Friday, January 19, 2007

Thermopylae - Book review

I've been taking a break from writing - and instead spending more time reading. I picked up a couple of books at various shops over the last month. For what its worth, I thought I'd pena few thoughts on each.

Let's first deal with Thermopylae - The Battle That Changed the World (Paul Cartledge - The Overlook Press, 2006)

This work attempts to set the 480 BC battle at Thermoplyae between Xerxes' Persian army and Greek forces in an overall context. My overall reaction to this work is lukewarm. I'll outline what I liked and what I didn't.

What I liked:

Cartledge does a good job in structruring the book to meet his objectives. He strikes a reasonable balance between the lead-up, the battle itself, and the socio/economic/political aspects. For a reader interesting in beginning to learn something about ancient Greek history, this isn't a terrible place to start.

The book has a useful section of maps and timelines that can serve as a refrence beyond the immediate subject.

What could be better:

While Cartledge does explain the Greek's hoplite-based land forces, I really thought subject needed a greater emphasis. When I studied ancient Greek history at Cornell, my professors emphasized how important this military concept was in the ascent of the ancient Greek city states. To be sure, the Spartan hoplites were without equal. However, it was a predominately Athenian hoplite force that delivered what Cartledge calls a 'comprehensive' defeat to the Persians at Marathon.

For better or worse, the Greek's military strength was honed as a result of combat amongst the city states. This point is somewhat lost in this work.

What can be done away with:

The author includes gratuitious and pointless commentary on today's politics. This is clearly forced into the text. I'm not sure if this was the author's own idea - or requested by the publisher/editor.

The upshot:

If you want to begin to educate yourself about ancient Greek history, start with Herodotus. and then read Thucydides. If you are then so inspired, arrange to read Donald Kagan.

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