This Day In Literary History
On March 7th, 1957, the famous English 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 nonfiction work he had co-written with his friend and fellow BBC journalist, Jeremy Paxman.
Harris would publish other nonfiction 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 II.
It's April, 1964 - nearly twenty years after the Nazis won the war. Though the Soviet Union was destroyed by the Nazis during the war, (except for communist guerrillas that continue to resist) the United States is still involved in a Cold War - with the German Reich.
A historic summit will soon take place between U.S. President Joseph P. Kennedy and Adolf Hitler, set to coincide with the dictator's 75th birthday celebration.
Meanwhile, 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 him. They claim jurisdiction, close the investigation, and order 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 who had supposedly been relocated. The Gestapo is killing off these Nazi officials to cover up their horrific crime.
Desperate to get the evidence to U.S. authorities, March and Maguire hatch a plan to smuggle it out of Germany and into neutral Switzerland. 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 II.
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, had been 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 suspect 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 life 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.
In 2011, Harris wrote The Fear Index (2011), a novel set around the 2010 Flash Crash, where 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.
Conclave, published in 2016, is a 300+ page novel that takes place in the Vatican over a 72-hour period, as the Pope has died and a conclave of Cardinals has gathered to select the new pontiff.
The conclave is led by Cardinal Lomeli, dean of the College of Cardinals. Among the contenders for papacy are Cardinal Tremblay, a Canadian with good looks and a politician's talent for spin, and Cardinal Adeyemi, a charismatic Nigerian with a hard line on homosexuality.
Other contenders include Cardinal Tedesco, a ferociously conservative Italian who would bring back the Latin Mass, and Cardinal Bellini, an Italian intellectual and reformer. There's also a mysterious Filipino Cardinal from Iraq who was ordained in secret by the late pope.
The conclave convenes to choose the next pope amidst reports of a suicide bomber in Vatican City and a mass shooting during a Mass. The plot thickens, dark secrets are revealed, and the fate of the Church hangs in the balance...
Robert Harris's most recent novel, Munich, was published in January. It's a work of historical fiction set amidst the infamous Munich conference of 1938 - the fateful meeting between then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler to determine the fate of Europe.
By appeasing Hitler, Chamberlain, haunted by the ominous specter of another devastating world war, believed that he had "achieved peace in our time." Was appeasement a tragic mistake? Could Hitler have been stopped early on, or did Chamberlain buy the Allies the time they needed to defeat him?
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 most recent novel, Munich, before a live audience. Enjoy!