Everitt, Anthony, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003

This well-researched and written one-volume biography presents Cicero as an active politician, seeking the votes and alliances needed to advance specific policies. It is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to understand the motivations and methods of one of the most influential thinkers on philosophical and political problems in the history of the West. Heavy reliance on Cicero's frank private correspondence with his friend Atticus and brother Quintus shows us the private workings of Cicero's mind in a way seldom available for a figure of the ancient world. The author also makes good use of Cicero's public writings and the ancient biographies, including Plutarch's charming Life of Cicero.

The great orator's rhetoric and philosophical and political writings are treated, as they were by Cicero himself, as tools for furthering his aim of restoring the traditional constitution of the Roman republic. The author's argument that Cicero --through his attempts both to direct the extra-legal genius and energy of Caesar and Octavian to the service, rather than destruction of the republic and to move the reactionary senate to recognize the need for at least some reforms in the face of the urban mob, soldiers more loyal to their commanders than to the idea of Rome, and the violence that was making dictatorship look like a good alternative to a republic that could no longer enforce the rule of law-- saw better than his contemporaries both the state's illness and its cure is not entirely convincing. After all, Cicero failed of his goal of restoration and reformation of the republic. And even if we concede, as Everitt, argues, that he lacked colleagues who understood and were prepared to risk their lives for his vision and because he simply had the bad luck to lose to death some of few who might have aided him, the argument falls short, for the successful forming of alliances in order to advance one's policy must be regarded as essential for a great, or even good, politician, and Cicero, who, admittedly tried, ultimately failed.

The author notes Cicero's influence on later generations from early Christian through the middle ages and Renaissance and to the age of enlightenment, when Cicero's political theories so greatly influenced the framers of the U.S. Constitution and the formation of the other western democracies. It might be more accurate to title the book "Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Political Theorist." And for most readers today, the interest in Cicero is not his failed attempts at restoring the ancient Roman republic, but his influence on the formation of modern republics and his example of the right use of rhetoric to advance a moral vision. For that purpose Anthony Everitt has proposed a more than serviceable volume.