Reading lists

Where to start with Robert Harris

His bestselling thrillers are set during some of history's most famous moments. Here's where to begin reading the work of Robert Harris.

Jake Kerridge
An image of Robert Harris next to a flatlay of his books on a blue background
Image: Vicky Ibbetson / Penguin

Few thriller writers have attained both critical acclaim and public devotion to the same extent as Robert Harris. He first made his name as a star journalist, becoming a well-known face on Panorama and Newsnight before being appointed political editor of The Observer aged 30. Nevertheless, it was when he finally sat down to write the opening sentence of his first novel that he knew he had found his true calling: it felt, he says, “like having had a powerful car in the garage and switching it on, and realising that there was literally nothing you could not do.”

That book was Fatherland, an alternative-reality thriller set in a world in which Hitler had been victorious; it was an immediate and phenomenal bestseller. It also established a preoccupation with the Second World War that has continued throughout Harris’s work up to his 2021 novel, V2, about the Nazi missile programm, but his books have ranged over many lands and epochs, from Paris at the time of the Dreyfus affair (An Officer and a Spy) to the ancient world.

Harris combines a journalist’s nose for how the world really works with true narrative flair; he has no interest in stylistic self-indulgence, but sees himself as part of an ancient, essential storytelling tradition. “Imagine everyone trailing back to the camp after a day's work, wanting to be told a story, and the chap by the fireside says ‘Actually, I'm not going to tell you a story tonight, guys, I'm going to concentrate on my prose’,” Harris has said. “He'd have been hit over the head with a club.” But though his style may not be showy, Harris always puts the right word in the right place. 

As his fans await the arrival of his 15th novel, Act of Oblivion, in September, here are six books that might get newcomers hooked on Harris. 

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