The first book I tackled for my year long project was Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (however that would be pronounced!) I chose it because it was on both the Catholic Lifetime Reading List and the Reading List for the first time period in EPIC (Mustard Seed 33-99AD), as a bonus, it is a narrative, so I didn't have to worry about highly philosophical or challenging theological thoughts over our break from school.
The story is very compelling - I had a hard time putting my Kindle down. It's a little on the long side - since reading on the Kindle only tells you the percentage of the way though and not the number of pages, I just checked at Amazon, where a paperback edition has 589 pages - but it was worth the time to read.
It is hard to sum up a book in just a few words without spoiling the story. A young Roman officer falls in love with a young woman who turns out to be a Christian. The most interesting of the historical characters are Nero, St. Peter and St. Paul, all of which interact with the young officer throughout the book. The burning of Rome and the subsequent persecution of Christians happen within the story, and all the pain of those events is portrayed. The Christian characters are mostly shown as loving, good people, although there is one not particularly likeable Christian character. Some of the pagans are portrayed as brutal, but mostly not of their own accord, more out of fear of Caesar, and as products of Roman society. You can see in the story both the fear that the early Christians must have had during the persecutions, but also the hope and the trust that Jesus would come again. There are inspiring words from Peter and Paul, and conversions that occur. Just thinking about the early Christians that received baptism from St. Peter or St. Paul is awe inspiring.
There have been several movies made, but I haven't seen any of them. I checked Netflix instant download, and none are available there right now, so I guess I won't be seeing them anytime soon. I doubt that they would be able to live up to the book, anyway.
The translation I read was free, and was put together by volunteers, so there are the occasional typos, and the language is older (lots of thous and werts, etc.) But, I have no complaints. I love the fact that I can read great books for free, and I appreciate the volunteer labor that goes into turning public domain books into e-books.