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Book Review - The Spartacus War follows a rebel with a cause

Citizens of ancient Rome didn’t mind slavery. As they saw it, there were Romans, and there was everyone else. In 70 B.C., slaves comprised 20 percent of the Roman population, and included Celts, Germans, and Thracians from modern-day Bulgaria. They also included a man named Spartacus.

A Thracian who fought in the Roman army, Spartacus was accepted in principle as a Roman but was exploited as a slave and gladiator. He revolted in the summer of 73 B.C. with 70 other slaves, using kitchen knives as weapons. Spartacus went on to assemble an army of 60,000 slaves that rebelled in the name of nationalism, revenge and faith. For two years, Spartacus ravaged the countryside, defeating nine Roman armies. The Republic had never been so vexed from within.

Barry Strauss, a military historian and professor of classics at Cornell University, chronicles Spartacus' legendary slave revolt in his new book, The Spartacus War. Strauss recognizes the rebellion as one of the most successful insurgencies in world history, and finds some intriguing parallels between it and the United States' War on Terror.

“It’s the story of an insurgency like ours in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Strauss says. “The great power can’t fight him, because it’s bogged down in another war. The war is a test of the great power's moral fiber. And a charismatic leader inspires men to fight using liberation theology like jihad. The similarities leap off the page."

Spartacus' run couldn’t last forever. Rebels began to crack under the strain of competing internal interests. Some wanted to sack Rome, a city even Hannibal, the infamous elephant-riding tactician from Carthage, couldn’t scratch. Spartacus wanted to go home, probably to join guerilla fighters in Thrace, according to Strauss. Eventually, the Roman senate sent a powerful general to crush the insurgency. As a warning to future rebels, 6,000 men were crucified along Italy’s main highway, the Appian Way.
 
The Spartacus-led insurgency significantly threatened Roman social and political order. Before Spartacus, Rome took comfort in assuming its slaves were too ethnically diverse to coalesce and mount a serious rebellion. After Spartacus, that assumption was abandoned, and gladiators were closely watched for the smallest signs of insubordination.

But something else nagged Romans long after Spartacus’ defeat. Not only did he unravel long-held assumptions about the character of slaves, but he also represented a failing of the state. Roman authors, Strauss says, later glorified Spartacus' legacy.
 
“Enemies were usually portrayed as monsters,” Strauss explains. “Take Hannibal. He was called untrustworthy, obsessed and bloodthirsty. But Spartacus was called patriotic.”
 
In other words, it was fine to enslave a German, but not a Roman, and certainly not a man like Spartacus who exemplified Roman ideals. That Spartacus was able to destablize the social and political order while undermining basic Roman tenets was among the most interesting discoveries Strauss made during his three years writing the book.

“I was personally struck by the degree to which later Roman writers presented him as a good guy,” Strauss says. “They respected him and blamed themselves for the war.”

That's unusual. Like George W. Bush, Rome rarely admitted error. But Spartacus was a natural and charismatic leader, not to mention a gladiator, the sports hero of the ancient world. He inspired his crew by appealing to its lust for revenge and sense of tribal pride, often invoking the cult of Dionysius, god of the oppressed in rural Italy.

Strauss says most Roman sources believed the revolt could have been prevented had Rome lived up to its own ideals and freed Spartacus. He should have been made an ally, Strauss says, not alienated and turned into an enemy. Spartacus posed a moral test, and Rome ultimately failed.

The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss. Simon & Schuster. $26. 288 pp.
 



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Saturday August 15, 2009 05:00 pm EDT
image-1The title South of Broad, Pat Conroy's first novel in nearly 15 years, refers to the informal name given to a section of Charleston, S.C., almost exclusively inhabited for generations by the city's de facto aristocracy. Living south of Broad is a point of pride for Conroy's hero, Leopold Bloom King. Leo comes from truly common stock. His father is a science teacher; his mom a former nun.... | more...
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  string(3436) "The title South of Broad, Pat Conroy's first novel in nearly 15 years, refers to the informal name given to a section of Charleston, S.C., almost exclusively inhabited for generations by the city's de facto aristocracy. Living south of Broad is a point of pride for Conroy's hero, Leopold Bloom King. Leo comes from truly common stock. His father is a science teacher; his mom a former nun. Leo, however, sees himself reflected in the neighborhood's gorgeous cityscape. The fact that he's also the ringleader of an audaciously diverse group of friends suggests a kind of redemption for this former seat of the Confederacy. It's a well-intentioned moral that could have been more affecting if South of Broad didn't fall apart at the end.

