I recently read 'Imperium' by Robert Harris. I think it was recommended by Ben Witherington on his blog. It was recommended as a good book to get an idea of the Roman world in the time of Jesus - for those of us that don't want to read more strictly academic publications!
I enjoyed it. It tells the story of the Roman lawyer Cicero and the author claims that at least 50% of the action is historically true and that there is nothing in his telling that could not possibly be true.
Along the way we meet Crassus who crucified thousands of slaves along the Appian way. Also Julius Caesar as a reckless, scheming youngster. It is so easy to see how Paul would fit into this saga - although he appears in history about 100 years later. Cicero's crafted arguments and political tactics illustrate the world that Paul lived in. Definitely a helpful book to read!