A properly exhaustive and impressive history of gladiatorial combat—and a strangely wistful account of the most violent...



An unapologetic look at the blood-soaked rituals that marked Roman social life for centuries.

Frustrated by historians who wag their fingers at Rome for sponsoring a uniquely lethal form of mass entertainment, Meijer (History/Univ. of Amsterdam; Emperors Don’t Die in Bed, 2004) offers a defiant, scholarly study of gladiators, from their ambiguous origins through to their demise in the Christianized empire of the fifth century. He vividly reconstructs intimate details of the gladiator’s life and explains how, after the completion of the Colosseum, gladiatorial games reached both their logistical zenith and their greatest popularity. Meijer excavates the brutal camaraderie of the gladiator schools, giving extensive, though broad, accounts of where gladiators came from, how they were viewed by Roman society, how they were trained, how long they could expect to live and, in some moving passages, how they died. The author also explains gladiators’ different fighting roles, listing both their weapons and their conventional adversaries. This is where to learn the difference between a thraeces and a provocatores, or to find out which one traditionally fought the murmillones in the arena. Yet for all of its rich and often jarring detail (we learn, for example, that criminals’ bodies were dragged from the Colosseum floor by large hooks), Meijer offers only tantalizing clues rather than a convincing theory about why the Romans so loved their brutal games. His lack of critical perspective weakens the few conclusions he does attempt, and his declared aim of describing rather than judging the gladiators occasionally leads him to romanticize them.

A properly exhaustive and impressive history of gladiatorial combat—and a strangely wistful account of the most violent public entertainment known to humankind.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-34874-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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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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