South of Broad begins with the suicide of Leo's older brother Stephen in the late ’60s. The 10-year-old's death nearly destroys Leo. His parents send him to a sanitarium where he experiences psychological horrors only a handful of people might ever understand. Leo manages to befriend other damaged psyches, though, and together they grow up, grow apart, and reunite in an attempt to save one of their own from a dark end. Most of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate and re-illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends. And how friendships like theirs could withstand unfathomable acts of pure evil. Unfortunately, Conroy's band of brothers and sisters proves fairly cumbersome. 

There's Ike: He becomes the city's first black police chief. The twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe: Sheba grows up to be a Hollywood bombshell, while Trevor, the group's lone gay, becomes a pianist. Betty, Niles and Starla are orphans. Betty, who's black, marries Ike. Starla goes insane and her brother Niles marries Fraser Rutledge, a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Fraser's brother, Chad, marries Molly, another south of Broad elite. Leo, meanwhile, marries Starla and grows up to be a gossip columnist for Charleston's daily newspaper.

The friends reference their differences incessantly and the exchanges often come across like canned sitcom dialogue: "'Sheba, ride in my squad car with me. Betty, you ride with that cream-puff white boy.' 'Not until I give this girl a hug,'" Betty says, turning toward Sheba. "'Hey Sheba, how's my favorite white bitch?'" As a result, both readers and characters rarely have a chance to deeply explore issues. The gang gets together often and gets drunk often. Come to think of it, that happens a lot in Charleston. Such superficiality and emotional distance, however, make the friendships and their implied values difficult to accept. 

Sheba and Trevor's father is the face of evil in Conroy's imagined world. He beats his wife, rapes his children, murders indiscriminately and even eats his own feces. He's also a master of disguise who stalks Sheba all the way to Hollywood. He then tracks the whole gang to San Francisco where they've gone to save Trevor, who's living in a flophouse and dying of AIDS. Dad trails them back to Charleston and threatens to kill everyone. But this narrative thread ends with a whimper rather than a bang, perhaps because there's something even worse awaiting Leo than a cartoonish evil-doer. But this I won't discuss for fear of disappointing Conroy fans. I'll let him do that on his own. 

South of Broad by Pat Conroy. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. $29.95. 516 pp. "
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''South of Broad'' begins with the suicide of Leo's older brother Stephen in the late ’60s. The 10-year-old's death nearly destroys Leo. His parents send him to a sanitarium where he experiences psychological horrors only a handful of people might ever understand. Leo manages to befriend other damaged psyches, though, and together they grow up, grow apart, and reunite in an attempt to save one of their own from a dark end. Most of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate and re-illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends. And how friendships like theirs could withstand unfathomable acts of pure evil. Unfortunately, Conroy's band of brothers and sisters proves fairly cumbersome. 

There's Ike: He becomes the city's first black police chief. The twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe: Sheba grows up to be a Hollywood bombshell, while Trevor, the group's lone gay, becomes a pianist. Betty, Niles and Starla are orphans. Betty, who's black, marries Ike. Starla goes insane and her brother Niles marries Fraser Rutledge, a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Fraser's brother, Chad, marries Molly, another south of Broad elite. Leo, meanwhile, marries Starla and grows up to be a gossip columnist for Charleston's daily newspaper.

The friends reference their differences incessantly and the exchanges often come across like canned sitcom dialogue: "'Sheba, ride in my squad car with me. Betty, you ride with that cream-puff white boy.' 'Not until I give this girl a hug,'" Betty says, turning toward Sheba. "'Hey Sheba, how's my favorite white bitch?'" As a result, both readers and characters rarely have a chance to deeply explore issues. The gang gets together often and gets drunk often. Come to think of it, that happens a lot in Charleston. Such superficiality and emotional distance, however, make the friendships and their implied values difficult to accept. 

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South of Broad ''by Pat Conroy. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. $29.95. 516 pp.'' "
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South of Broad begins with the suicide of Leo's older brother Stephen in the late ’60s. The 10-year-old's death nearly destroys Leo. His parents send him to a sanitarium where he experiences psychological horrors only a handful of people might ever understand. Leo manages to befriend other damaged psyches, though, and together they grow up, grow apart, and reunite in an attempt to save one of their own from a dark end. Most of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate and re-illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends. And how friendships like theirs could withstand unfathomable acts of pure evil. Unfortunately, Conroy's band of brothers and sisters proves fairly cumbersome. 

