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The Spartacus War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2009

113 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

No one presents the military history of the ancient world with greater insight and panache than Strauss (The Trojan War). His latest work tells the story of a slave from the Balkans, a gladiator who in 73 B.C. led an uprising of 700 gladiators that eventually attracted over 60,000 followers. Strauss depicts Spartacus as a charismatic politician, able to hold together a widely disparate coalition of Celts, Thracians, Germans and Italians. As a general, he was a master of maneuver and mobility, keeping the ponderous Romans consistently off balance. Strauss reconstructs the rebels' movements across southern Italy and their development into an army good enough to overcome Rome's legions in battle after battle. Not until Marcus Licinius Crassus was given command of Roman forces did Spartacus face an opponent who could match him. Spartacus forced a battle that resulted in complete defeat and his anonymous death. But the uprising he sparked left a permanent mark on the Roman psyche and made Spartacus himself a figure of myth as well as history, as Strauss shows at the end of this brisk, engrossing account. 8 pages of b&w illus., maps. (Mar. 17)
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From Booklist

The first-century BCE slave revolt against Rome was led by Spartacus, a Thracian-born gladiator who had previously served as a Roman auxiliary soldier. Spartacus and the struggle he led have served as the inspiration for movies, an opera, and several fictionalized accounts. He has also been adopted as a symbol of freedom by political movements of both the Left and Right. Yet the historical Spartacus remains a murky figure, while the details of the revolt remain subjects of historical dispute. Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, has made an admirable attempt to fill in some of the gaps in the historical record in a compelling but highly speculative effort. Strauss admits the lack of reliable primary sources has forced him to engage in some tricky conjectures regarding the character and motivation of Spartacus. Still, many of his assertions are credible, and his efforts to portray the political and social milieu of Italy during the late Republic are superbly done. Strauss sees Spartacus as a brave and charismatic leader who was limited by some personal shortcomings. --Jay Freeman

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416532056
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416532057
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #449,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Richard Masloski on March 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book. A page-turner. An eye-opener for those whose eyes are filled with the movie 'Spartacus.' In clear, exciting, often times poetic prose, Barry Strauss gives us the true story as best it may be known from the scant historic record. After all, as the quote goes, history is written by the victors. But did Spartacus truly lose in his heroic and daring bid for freedom from his Roman oppressors? His name remains vivid and vital on the lips of men down through the centuries unto our present day. He may have lost the war wherein he and his army of slaves held Rome at bay for two long years - but he most assuredly won the history writ in the heart of man. This book is tangible proof of that immortality.

The book reads as bravely and briskly as Spartacus fought for the freedom all peoples dream of. The only things that would have made the book all-the-better would have been a few maps outlining stategic movements in the gladiator-rebel's numerous battles with the enemy - especially of the last battle, speculative as it might have been to reconstruct. Also, there is a bit too much geographical description that, rather than clarifying key locations of the story, tend to confuse it. I would have liked to have learned more about Rome itself - it's history, it's day-to-day life in the days of Spartacus; also a deeper delving into the origins of crucifixion (which plays a huge part in the end game of the gladiatorial revolt) would have been welcome. Who first practiced it - and why? What actually kills a man on a cross? There is no analysis as to why the captured 6,000 did not fight to the death - or commit suicide - knowing what awaited them once they laid down or lost their weapons.

Despite these few matters, Mr. Strauss has given us the living man Spartacus whose Life is every bit as compelling as his Myth. Thumbs up on this one (even though we learn within the book that thumbs up actually signalled death for the defeated.)
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
You know the name Spartacus, probably from the many fictional descriptions of his life, especially Kirk Douglas playing the title role in the 1960 film by Stanley Kubrick. There are novels about him, too, and a ballet by Khachaturian. Ronald Reagan was no scholar of Roman history, but in an address in Britain, he referred to the rebellious slave Spartacus as a symbol of the fight against totalitarianism. Spartacus's name seems as if it will resound forever, and so a case could be made that we ought to know more about him than the "facts" presented in a Hollywood biopic. Here are the facts: _The Spartacus War_ (Simon and Schuster) by classicist Barry Strauss. It is a compelling story, the sort of history that makes sense of the far-distant Roman world while being frank about how little we can know for sure. Strauss has authoritatively put together facts from the original ancient documents, or the ancient documents citing older documents now lost, and has judiciously filled in the gaps. Spartacus didn't write a biography, of course, but his followers didn't write about him either, and it is only from a few Roman or Greek writers that we get some idea of what Spartacus did. Those writers were writing from the point of view of those who had put down Spartacus's rebellion. We can't even put together some of his battles with certainty; those around Vesuvius, for instance, were more than a century before the volcano had its famous explosion in 79 AD, and the terrain was changed completely. Nonetheless, Strauss's narrative is compelling, and the excitement of the story combined with its detail make this a superb history.

Spartacus was a Thracian who fought in the Roman army. He deserted, and was later captured, made a slave, and condemned to become a gladiator.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ben Kane on November 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
Little more than 4000 words about Spartacus survive from ancient texts. Placed alongside what we know about other events or aspects of Roman history, this is a paltry amount. It's not much information to write a book around. Yet that is what Barry Strauss has done. And boy, has he done a good job. Many textbooks are dry, hard-to-read affairs with little attraction to the average reader. The Spartacus War, on the other hand, is richly detailed. The late Roman Republic is described very well, allowing the reader to picture the scene readily in his/her mind's eye.

We're told about the day to day happenings of gladiator life and the background to Spartacus' rebellion, given vivid descriptions of the warlike Thracians (to the Romans, they were "worse than snow") Gauls and Germans. Where there are gaps, Strauss admits to them, before filling them in with a deft and believable touch. Examples include most of the battles which Spartacus and his men fought - if I remember correctly, it was nine major ones against the Romans. In all of these, the slaves were victorious - even when they faced both consuls and their legions. An incredible achievement by anyone's standards.

Ultimately, however, Spartacus did not escape over the Alps as he could have done. Why he didn't is one of history's great unanswered questions. Strauss discusses in depth the possible reasons why, and his theories hold a lot of water in my opinion. If you want to read an excellent study of one of the greatest rebellions of all time, buy this book. You won't be disappointed. Even the bibliography is a goldmine of further texts to consult. If you're after a good, short synopsis, or another book about Spartacus, look no further than Spartacus and the Slave War.

Ben Kane, author of Spartacus: The Gladiator.
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