The Gladiators (1939) by Arthur Koestler: From rebellion to ruin

The first book in a trilogy exploring whether the revolutionary end justifies the means

The life Arthur Koestler recounts in his two amazing volumes of autobiography, The Invisible Writing and Arrow in the Blue, is as full of adventure and suspense as that of James Bond, if only James Bond were a brilliant intellectual, and a member of the Communist Party who took breaks from writing books to fight in the Spanish civil war.

Koestler eventually lost faith in communism, and his superb first novel, The Gladiators, is a dramatisation of that apostasy, though it concerns the slave revolt of Spartacus rather than the Bolshevik revolution. The first book in a trilogy exploring the question of whether the revolutionary end justifies the means – Arrivals and Departures and Darkness at Noon are no less great – it is full of everything one wants from a historical novel. When I read it, it astonished me that a story so dramatic and rich with mythic resonance could really have happened.

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