There's Ike: He becomes the city's first black police chief. The twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe: Sheba grows up to be a Hollywood bombshell, while Trevor, the group's lone gay, becomes a pianist. Betty, Niles and Starla are orphans. Betty, who's black, marries Ike. Starla goes insane and her brother Niles marries Fraser Rutledge, a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Fraser's brother, Chad, marries Molly, another south of Broad elite. Leo, meanwhile, marries Starla and grows up to be a gossip columnist for Charleston's daily newspaper.

The friends reference their differences incessantly and the exchanges often come across like canned sitcom dialogue: "'Sheba, ride in my squad car with me. Betty, you ride with that cream-puff white boy.' 'Not until I give this girl a hug,'" Betty says, turning toward Sheba. "'Hey Sheba, how's my favorite white bitch?'" As a result, both readers and characters rarely have a chance to deeply explore issues. The gang gets together often and gets drunk often. Come to think of it, that happens a lot in Charleston. Such superficiality and emotional distance, however, make the friendships and their implied values difficult to accept. 

Sheba and Trevor's father is the face of evil in Conroy's imagined world. He beats his wife, rapes his children, murders indiscriminately and even eats his own feces. He's also a master of disguise who stalks Sheba all the way to Hollywood. He then tracks the whole gang to San Francisco where they've gone to save Trevor, who's living in a flophouse and dying of AIDS. Dad trails them back to Charleston and threatens to kill everyone. But this narrative thread ends with a whimper rather than a bang, perhaps because there's something even worse awaiting Leo than a cartoonish evil-doer. But this I won't discuss for fear of disappointing Conroy fans. I'll let him do that on his own. 

South of Broad by Pat Conroy. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. $29.95. 516 pp.              13030320 1282589                          Book Review - Pat Conroy overcomplicates the South "
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Thursday August 13, 2009 06:00 pm EDT
The Atlanta native trips up in South of Broad | more...
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Tuesday March 24, 2009 09:42 pm EDT

image-1Citizens of ancient Rome didn’t mind slavery. As they saw it, there were Romans, and there was everyone else. In 70 B.C., slaves comprised 20 percent of the Roman population, and included Celts, Germans, and Thracians from modern-day Bulgaria. They also included a man named Spartacus.

A Thracian who fought in the Roman army, Spartacus was accepted in principle as a Roman but...

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Friday February 27, 2009 07:57 pm EST
image-1Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop's debut novel Fireworks began as a series of short stories about an obsession with "nonstories." Aside from protagonist Hollis Clayton's ponderings on the "sadness" of a grown man dropping an ice cream cone on the ground, and the "mystery" of animals finding shelter in the rain, not much happens. There are observations of true poetic beauty, over which looms a... | more...
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Race was the issue du jour of the 1990s jazz world. This is thanks to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the musical director of the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, the most influential jazz ensemble in  the country.

Marsalis' neo- conservative style, his spearheading of the "Young Lions"  movement and his  promotion of almost-exclusively black jazz history sparked cries of racism from white writers and critics embittered that a young black hotshot was the new face of jazz, responsible for institutionalizing a musical genre that had, till then, defied institutionalization.

Enter eminent saxophonist Joe Lovano. A burly man of Italian-American stock, Lovano emerged as a major force in '90s jazz. Nearly the entire decade was benchmarked by Lovano's tirelessly creative work. Albums ranged from hard-bop small group work (Landmark, From the Soul, Tenor Legacy), to thematic opuses that broke new ground (Rush Hour, Celebrating Sinatra). Two Grammy nominations ensued before 52nd Street Themes won in 2000. Lovano has topped critics' polls and garnered magazine awards annually since 1994.

So Lovano was an antidote for white critics suddenly threatened by Marsalis' implication that whites were irrelevant to jazz's history and future. The New York Times gave voice to this sentiment when it published a Lovano profile titled "A Saxophonist Who Doesn't Wear Armani," an inference comparing Lovano's beatnik dress with the haute-couture style of Marsalis' entourage. But it also implicitly set jazz along racial divides.

This raised the ire of many, including guitarist Jim Hall, who responded, "Jazz is part African, part European, part Latin, part male, part female, part Sonny Rollins, part Joe Lovano."

