About The Book

Shortlisted for

“Most inspiring sports book for Christmas” Sunday Times 2011
“Sports Books for Christmas” Sunday Telegraph 2011
“Best summer holiday reads” Sunday Telegraph 2011
“Essential summer reading” Sunday Times 2011

“Complex and ambitious. Compelling and lyrical.”
Mail on Sunday *****
“An engrossing introduction to Spain’s ‘great feast of art and danger’…brilliantly capturing a fascinating, intoxicating culture.”
Sunday Times
“A compelling read, unusual for its genre, exalting the bullfight as pure theatre.”
Sunday Telegraph
“An informed piece of work on a subject about which we are all expected to have a view.”
Daily Mail
“Thrilling. An engrossing introduction to bullfighting.”
Financial Times
“Fantastic. A fascinating insight into a world we know little about but are quick to judge.”
Metro

“An informative and breathtaking volume of gonzo journalism”
The Herald (Scotland)
“Intoxicating. Pulses with the writer’s love of the world and the people he has found himself among.”
The Australian (Australia)
“A thoughtful, well-researched and deeply felt investigation… vivid evocations of men who risk their lives in a beautiful, vulgar battle with the bulls.”
The Prague Post (Czech Republic)

“An entertaining account seeks a demonstration of the values which distinguish bullfighting from butchery.”
The Spectator
“Particularly good. Transposes spectacle into words with great success, conveying the drama with eloquence and precision.”
Literary Review
“An engaging adventure story of a young man pursuing a dream with determination and courage.”
The Times Literary Supplement

“To his credit, Fiske-Harrison acknowledges the morally questionable nature of the bullfight. And the book contains interesting explorations of concepts such as fear, bravery and drive.”
League Against Cruel Sports
“A larger than life character. A hugely enjoyable and easy read. Moving and instructive.”
Club Taurino of London
“One of the most engaging books on the Bulls I have ever read. One feels every failure, every success, every thrill.”
Taurine Bibliophiles of America

(for full reviews, see post list on top right of page)

Into The Arena is available in paperback or as an e-Book on Kindle from Amazon (in the US here, the UK here, Australia, Canada India, Spain, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Brazil) and iTunes (as recommended by Condé Nast’s GQ magazine here.

From the front cover:

A hero from another age, a fearless Englishman touched by madness. This endeavour owes as much to Captain Oates as to Ernest Hemingway, as much to Flashman as to Don Quixote.
Giles Coren, columnist for The Times

Arguably the most engaging study of bullfighting by an English speaker since Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. His willingness to get his hands dirty, and his eye for detail, make this a compelling read for anyone interested in Spain’s ‘national fiesta’. Controversial, thought-provoking and highly recommended.
Jason Webster, author of Duende: A Journey In Search Of Flamenco

Bold, provocative and morally searching, Fiske-Harrison writes about the bizarre and arrogant world of bullfighting with passion, deep knowledge, and readiness to risk his own neck in the arena. His descriptions lucidly capture the near indescribable thrills of the corrida.
Michael Jacobs, author of Factory Of Light: Life In An Andalucian Village

Fiske-Harrison, red and white blazer right, runs with the bulls in Pamplona (Photo: Reuters)

From the back cover:

Alexander Fiske-Harrison spent a season studying and travelling with the matadors and breeders of famous “fighting bulls” of Spain (and France and Portugal. ) He ran with the bulls in Pamplona and found himself invited to join his new friends in the ring with 500lb training cows. This developed into a personal quest to understand the bullfight at its deepest levels, and he entered into months of damaging and dangerous training with one of the greatest matadors of all, Eduardo Dávila Miura, to prepare himself to experience the bullfight in its true essence: that of man against bull in a life or death struggle from which only one can emerge alive.

Fiske-Harrison with a three-year old, 330kg fighting bull (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

Excerpt from Chapter 2: Meeting The Bull:

“The sensation of being the focus of such fury is a unique one. I stopped halfway along the wall, slowly turned, put my hands on the safety-rail and looked down at the explosive paranoia of horn and muscle less than five feet away from me. I moved the little finger of my left hand and his head flicked towards it. Then I moved the little finger on my right, and his head shot towards that. I kept my movement-level low, trying to gauge it so that I kept his attention but didn’t exceed whatever psychological tipping point existed within that bovine brain. My overwhelming feeling at that moment was of smiling and thinking, perversely you may say, that this was an experience I would like to take further. However, it was enough for a first meeting with a bull.”

