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The Gladiators (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 4 Nov 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (4 Nov. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099459817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099459811
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 623,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Back Cover

Arthur Koestler's first novel, set in the late Roman Republic, tells the story of the revolt of Spartacus and man's search for Utopia. The first of three novels concerned with the 'ethics of revolution', it addresses the age-old debate of whether the end justifies the means, an argument continued in his classic novels Darkness at Noon and Arrival and Departure.

'The Gladiators is a philosophical novel dealing with the nature of revolution; a melancholy commentary on the failure of politics to respond to men's inner needs...Koestler is revealing to us the dialectic of history, with a moral, if we choose to take it, for our own times. But he is never didactic and his story...is as vivid in action as in argument' Sunday Times

'Arthur Koestler is one of the very few novelists who attacks the most difficult and troubling issues of private and political morality and who, having raised serious questions, never tries to satisfy us with ready-made answers or evasions' Saul Bellow

'In The Gladiators this episode in Roman history is lifted out of the textbooks by a novelist of unusual sympathy and understanding. In a brooding, ominous, impressive style he extracts the human story from the record, and re-creates, finely, with a modern's appreciation of motives and symptoms, the social life which evoked this extraordinary revolt' Sean O'Faolain


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chazwin on 23 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Students of Ancient History should not look here for a what really happened story, though there is not much that actually contradicts the account given by ancient authors. AK tells his story of rebellion and how the detours of that rebellion take unforeseen ways that inevitably lead back to the oppression that they were initiated to avoid. This is a political point designed to show the shortcomings of the communist revolutions and AK's own personal disenchantment with left-wing politics in which he was a personal activist. This forms a conceptual trilogy with, 'Darkness at Noon' and 'Arrival and Departure'. These books do not concern Spartacus but continue with the theme of the limits of ideological thinking. Darkness is a barely concealed critique of Stalinist Russia's show trials, whilst Arrival is set in a parallel Portugal and concerns itself with political refugees
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ZedBooks on 19 Nov. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the first of Koestler's trilogy about failed revolutions, and despite the almost total absence of facts about the gladiators' revolt in the 1st century BC, he created a compelling myth about Spartacus and his desire to set up a utopian state for his ragged army of gladiators, slaves, dispossessed farmers and hangers on. At first the slave army defeats a number of complacent Roman generals and poorly trained Legions -- but of course the revolution is doomed to fail, and ironically at the hands of Crassus, the immensely wealthy Roman, perhaps the world's first monetary oligarch, whose God is capitalism. An extraordinary novel which has inspired people for 60 years, and almost as good as the superlative Darkness at Noon, the second novel of the trilogy. Both are required reading!
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By Mrs Carolne J Eddleston on 23 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of Koestler's best novels. The story of Spartacus, and told so well. The research is good for such a tale and
It is well worth the buy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A dark and stirring tale, a Spartacus we'll never know 29 Mar. 2000
By Aran - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
More people should read this book, particularly those (like me) who have a difficult time understanding how communism could have had such strong popular appeal around the world in the past two centuries. The book is a compelling drama of the Spartacus rebellion against Rome, but at heart it dwells on the theme of man's doomed efforts to live in harmony and equality. Spartacus' attempt to build a Sun City for freed slaves and anyone else who would live as brothers, a sanctuary of shared work and shared property, is the tale of so many failed utopian efforts. It may not be fair to compare Koestler's Spartacus to Fast's Spartacus, but while Koestler's made for slower reading it was much more moving. The opening pasages I believe are there to build the sense of Roman decadence, so stick with the book. There is action and desperate heroism to come later (friends of mine to whom I've recommended the book put it down too quickly, owing to the dreary start.) Despite the bloodthirsty times, Spartacus yearns for decency and brotherhood in a way that helps one to understand the emotional appeal of communism as an alternative to decadent tyranny. Koestler's realism keeps the portrayal of Spartacus' attempts at proto-socialism honest, that is, one of the book's themes is the incompatibility of human nature with the dictum "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Spartacus fails, though one wishes dearly that his dream would live and succeed.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
