Gann's introductory note to The Antagonists, his classic historical novel, addresses its contemporary significance by recalling such recent martyrs as the Hungarian freedom fighters, the North and South Vietnamese, Cubans, and French, among others, who decided against living "without what they personally conceived as freedom." Here Gann extols patriotism while not taking political sides, a position he maintains in the autobiography.
In writing of the Masada Jews who committed mass suicide under a Roman siege, he again explores the questions of dignity and courage in the face of death. For the martyrs under Eleazar ben Yair, their act is ultimate freedom, for it results from their own choice rather than from the workings of fate.
Their act also gives them victory, for they become a symbol of resistance and freedom, while their military opponent, as Gann notes, disappears from history.
Likewise, Gann uses the historical distance of a...