From inside the cover:

“The bullfighter-philosopher.”
John-Paul Flintoff in The Times.

“Whether or not the artistic quality of the bullfight outweighs the moral question of the animals’ suffering is something that each person must decide for themselves – as they must decide whether the taste of a steak justifies the death of a cow. But if we ignore the possibility that one does outweigh the other, we fall foul of the charge of self-deceit and incoherence in our dealings with animals.”
Alexander Fiske-Harrison (writing in Prospect magazine in 2008)

“It is one of the best pieces ever written on the subject. An almost literally terrific piece of work.”
Frederic Raphael (on Fiske-Harrison’s 2008 essay).

Alexander Fiske-Harrison (personal website here) was born in 1976 and is an English writer and actor. He studied biology and then philosophy at the universities of Oxford and London and trained in acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York. He has written for The Times, Financial Times, The TLS and Prospect magazine. He wrote, and acted in, The Pendulum which debuted in London’s West End in 2008.

(The CTL: A dispute of authority)

In the May/June issue of La Divisa, the magazine of the Club Taurino of London, there appears the following apology by one of the editors, Jock Richardson (which I have edited for brevity):

INTO THE ARENA

In my editorial in La Divisa… I spelled out my updated editorial policy. In it I wrote… “Every Member of the CTL has the right to space in the pages of La Divisa to express their views on the Fiesta and the Club and to report their taurine experiences in the manner that they feel suitable with the sole proviso that nothing will be published in the magazine that has the potential to offend members of the CTL, the afición as a whole or members of el mundillo taurino…”

Judging from [a] letter… from [BBC Broadcaster, writer and CTL member] Robert Elms and discussions I have had with Alexander Fiske-Harrison, and on reflection upon them, it becomes clear that I very soon departed from my own policy in the article I wrote on Into the Arena by making remarks that were offensive to each of them. In Alexander’s case, I suggested he had lack of respect for the Fiesta and its protagonists and that he might have intentionally used information that was wrong to make a point. I am now persuaded that it is possible to respect the Fiesta greatly and at the same time to make errors in statements about it, and that it is possible to use faulty information inadvertently. These are things that I should have realised before I wrote the article. I am very sorry that I broke my own policy on this matter and promise that I will endeavour never to do so again.

I intend to make a full apology to Alexander in the next issue of La Divisa and to give him space to express his views on my article.

As he says, in the issue of La Divisa that will follow, there will be another, longer apology, and my rebuttal of the article concerned. Here is that rebuttal:

A rebuttal of Jock Richardson’s article ‘Into the Arena by Alexander Fiske-Harrison – a blood anorak’s view’

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

I fully acknowledge that there are a fair few errors in my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight (website here), although it is a long way from having one on “nearly every page.” There are several causes for those that there are, but no excuses.

Some of the errors were introduced as I was writing ‘on the hoof’, and – as I say in the book – I began by only having seen a half dozen bullfights and read a handful of taurine authors in English like Hemingway, Tynan and Conrad. My ignorance and the weak attachment to accuracy by those authors – and sometimes the taurinos who were my guides – are the original source of certain errors, which then remained in the manuscript due to the rush to publication and improper fact-checking by myself and my publishers.

Obviously, towards the end of this project, my focus was more on training in order to fight and kill a three year old toro bravo than spellchecking my manuscript, but that is not an excuse either.

However, these errors were not merely highlighted as unfortunate and unintentional false statements in Jock Richardson’s article, but were inflated into falsifications – termed “bullshit” and “bunkum” and, more seriously, “a lie” – and described as indicative of a lack of respect for the Fiesta Brava, the people I describe and the readers of the book itself.

Personally, I see this as an abuse of power by an editor of a magazine in an article that was, ironically, not exactly error free itself. That I have taken this no further than demanding a written apology and space for this refutation is a mark of my affection for certain members of the club of which I am no longer myself a member, having had it made clear to me by certain ‘senior’ members last year I was not welcome. I think this can be taken as sufficient proof of the falsity of Richardson’s first claim: that there are only two English aficionados that I have “found to be reasonable and likeable.” [Read more…]