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.

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In The News in English

The New York Times: Raphael Minder, March 1st, 2012

Bullfighter’s Return Stuns a Hardened Sport

Laura Leon for The International Herald Tribune

Although Fiske-Harrison did not contribute in words to The New York Times’cover story below (which ran with similar prominence in the International Herald Tribune)  he was with Juan José Padilla at the time and arranged the interview, (having met Raphael Minder for the NYT-IHT article further on.) Padilla is not only the first matador Fiske-Harrison met for Into The Arena, but also accompanied and mentored him in his forays into the ring.

“I’m somebody who has always accepted the risks of my profession, as well as its rewards,” said Mr. Padilla on his decision to return to bullfighting.

MADRID — Five months after surviving a horrifying goring, Juan José Padilla, one of Spain’s leading bullfighters, wears a patch over his left eye and cannot chew any food, even after a series of surgeries to reconstruct part of his face. [Read more…]

Awards, Shortlistings and Listings

Shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2011

Sport books of the year

Sunday Times: Nick Pitt, December 4th, 2011 [Read more…]

Reviews in the National Press

Mail on Sunday: James Owen, July 10th, 2011

Where Hemingway feared to tread

Into The Arena by Alexander Fiske-Harrison

* * * * *

Whatever you think of Alexander Fiske-Harrison’s account of his quest to become a bullfighter, you have to admire his guts. Not literally, happily, but there are times in his year as an amateur matador in Spain in which he seems likely to learn first-hand how cruel the arena can be. [Read more…]

Reviews in the International Press

The Herald: Alastair Mabbott, May 21st, 2011

Plagued by conflicting feelings about bullfighting, writer and actor Alexander Fiske-Harrison decided the only way to resolve the issue was to spend a year in Spain immersing himself in bullfighting culture and training alongside professionals, then taking to the ring himself. Before he could conclude the spectacle of the fight might not be worth the life of an innocent creature, he felt he had to understand bullfighting at the deepest level. With Hemingway’s Death In The Afternoon a constantly looming presence, Fiske-Harrison comes across as the kind of devil-may-care Englishman who built an Empire. But is he a man out of time? Does he really have to get into the ring with one of these creatures to decide whether or not it’s barbaric? An informative and breathtaking volume of gonzo journalism. [Read more…]

Reviews in Magazines & Periodicals

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS

INTO THE ARENA: THE WORLD OF THE SPANISH BULLFIGHT

By Alexander Fiske-Harrison
(Profile Books 284pp £15.99)

YOU MIGHT THINK that Ernest Hemingway had bulls and Spain all wrapped up, but it is fifty years now since The Dangerous Summer, his study of two bullfighting brothers-in- law, was first published and more than eighty since his novel Fiesta, about a group of friends who go to watch the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Spain has changed immeasurably since then, shaking off the ‘black legend’ that for centuries branded it as a backward, fervid, superstitious and cruel society.

Yet some elements of superstition, fervour and cruelty still shape Spanish culture and none more so than bullfighting. The question of whether a modern society should endorse animal suffering as entertainment is bound to cross the mind of any casual visitor to a bullfight.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison first tussled with the issue in his early twenties and, as a student of both philosophy and biology, has perhaps tussled with it more lengthily and cogently than most of us. The germ of this book was an essay in Prospect (a ‘rather longwinded’ one, by his own admission). Into the Arena is an attempt to take the bull more firmly by the horns. In researching it, Fiske-Harrison spent nearly two years following a clutch of toreros, several of whom became his friends. He studied their art and learned some of it himself, all the while trying to come to a decision about the morality of a sport that is also an art form.

Writing: a dangerous profession (Photo: Tristán Ybarra)

His eye-witness reports of bullfights are particularly good. He transposes the spectacle into words with great success, conveying the drama of the corrida while explaining individual moves and techniques with eloquence and precision. One bull is ‘a paranoia of horn and muscle’. [Read more…]

(The TLS: A dispute of animal rights)

In the September 16 issue of The Times Literary Supplement (No. 5659) the animal rights philosopher Professor Mark Rowlands of Miami University reviewed Into The Arena. That review cannot be reprinted, but here is the correspondence which followed in the letters’ page of the TLS.

September 30 2011

No. 5661

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Bullfighting

Sir, – It seems the TLS chose a reviewer for my book, Into The Arena, (September 16) who not only dislikes its subject, bullfighting (Mark Rowlands is a proponent of vegetarianism and once tried to make his pet wolf into one as described in The Philosopher And The Wolf ) but also its author (I reviewed his book elsewhere, unfavourably: a “frustratingly limited work of philosophy”, “sterile” etc. – and he has published his views on this.) I am not saying this is the sole reason his review has been the only negative one of the book so far, but it certainly diminishes its claim to any authority. Overlooking his personal tone, I will focus on some of his errors of fact and logic. [Read more…]

(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…]

Anti-Bullfighting Publications

The most important review of my book from an anti-bullfighting activist was, unfortunately, in the pages of The Times Literary Supplement and is dealt with on the page ‘The TLS: A dispute of animal rights’. I say unfortunate because the TLS is the first place I published, aged 21, in a letter titled ‘Hume and Kant’, defending my one time lecturer at Oxford on political philosophy, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, against Professor Peter Gay, the Yale historian. It saddened me greatly that a literary magazine which I had written essays of philosophy for since that letter, and which counts among its contributors Henry James, Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot, should hire a reviewer for a book on bullfighting who is so against the death of animals that he tried to force his pet wolf to become a vegetarian, something which he had written about in a book which I had previously negatively reviewed myself in Prospect magazine, a review which he had attacked on his blog. All in all, a very poor choice indeed.

The second most important review was from the League Against Cruel Sports. Although it was negative overall, they still had some nice things to say:

Alexander Fiske-Harrison spent a year immersing himself in the bullfighting culture of Spain, with the seemingly noble aim of trying to gain a greater understanding of it.

Animal welfare issues are sporadically raised, but are always dismissed as being subordinate to the “art form” of bullfighting. In Fiske-Harrison’s mind, the prolonged suffering of an animal for human entertainment is acceptable because it stirs emotion in an audience.

To his credit, Fiske-Harrison does at least acknowledge the morally questionable nature of the bullfight. And the book does contain some interesting explorations of concepts such as fear, bravery and drive. [Read more…]