An entrancing popular study of a topic so outlandish and atrocious from today's perspective that it can't help but fascinate.




A US debut from British historian Baker renders a real taste of the unenviable gladiatorial life.

Baker quickly puts the reader into the world where the gladiatorial contests took place. Rome was then a powerful warrior state, a militaristic culture that prided itself on martial discipline, that appreciated the virtue of a courageous death (“To the people of Rome, how one faced death was at least as important as how one faced one's life”), and that, by rejoicing in the display of blood, “demonstrated their utter contempt for suffering and death.” In his trim, formal voice, Baker explains that the first gladiatorial fights started in 264 b.c. as a substitute for sacrifices honoring the recently deceased, nourishing the dead with the blood of the living. But the events grew in importance as Rome grew more imperial and as emperors found them important acts of political propaganda: The more impressive your gladiator shows, the greater your following. Gaining momentum, as they became part of the festivals celebrating the cycle of nature, gladiatorial battles—fought by slaves, criminals, prisoners of war, not a few free men, and occasionally women—soon became frequent entertainments on the Roman calendar. In one particularly vibrant chapter, Baker unfurls a day in the amphitheater as it was played out under the reign of Commodus. It starts with a hunt in the morning, where wild animals sent from the provinces—lions, tigers, bears, bulls, elephants, even rhinoceros—would fight each other and professional fighters known as “bestiarii.” Then a few executions at lunchtime, in which the condemned—unarmed—were slain, then the full-bore gladiatorial fights in the afternoon. Baker also covers the architecture of amphitheaters (some had systems of pipes that would spray spectators with perfumed water), as well as the story of Spartacus, and makes brief, enlightening forays into Roman political and cultural history.

An entrancing popular study of a topic so outlandish and atrocious from today's perspective that it can't help but fascinate.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28403-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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