The Soul of a Leader 6

I’m reading Waller “Randy” Newell’s new book, The Soul of a Leader: Character, Conviction, and Ten Lessons in Political Greatness (New York: Harper Collins, 2009). It’s a wise and thoughtful study of leaders from Pericles to Obama (up through the election). Newell has the erudition of a professor, which he is, but he writes with a conciseness and understated elegance that draws the reader in.

After thumbing through a page or two each of my favorite historical characters, I went to the ten secrets of leadership in the book’s last chapter. They struck some of my favorite chords, such as common sense over glamour, limited goals over grand ambition, the need for both moral conviction and pragmatism, and the role of plain, old luck. I found myself, wondering, as you might guess, how Spartacus stacks up.


un -Just Spring 2

My sources tell me that gladiators are in for spring this year – gladiator sandals, that is. In Imperial Rome, gladiators were always in for spring – the sword-carrying, kill-each-other-for-sport kind. The annual festival from March 19 to 23, known as the Quinquatria, was prime time for gladiatorial contests. Just as the fields of Italy began to bloom with color, the sands of its arenas turned bloodstained.

Another highlight of the annual gladiatorial calendar was the Saturnalia, the uninhibited celebration from December 17 to 23, including fights in the amphitheater. Nowadays we celebrate the corresponding times of year with holiday feasts and student hijinks, so maybe progress really does exist.

Shamrocks for Spartacus 4

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, is a good day for Ireland. I’d like to think that it’s a good day for Spartacus as well, since today is the publication date of my book, The Spartacus War.

Spartacus has nothing to do with the Emerald Isle, but he wrote a chapter of Celtic history and he offers distant echoes of the saint’s life. Let’s take Patrick first.


On the Road 2

Their life was struggle; their lot was war. Did Spartacus and his followers ever feel the simple thrill of the open road? On an afternoon when things kept going wrong until I sat behind the wheel of a car on the highway, I couldn’t help but wonder.

It began in Boston’s Logan Airport, waiting for the shuttle to LaGuardia Airport in New York. I turned on my laptop, or tried to. Instead of a bright screen I got three high-pitched sounds. I tried again and again but nothing doing. Well, that’s what airplane books are for.  More

The Ides of March 2

At the time of the outbreak of Spartacus’s revolt, Julius Caesar was still a young man. Only in his twenties, he did not yet bestride the world like a colossus. Caesar never takes center stage in the story of Spartacus but he does waits in the wings, now and then poking his head out.

Spartacus negotiated with pirates in 71 B.C., for instance; a few years earlier, Caesar had been taken prisoner by pirates and ransomed. Young Caesar then returned with a military force, defeated his former captors and had them crucified, foreshadowing the eventual fate of many of Spartacus’s men.