A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell
Book Review by Lost_Warrior
Taylor Caldwell's A Pillar of Iron is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero. The way Caldwell tells this story is highly sympathetic towards Cicero, however that does not in any way lessen the novel’s merit.
In fact, I was able to appreciate Caldwell’s view all the more for it is different than most such stories, told from the point of view of the well known Julius Caesar. Caldwell begins her story in the days before Cicero’s birth, recanting his life in immense detail up until his violent death.
Found within the pages of Caldwell’s book are other such notable characters as Gaius Julius Caesar, Sulla, Crassius, and Pompey, along with numerous others. Caldwell describes through actions, speeches, correspondences and most private thoughts the intricate and often contradictory relationships between these individuals. Through the eyes of Cicero we learn of complicated plots and the secret brotherhood formed with the intention of taking power in Rome.
When reading A Pillar of Iron it is impossible not to be taken aback by the utter tragedy of the life that was Cicero. It is important, of course, to remember that the novel is a work of fiction and not to be taken as absolute historical reference, however I am greatly impressed by the research which Caldwell has put into her writing, spending time in Rome and Athens translating old texts and collecting references. In fact, A Pillar of Iron is full of quotes and actual speeches made by Cicero and others during at key points in the course of events.
Perhaps the greatest value in Caldwell’s writing is the attention to detail which she has put into her work. A Pillar of Iron offers a detailed look inside the very core of Roman life, giving the reader a true feeling of the values, ideals, and practices that made up the everyday life of Rome.
Through his childhood friend Noe ben Joel Cicero discovers the legend of the Unknown God and the coming Messias, and starts on a course of spiritual conflict and self discovery, reflecting the religious and philisophical questions many must have raised during that time.
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Overall A Pillar of Iron is a rare gem of a book, for its detail, insight, and excellent storytelling. I found myself enjoying the work immensely from the very first page; as it is written with a humor that Cicero himself would have greatly appreciated.