This Day In Writing History
On March 7th, 1957, the famous British novelist Robert Harris was born in Nottingham, England. When he was a young boy, he would visit the printing plant where his father worked and watch books being made. He dreamed of becoming a writer and seeing his name on the books produced at the plant.
Harris studied English literature at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and served as editor of the student newspaper, Varsity. He also served as president of the Union - the college's debating society.
After graduating Cambridge, Robert Harris took a job with the BBC, (British Broadcasting Corporation) where he worked on news and public affairs programs such as Panorama and Insight.
In 1982, Harris published his first book, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Gas and Germ Warfare, a non-fiction work he had co-written with his friend and fellow BBC journalist, Jeremy Paxman.
Harris would publish other non-fiction books, including one on the Falkland Islands conflict and one on the notorious Hitler Diaries, which were allegedly written by the Nazi dictator but later proven to be forgeries.
In 1992, Robert Harris published his first novel. It would bring him international fame and make his name as a writer. Fatherland was a work of alternative historical fiction - a suspense thriller set in the aftermath of alternative historical events, specifically, a Nazi victory in World War 2.
It's April, 1964 - nearly twenty years after the Nazis won the war. Currently, the United States and the German Reich are involved in a Cold War, (the Nazis destroyed the Soviet Union during the war, but still face endless resistance from Russian guerrillas) and a historic summit will soon take place between U.S. President Joseph P. Kennedy and Adolph Hitler, around the time of Hitler's 75th birthday.
41-year-old Xavier March, a homicide detective for the Kripo, (Kriminalpolizei) is called upon to investigate the murder of a high ranking Nazi official. As March delves into his investigation, more Nazi officials turn up murdered.
Just when March believes that he's about to uncover a major scandal, the Gestapo pounces on the investigation, claims jurisdiction, and orders the Kripo to close its case. March secretly continues his investigation, assisted by Charlotte "Charlie" Maguire, an American reporter sent to cover the Kennedy-Hitler summit.
As they plunge deeper into the case, March and Maguire fall in love. They soon discover the shocking truth about the murders - during the war, all the victims had planned and carried out the extermination of nine million Jews. The Gestapo is killing off these Nazi officials to cover up their horrific crime.
March and Maguire hatch a plan to smuggle the evidence out of Germany and into neutral Switzerland, but the plan is threatened when March's own 10-year-old son denounces him to the Gestapo...
Fatherland was adapted as a made-for-HBO feature film in 1994, and as a BBC radio miniseries in 1997.
Harris would continue to write great historical suspense thrillers. Enigma (1995) told the story of Tom Jericho, a young English mathematician determined to crack the Nazis' famous Enigma ciphers during World War 2.
Archangel (1999) was about a historian attending a conference in Moscow who is approached by a mysterious old man who claims to have been present at Joseph Stalin's death. He leads the historian to a shocking conspiracy - Stalin secretly fathered a son before he died. The boy was groomed to be a carbon copy of his dad. Now he's all grown up and ready to rule Russia as his father did before him.
After tackling Ancient Rome in Pompeii (2003), Harris switched gears and wrote The Ghost (2007). This novel was a thinly veiled attack on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Harris, a liberal, was originally an enthusiastic Blair supporter, but came to loathe the Prime Minister after the debacle of the Iraq War.
The main character of The Ghost is the novel's narrator - an unnamed man who has been hired to ghostwrite the memoirs of the recently resigned Prime Minister, Adam Lang.
Lang's previous ghostwriter accidentally drowned, though as the novel progresses, the narrator begins to realize that the drowning may have been a homicide. Meanwhile, his subject, Adam Lang, finds himself accused of war crimes after a classified memo is leaked.
As the narrator struggles to complete Lang's memoirs, he uncovers damaging evidence about Lang that he feels should be exposed. But as he digs deeper, he realizes that he's placing his personal, political, and physical lives in great danger.
The Ghost would be adapted as a feature film called The Ghost Writer by celebrated director Roman Polanski - a friend of Robert Harris. The film features a screenplay co-written by Polanski and Harris.
Robert Harris' most recent novel, The Fear Index (2011), is set around the Flash Crash of May 6th, 2010, when the Dow Jones fell just over 1,000 points - nearly 600 points in five minutes - then regained most of its losses twenty minutes later. It was caused by a perfect storm of high frequency trading, technical glitches, and other factors.
Quote Of The Day
“Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.” - Robert Harris
Today's video features Robert Harris discussing his latest novel, The Fear Index. Enjoy!