No other building has ever so successfully embodied a civilization. British journalist Pearson weighs the design and the purpose of this triumphal architectural achievement and sees it as a perfect expression of the static, centralized, absolutist government of Imperial Rome. Begun by the Emperor Vespasian in the first century A.D. following a period of intense political turmoil, the Colosseum, like the bloody games it housed, was from first to last an instrument of government, ""a machine to help him rule"" as necessary to the Emperor as the Praetorian Guard. And although Pearson reports the details of its construction and the rules of the savage spectator sports that so delighted the debased Roman plebs, his principal focus is on the arena as a surrogate for war and politics. Increasingly, as the Empire became more bloated, as politics and social struggle atrophied, the gladiators and the wild beasts were fed to the populace as an opiate. ""Over the generations it corrupted and then drained away just those activities making for movement, change, unrest or ambition in society."" Essentially the orgiastic killing ""achieved nothing"" -- that in fact was its purpose. Following Huizinga and Rostovzeff, Pearson has used the architectural marvel of the Colosseum to illuminate the darkest and most degraded side of the social history of Rome. Lavishly illustrated with photos and engravings of the carnage, busts of the Emperors and reliefs of the Colosseum walls, Pearson's book provides an astute analysis of the role of organized violence in government, the psychology of mobs, and the elaborate techniques of crowd control in a society which, like ours, lived more and more vicariously as a ""spectator civilization."" A fascinating study of how ""sports"" were manipulated to effect mass lobotomy on a magnificent scale.