Sunday, February 26, 2006

School_ Book_Review_: The Way of the Gladiator

This is a book review I did for Daniel Mannix's The Way of the Gladiator for my HIS 121 class (Western Civilization I). I personally had a hard time finding material to use in this review, so I am posting this for the benifit of everyone else! (Just please don't copy, but feel free to cite).

Even if you arn't taking a History class, this book is a very entertaining read.

Mannix, Daniel P. The Way of the Gladiator. New York: iBooks, 2001.
HIS 121 01

The Way of the Gladiator is best classified as a work of fictional history. Historical fiction is a completely fictional story told in the setting of something truly historical, where as fictional history takes historical events out of their original context in order to put them in an order in which to tell a much better story with the gaps in facts filled in with the author’s imagination. Daniel Mannix gives a very descriptive account of what the real Roman Games were like with mostly true historical fact.

Within the first page, the true purpose of the games is shown: to control the Roman plebeians by taking their minds off of their problems. Betting on the games was a staple of the Roman economy and it was remarked it could upset the economy more than a major military loss. These games were not easy to coordinate either. Mannix goes into great detail about the inner workings of the Coliseum. There were complex series of pathways under the arena floor where prisoners were held and slaves would be preparing the many animals to be used in the arena. Initially, the games were as we picture them today, exhibitions of great skill. However, as the games progressed, the game became merely excuses for gruesome acts. Eventually, as the Roman Empire began to fall into disarray, the games began to collapse into mindless events of torture and inhumanity on helpless victims.

The way in which Mannix presents the information in his book is very direct, and he begins with a simple point, such as the role and skill of the bestiarii, and then proceeds to tell a lengthy story to elaborate on the subject rather than simply giving more facts. Here the reader encounters one of Mannix’s rather unique writing methods. He implements all of his facts very nicely in his stories to create a very vivid, detailed experience. This is a very different writing style than other books on the same subject such as Gladiator (Richard Watkins, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997), which is a very similar book fact wise, but fails in comparison to the experience Mannix creates with his storytelling. It is, however, very important to note that when his research fails him and he does not have solid evidence for a particular sequence, he blatantly fabricates details and tells the reader he is doing so. Usually, the event Mannix is describing actually occurred, but those involved and where it took place is often modified or made-up entirely. This enables Mannix to tell a much more enticing story, as it is all a seamless event. Due to this, Mannix has created a very easy-to-read book that any teenage reader could understand fully. He does not use very sophisticated language, or expect the reader to have any outside information on the subject. Also, in comparison to books on the same subject, Mannix speaks much more highly of the contests and contestants as far as status and skill. The section on the Colosseum from Caeser and Christ (Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1944) presents the majority gladiators as slaves and criminals sentenced to the arena to die. Mannix, on the other hand, portrays the gladiators in a much more respectful light; they were, at least in the beginning, skilled fighters worthy of respect.

When compared to the curriculum of History 121, this book falls into a very small window; it is focused primarily on its subject and when outside events or locations are mentioned little background is given on the subject. Therefore, it is beneficial to have outside knowledge of people and places in the ancient world. It does, however, provide a great insight into the Roman Games and should be at least mentioned when covering the time span involving it.
In conclusion, what Mannix has created is a book that is very enjoyable to read, and would be suited for any reader even remotely interested in the legendary Roman Games. However, the very detailed experience mentioned earlier is not to be taken lightly. Mannix often gives very descriptive accounts of various acts of torture and perversion. “Whereas Gibbon [in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire] usually states that modern decency forbids him to give you the details, Mannix has no such compunctions.” (H. F. Gibbard, Denver, Colorado). Those mature enough to handle the material will find a very entertaining read in Daniel Mannix's The Way of the Gladiator.

Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944.

Gibbard, H. F. "Ugly, but informative." Amazon Books Spotlight Reviews 10 July 2001. 25 Sept. 2005. .

Watkins, Richard. Gladiator. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

1 comment:

Graham said...

Here's my challenge to you: leave this up and don't modify it, then come back at the end of your first semester of college and see what you think about your writing...things really ramp up. It's actually kinda scary.