'Eat, Or Be Eaten'!... 17 Sept. 2002
By Michael Welch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a deeply disturbing novel about the failure of mass revolutionary movements. It contrasts the conscious self-interests of privileged elites with the self-interests of the masses and observes that there is only one fundamental 'law' that operates beneath the facades of 'order' and 'patriotism', namely the fatalistic assertion of the sad leader of the fierce and melancholic Celts, the gladiator Crixus, that the law is simply 'Eat, or be eaten'!
Every ideal of human progress is punctured in Koestler's often unnoticed and underrated novel, yet -- as asserted in the chapter in which 'the man with the bullet-head', an Israelite Essene, inspires the Thracian gladiator Spartacus with a vision of universal justice from the latter Jewish prophets -- the tattered nobility of this defeat is reminiscent of the Christian version of a death on a cross that was also to lead to some final victory over brute nature. And Spartacus, at the end of the book, walks post-mortem, like a resurrected Jesus, among the devastated; his vision they refuse to let die.
Based upon the historic revolt of 73-71 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) this actual event was one of the great revolutions of ancient history, a slave revolt that threatened the power of the Roman empire; a revolt -- if it had succeeded -- that would perhaps have mirrored the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917-20. Lenin's favorite character in history is said to have been precisely the gladiator of the school in Capua, Spartacus, who emerged as the primary commander of the slave forces; however, the real leader, in Koestler's novel, is the gladiator without ambition or ideals, 'the man with the seal's head', Crixus.
Crixus is the expression of vengeance as justice and indulgence as the compensation for privation and exploitation, understanding that the rich and the powerful always win in the end so the only sensible response is to take everything you can while you can. It is an ignoble, even ignorant, attitude, but the cynicism of the fat, equally self-indulgent (and also deeply unhappy) Roman banker-become-general, Marcus Crassus, quite reflects Crixus' own. (In a scene of a pre-'last battle' interview between Crassus and Spartacus, the latter actually notes even the physical resemblance between the rich man and the proletarian slave-gladiator which of course is a recognition of kindred motivation, the union of 'eaters' from 'above' and 'below', so to speak.)
There is plenty of mayhem in this book but essentially it is for those who are willing to ask questions about base human nature and live with the results. The characterizations are finely drawn, complex and varied, and the novelized history is fascinating. This is a much less romanticized version of the Spartacus story than the better-known book by Howard Fast (made into an even more romantic movie by Kirk Douglas in 1960). Koestler's would best be serialized by the BBC, similar to the excellent treatment Robert Graves' 'I, Claudius' novels received in the late 1970s. But don't wait for that (for it may never come): if you long for intellectual nourishment (rather than superficial escapism) from your historical novel-reading this is a book -- as the cliche goes -- to read again and again.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A masterful rendition of an heroic and grimy story 13 Oct. 2002
By Ventura Angelo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Spartacus is all of us when threathened in our human dignity, in our right to live, when we think we must fight oppression,the menace of terror and the tyranny of corrupt men of power. The Spartacus in this book is not as scintillating as Kubrick's Spartacus. He's more grim, much more conscious of the problem of restraining, in the rebellion to the tyranny of terror, the temptation of wreaking even more terror, and to give vent to the less rational and more violent and predatory instincts in human soul. Koestler's book poses problems who are far from resolved in the wake of the death of "the God that failed", of Communism. His questions are today's questions.
Besides that,this is one of the more rigorous historical books I've read, and even if some speculations are a bit hazardous,they are entirely plausible.A good historical novel,
An excellent account of the Slave Revolt that shook the foundations ... 26 Oct. 2014
By Ganesh. S. Iyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An excellent account of the Slave Revolt that shook the foundations of the Roman State. The ethics of a revolution and the dilemma confronting the protagonist Spartacus form the bedrock of this novel. Though a gloomy account of the events that rocked Italy, it nevertheless has a message which is relevant today. All revolutions are an expression of a desire for change. Is change a reality or an illusion which takes hold of the mind? We do not still know the answer.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Gladiators 5 April 2010
By C. D'Amico - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book for my husband. He first read it as a teenager. It took a lot of searching, but the only place it was for sale was on Amazon. Husband is delighted. Great surprise.
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