|Howard Fast in Being Red:|
...the book was treated with petulant nastiness, particularly by The New York Times. In the issue of February 3, 1952, a certain Melville Heath recalled The Unvanquished, which I wrote at age twenty-five. Of Spartacus he wrote, "It is a far cry from such notable books as The Unvanquished, a dreary proof that polemics and fiction cannot mix." Then this curious Mr. Heath (I have no idea who he was) went on to say, "Every schoolboy knows by now that Roman civilization began to suffer from dry rot long before the advent of the Caesars. That same schoolboy can understand how and why the serfdom that cemented a power-drunk empire would also spell its eventual doom."
It would be a safe bet to say that before the appearance of my book and the film that Kirk Douglas made from it ten years later, not one schoolboy in ten thousand had ever heard of Spartacus. I don't know where Mr. Heath met his schoolboys, but they were a rare lot. The review went on to sneer and castigate and brush me off a pattern for every book I published from then on.
The New York Times Book Review
Sunday, February 3, 1952
War of the Gladiators
SPARTACUS. By Howard Fast. 363 pp.
Published by the author.
Distributed by The Citadel Press, New York. $2.50.
ONCE it was possible to distinguish the creative writer from the pamphleteer in the works of Howard Fast. Unfortunately for his success in the field of the novel, his steady shift to the left has cast an increasingly hectic fever-flush on each of his recent productions. "Spartacus," his twelfth novel, is printed by the author himself. It is a far cry from such notable books as "The Unvanquished," a dreary proof that polemics and fiction cannot mix.
This time, Mr. Fast has gone back two thousand, years in history to the last century of the pagan era and the famous gladiators' revolt against the empire. As always, his heroes (the revolting slaves) are more than merely heroic. From their leader down, they are saints in shining armor, ready to level the walls of Rome and admit the proletarian sunlight. Naturally the villains of the piece (the Senate, and the legions that do its bidding) are black-hearted rogues whose only god is the status quo.
Every schoolboy knows by now that Roman civilization had begun to suffer from dry-rot long before the advent of the Caesars. That same school-boy can understand how and why the serfdom that cemented a power-drunk empire would also spell its eventual doom. But universal serfdom and the fateful concentration of power in Rome itself were inevitable by-products of the times. That same schoolboy would simply refuse to believe that the "servile war" had an outside chance of success. Or that the slaves themselves were equipped to make a slave-free world.
OF course, it is obvious from the first page that Mr. Fast has not set out to illumine a poignant, episode in ancient history. "Spartacus," like so much of his later work, is a tract in the form of a novel. Occasionally (when he is describing the inferno of a slave bivouac in the desert, the torments of a crucified gladiator, the life-and-death struggle in the arena) Mr. Fast's pages take on a brilliance that recalls his earlier work. But the Q. E. D. he proposes simply does not square with the geometry of history.