Lovano grew up in working-class Cleveland, the son of Tony "Big T" Lovano, a respected tenor saxman of the Illinois Jacquet school. Big T started young Joe early, inculcating jazz fundamentals while exposing him to live shows by Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

"I was lucky," Lovano says from his Hudson Valley home. "My dad was a lead player in Cleveland. He and all the guys he played with were my teachers. I learned that if I got this tune down and did like this, I would fit in."

Fitting in was part of the learning process, Lovano said. You learned to imitate the old masters before you go your own way. But such inter-generational mingling is rare these days.

"You have to learn from your elders," Lovano says. "Things are handed down from generation to generation — and it's always been like that. But there's not a club scene anymore. There's more jazz education happening in universities now. It's intimate and more relaxing, because you're not just trying to make money. But kids can get stuck in their crowd. For me, coming up was a multicultural experience."

Lovano's multicultural experience included playing at weddings and parties, an experience relatively rare in this age of DJs. During such gigs, he was responsible, as the lead instrument, to play all the melodies, the set tempos, to lead and get people to dance.

"I learned how to play doing that," Lovano says.

It was the beginning of a long, long apprenticeship, ultimately involving stints with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd (1976-'79), the Mel Lewis Vanguard Orchestra (1980-'92), the Paul Motian Trio and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble — not to mention additional work with McCoy Tyner, Joshua Redman, Ray Brown, Branford Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut and others.

But when asked about the role of race in his fruitful career, Lovano remembers one man who may best represent the journeyman's roots: Brother Jack McDuff.

After Lovano graduated from the Berklee School of Music, where he now teaches, he started touring (as "the only white kid in a seven-piece band") in the so-called chitlin circuit with the R&B-infused jazz outfit run by the late organist.

"I was inspired to play with those guys and have them accept me," Lovano says of his first professional gig. "I always wanted to be accepted by the older cats. And they really dug me. That really turned me around. When you play and sweat with these cats, there is nothing like it."


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__Race was the issue __du jour of the 1990s jazz world. This is thanks to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the musical director of the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, the most influential jazz ensemble in  the country.

Marsalis' neo- conservative style, his spearheading of the "Young Lions"  movement and his  promotion of almost-exclusively black jazz history sparked cries of racism from white writers and critics embittered that a young black hotshot was the new face of jazz, responsible for institutionalizing a musical genre that had, till then, defied institutionalization.

Enter eminent saxophonist Joe Lovano. A burly man of Italian-American stock, Lovano emerged as a major force in '90s jazz. Nearly the entire decade was benchmarked by Lovano's tirelessly creative work. Albums ranged from hard-bop small group work (''Landmark'', ''From the Soul'', ''Tenor Legacy''), to thematic opuses that broke new ground (''Rush Hour'', ''Celebrating Sinatra''). Two Grammy nominations ensued before ''52nd Street Themes'' won in 2000. Lovano has topped critics' polls and garnered magazine awards annually since 1994.

So Lovano was an antidote for white critics suddenly threatened by Marsalis' implication that whites were irrelevant to jazz's history and future. ''The New York Times'' gave voice to this sentiment when it published a Lovano profile titled "A Saxophonist Who Doesn't Wear Armani," an inference comparing Lovano's beatnik dress with the haute-couture style of Marsalis' entourage. But it also implicitly set jazz along racial divides.

This raised the ire of many, including guitarist Jim Hall, who responded, "Jazz is part African, part European, part Latin, part male, part female, part Sonny Rollins, part Joe Lovano."

Lovano grew up in working-class Cleveland, the son of Tony "Big T" Lovano, a respected tenor saxman of the Illinois Jacquet school. Big T started young Joe early, inculcating jazz fundamentals while exposing him to live shows by Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

"I was lucky," Lovano says from his Hudson Valley home. "My dad was a lead player in Cleveland. He and all the guys he played with were my teachers. I learned that if I got this tune down and did like this, I would fit in."

Fitting in was part of the learning process, Lovano said. You learned to imitate the old masters before you go your own way. But such inter-generational mingling is rare these days.

"You have to learn from your elders," Lovano says. "Things are handed down from generation to generation -- and it's always been like that. But there's not a club scene anymore. There's more jazz education happening in universities now. It's intimate and more relaxing, because you're not just trying to make money. But kids can get stuck in their crowd. For me, coming up was a multicultural experience."

Lovano's multicultural experience included playing at weddings and parties, an experience relatively rare in this age of DJs. During such gigs, he was responsible, as the lead instrument, to play all the melodies, the set tempos, to lead and get people to dance.

