The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir


I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

Happy hunting and hopefully, happy reading!


  1. I want one! From your description the theme would resonate in the corporate world of the wage slaves of today. I haven’t read a good book since John Perkins’ ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ – which is autobiographical – so a hunting I will go 😉


    1. It is available at various prices second hand wherever secondhand books are sold and occasionally, with luck, at second hand stores like Salvation Army. I’ve bought four or five copies over the years as gifts. Still one of the great books I’ve read in my life.


    1. It was the best job ever. It spoiled me for real work. I met my best friend on that job. Sometimes, we sit and reminisce about “Hey, remember when we used to go to lunch and not come back?” There was a subsidized cafeteria — really cheap — with excellent food, a gym, and tennis courts, too. They don’t make jobs like that anymore.


  2. I bought this book for a dollar at a local charity store. It impressed me so much that I needed to google the author and the work and I ended up here. I totally agree with your comments. I was pleasantly surprised by how well researched and written it was for this genre. I especially liked the fact that the modern characters were naive about the political intrigue surrounding them whilst the Roman, who they were treating as an uncivilised fool, was more clear-eyed and perceptive due to his involvement in the politics of Imperial Rome.

    The dialogue was exceptionally well written and at times witty. There was a lot of meat to the issues that this exploration of cultural/temporal clash exposed such as, for example, how ideas of morality, even murder, are socially dependent and not immutable.
    Highly recommended read.


    1. I wrote up the book when it originally came out. I worked at Doubleday at the time and it was our “featured book” for Doubleday Book Club and The Literary Guild. It impressed me then and I still have the copy I got way back then. I’ve since managed to find a couple more at second hand stores and The Salvation Army. I gift them to people I think will appreciate them.

      The book impressed me. It also got me interested in Roman society, about which I’ve done a great deal of reading since. AND it opened my eyes to our society because yes, that former gladiator was a sharp observer of the human condition.

      It’s a pity that Ben Sapir’s books are all out of print. He wrote a few others that were good, though I think “The Far Arena” was by far the best. It sticks in your mind. It’s more than 40 years later and I can still remember dialogue from the book.


  3. I first read this book in 1982. Years later I was able to find a paperback copy (this was years before anything like Amazon existed). I remember being puzzled that the book was so hard to find, as it was such a well-written story. Since then, I have never seen another copy but mine has been read many times!


    1. I found a copy (cheap) on amazon … then I found two copies for 50 cents each at the Salvation Army. Pure timing and luck. But you can get copies from the “rare” and “used” sellers on Amazon and other book sites. He wrote a couple of other good books too, though “The Far Arena” is my favorite. “The Body” was also good, but not as good as “Arena.”


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