harris’s first book appeared in 1982. A Higher Form of Killing, a study of chemical and biological warfare, was written with fellow BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman. Other non-fiction works followed: Gotcha, the Media, the Government and the Falklands Crisis (1983), The Making of Neil Kinnock (1984), Selling Hitler (1986), an investigation of the Hitler Diaries scandal, and Good and Faithful Servant (1990), a study of Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary.
Although he began his career in non-fiction, he has written many works of historical fiction. Beginning with the best-selling novel Fatherland, Harris’s million-selling alternative-history. This has as its setting a world where Germany has won the Second World War and asks what would happen if Germany had won the Second World War? Publication enabled Harris to become a full-time novelist. HBO made a film based on the novel in 1994. In 1995 Harris published His second novel Enigma which portrayed the breaking of the German Enigma code during the Second World War at Bletchley Park. It too became a film, with Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet starring and with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard. In 1998 Harris published the novel Archangel which became another international best seller and follows a British historian in contemporary Russia as he hunts for a secret notebook, believed to be Stalin’s diary. In 2005 the BBC made it into a mini-series starring Daniel Craig.
In 2003 Harris turned his attention to ancient Rome with his acclaimed Pompeii. The novel is about a Roman aqueduct engineer, working near the city of Pompeii just before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. As the aqueducts begin to malfunction, he investigates and realises the volcano is shifting the ground and damaging the system and is near eruption. Meanwhile, he falls in love with the young daughter of a powerful local businessman who was illicitly dealing with his predecessor to divert municipal water for his own uses, and will do anything to keep that deal going. He followed Pompeii in 2006 with the novel Imperium, the first novel in a trilogy centered on the life of the great Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero.
In 2007 Harris wrote The Ghost after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair resigned. Harris had been an enthusiastic Labour supporter and doner until the Gulf War in Iraq. The novel’s title refers both to a professional ghostwriter, whose lengthy memorandum forms the novel, and to his immediate predecessor who, as the action opens, has just drowned in gruesome and mysterious circumstances. The dead man has been ghosting the autobiography of a recently unseated British prime minister called Adam Lang, a thinly veiled version of Blair. The fictional counterpart of Cherie Blair is depicted as a sinister manipulator of her husband. Harris said in a US National Public Radio interview that politicians like Lang and Blair, particularly when they have been in office for a long time, become divorced from everyday reality, read little and end up with a pretty limited overall outlook. When it comes to writing their memoirs, they therefore tend to have all the more need of a ghostwriter.
In 2009 Harris published Lustrum The second novel in the Cicero trilogy, Lustrum takes place Rome, 63 BC. And sees Rome on the brink of acquiring a vast empire. Set against this background seven men are locked in a deadly struggle for power. Cicero is consul, Caesar his ruthless young rival, Pompey the republic’s greatest general, Crassus its richest man, Cato a political fanatic, Catilina a psychopath, Clodius an ambitious playboy. The novel tells The stories of these real historical figures – their alliances and betrayals, their cruelties and seductions, their brilliance and their crimes – are all interleaved to form this epic novel. Its narrator is Tiro, a slave who serves as confidential secretary to the wily, humane, complex Cicero. He knows all his master’s secrets which proves to be a dangerous position to be in.
In 2011 Robert Harris published The Fear Index which focussed on the 2010 Flash Crash. It follows an American expat hedge fund operator living in Geneva who activates a new system of computer algorithms that he names VIXAL-4, which is designed to operate faster than human beings, which unfortunately becomes uncontrollable. In 2013 Robert Harris published An Officer and a Spy. This is the story of French officer Georges Picquart, a historical character, who is promoted in 1895 to run France’s Statistical Section, its secret intelligence division. He gradually realises that Alfred Dreyfus has been unjustly imprisoned for acts of espionage committed by another man who is still free and still spying for the Germans. He risks his career and his life to expose the truth.
In 2015 Robert Harris published Dictator, the long-promised conclusion to the Cicero trilogy. This takes place Shortly after Cicero’s prevention of the Catiline Conspiracy and tracks the alarmingly rapid disintegration of the Roman Republic. Mob factions of this or that scurrilous politician are terrorizing Rome and making it increasingly unsafe to vote, to think, and allowing demagogues and dictators to rewrite the discourse of 500 years of Roman history. Meanwhile Pompey is murdered, Julius Caesar is assasinated, and Marc Antony and the teenage autocrat ruthlessly becomes Caesar Augustus. Cicero becomes a tragic bystander, helpless to get out of the way of the tumultuous forces tearing the Republic apart, and losing his family in the process. Only Tiro, his faithful ex-slave (and the trilogy’s narrator) survives to help his friend
Robert Harris’ most recent novel, Conclave, was published in 2016. The novel is “set over 72 hours in the Vatican” and follows “the election of a fictional Pope.” Following the death of a previous Pope. The dean of the Cardinals, is the Cardinal charged with making sure the Conclave runs smoothly, and that all 118 cardinals from all over the world, adhere to the strict measures set within. Just like our political system, where each side represents different positions, there are factions with varying opinions on the future of the church. So the jockeying begins, votes are taken and the intrigue begins. Some Cardinals are even hiding revelations which would keep them out of the running and will do almost anything to make sure that they remain hidden.