"I learned how to play doing that," Lovano says.

It was the beginning of a long, long apprenticeship, ultimately involving stints with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd (1976-'79), the Mel Lewis Vanguard Orchestra (1980-'92), the Paul Motian Trio and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble -- not to mention additional work with McCoy Tyner, Joshua Redman, Ray Brown, Branford Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut and others.

But when asked about the role of race in his fruitful career, Lovano remembers one man who may best represent the journeyman's roots: Brother Jack McDuff.

After Lovano graduated from the Berklee School of Music, where he now teaches, he started touring (as "the only white kid in a seven-piece band") in the so-called chitlin circuit with the R&B-infused jazz outfit run by the late organist.

"I was inspired to play with those guys and have them accept me," Lovano says of his first professional gig. "I always wanted to be accepted by the older cats. And they really dug me. That really turned me around. When you play and sweat with these cats, there is nothing like it."


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Race was the issue du jour of the 1990s jazz world. This is thanks to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the musical director of the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, the most influential jazz ensemble in  the country.

Marsalis' neo- conservative style, his spearheading of the "Young Lions"  movement and his  promotion of almost-exclusively black jazz history sparked cries of racism from white writers and critics embittered that a young black hotshot was the new face of jazz, responsible for institutionalizing a musical genre that had, till then, defied institutionalization.

Enter eminent saxophonist Joe Lovano. A burly man of Italian-American stock, Lovano emerged as a major force in '90s jazz. Nearly the entire decade was benchmarked by Lovano's tirelessly creative work. Albums ranged from hard-bop small group work (Landmark, From the Soul, Tenor Legacy), to thematic opuses that broke new ground (Rush Hour, Celebrating Sinatra). Two Grammy nominations ensued before 52nd Street Themes won in 2000. Lovano has topped critics' polls and garnered magazine awards annually since 1994.

So Lovano was an antidote for white critics suddenly threatened by Marsalis' implication that whites were irrelevant to jazz's history and future. The New York Times gave voice to this sentiment when it published a Lovano profile titled "A Saxophonist Who Doesn't Wear Armani," an inference comparing Lovano's beatnik dress with the haute-couture style of Marsalis' entourage. But it also implicitly set jazz along racial divides.

This raised the ire of many, including guitarist Jim Hall, who responded, "Jazz is part African, part European, part Latin, part male, part female, part Sonny Rollins, part Joe Lovano."

Lovano grew up in working-class Cleveland, the son of Tony "Big T" Lovano, a respected tenor saxman of the Illinois Jacquet school. Big T started young Joe early, inculcating jazz fundamentals while exposing him to live shows by Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

"I was lucky," Lovano says from his Hudson Valley home. "My dad was a lead player in Cleveland. He and all the guys he played with were my teachers. I learned that if I got this tune down and did like this, I would fit in."

Fitting in was part of the learning process, Lovano said. You learned to imitate the old masters before you go your own way. But such inter-generational mingling is rare these days.

"You have to learn from your elders," Lovano says. "Things are handed down from generation to generation — and it's always been like that. But there's not a club scene anymore. There's more jazz education happening in universities now. It's intimate and more relaxing, because you're not just trying to make money. But kids can get stuck in their crowd. For me, coming up was a multicultural experience."

Lovano's multicultural experience included playing at weddings and parties, an experience relatively rare in this age of DJs. During such gigs, he was responsible, as the lead instrument, to play all the melodies, the set tempos, to lead and get people to dance.

"I learned how to play doing that," Lovano says.

It was the beginning of a long, long apprenticeship, ultimately involving stints with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd (1976-'79), the Mel Lewis Vanguard Orchestra (1980-'92), the Paul Motian Trio and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble — not to mention additional work with McCoy Tyner, Joshua Redman, Ray Brown, Branford Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut and others.

But when asked about the role of race in his fruitful career, Lovano remembers one man who may best represent the journeyman's roots: Brother Jack McDuff.

After Lovano graduated from the Berklee School of Music, where he now teaches, he started touring (as "the only white kid in a seven-piece band") in the so-called chitlin circuit with the R&B-infused jazz outfit run by the late organist.

"I was inspired to play with those guys and have them accept me," Lovano says of his first professional gig. "I always wanted to be accepted by the older cats. And they really dug me. That really turned me around. When you play and sweat with these cats, there is nothing like it."


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Article

Wednesday February 12, 2003 12:04 am EST
Joe Lovano still doesn't wear Armani | more...
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