Alan Baker is the author of three previous books. He lives in Hove, England.
In a lurid, sometimes sensational, tabloid-like account of Roman gladiatorial life, British author Baker (Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism) offers an encyclopedic examination. While there were a few famous gladiators, such as Spartacus, the majority of these warriors were unnamed slaves, criminals or prisoners of war whose lives were nasty, brutish and short. Baker points out that there were different groups of gladiators, each with its own style of fighting. The Thracians, for example, used a round shield and sword, while the retiarii (net-men) used a net and trident spear. The games themselves were sponsored by the emperor, whose popularity was often secured by the magnitude of the contests he hosted. Using historical accounts of various games, Baker imaginatively re-creates a day at the Coliseum in Rome, which included a series of fights between criminals one armed, the other defenseless staged in a round robin manner until only one criminal was left standing; the victor was then killed unceremoniously by a Roman guard. The afternoon brought on the great battles between the "trained" gladiators, like the Thracians and the retiarii. The blood and dust from one combat had barely cleared before another began. Although they reflected the virtue of killing and facing death with the courage and dignity that dominated the Roman Empire, gladiatorial contests came to an end in the fifth century, when Christianity became the official state religion and when the empire itself was weakening. Baker builds upon an already established wealth of scholarship e.g., Michael Grant's Gladiators (2000) as he offers a lively, voyeuristic glimpse into the ancient world. Fans of the Ridley Scott movie won't be disappointed. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Adult/High School-Baker states at the very beginning that this book is not intended to be a scholarly study, but rather a history for the layperson. He lives up to this disclaimer. The book begins with a look at the origins of the gladiator games (circa 400 B.C.E.) and ends with why they were abolished 800 years later. In the 150 pages in between, the author covers all aspects of the games: training, equipment, styles of fighting, and types of combat (man versus man, man versus beast, and the grand spectacle of the naval battles). There are chapters on why men became gladiators (some were slaves, others prisoners of wars or common criminals, while others voluntarily participated), the development of the arenas, and even a chapter on the emperors who fought. A culminating chapter called "A Day at the Games" provides readers with a vivid blow-by-blow description-what it was like in the expensive and cheap seats, the opening ceremonies, the scheduling of the events, their staging, and the reactions of the crowds. Baker goes into great detail and the book may not appeal to squeamish readers. It is, however, very well written and the information is thorough enough for student research.-Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Baker (Invisible Eagle: The History of Nazi Occultism) apparently hopes to benefit from the success of Hollywood's blockbuster movie Gladiator with this popular account of Rome's gladiator tradition. His claim that this book is "an attempt to chart the history of the Roman games without succumbing to the anachronism of imposing our own early 21st Century moral attitudes upon them" is, of course, hyperbole, for classical historians are rarely guilty of this historiographical failing. Baker often tells unsubstantiated and irrelevant stories about various emperors in an effort to stimulate the reader. In the chapter titled, "Curio's Swiveling Amphitheater," his muddled theory about the model for the games' venue rests upon a tale of Pliny the Elder that distinguished historian Michael Grant has called spurious. This is a terribly unfocused work, especially the chapter titled "A Day at the Games," which is supposed to give readers an idea of the bloody spectacles by presenting the events in a novelistic manner. Readers who are actually curious about the roots of the games will be far better served by Alison Futrell's Blood in the Arena: The Spectacle of Roman Power (Univ. of Texas, 2001). Not recommended. Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.