Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography

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Overview

Until recently, popular biographers and most scholars viewed Alexander the Great as a genius with a plan, a romantic figure pursuing his vision of a united world. His dream was at times characterized as a benevolent interest in the brotherhood of man, sometimes as a brute interest in the exercise of power. Green, a Cambridge-trained classicist who is also a novelist, portrays Alexander as both a complex personality and a single-minded general, a man capable of such diverse expediencies as patricide or the massacre of civilians. Green describes his Alexander as "not only the most brilliant (and ambitious) field commander in history, but also supremely indifferent to all those administrative excellences and idealistic yearnings foisted upon him by later generations, especially those who found the conqueror, tout court, a little hard upon their liberal sensibilities." This biography begins not with one of the universally known incidents of Alexander's life, but with an account of his father, Philip of Macedonia, whose many-territoried empire was the first on the continent of Europe to have an effectively centralized government and military. What Philip and Macedonia had to offer, Alexander made his own, but Philip and Macedonia also made Alexander form an important context for understanding Alexander himself. Yet his origins and training do not fully explain the man. After he was named hegemon of the Hellenic League, many philosophers came to congratulate Alexander, but one was conspicuous by his absence: Diogenes the Cynic, an ascetic who lived in a clay tub. Piqued and curious, Alexander himself visited the philosopher, who, when asked if there was anything Alexander could do forhim,made the famous reply, "Don't stand between me and the sun." Alexander's courtiers jeered, but Alexander silenced them: "If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes." This remark was as unexpected in Alexander as it would be in a modern leader. For the general reader, the book, redolent with gritty details and fully aware of Alexander's darker side, offers a gripping tale of Alexander's career. Full backnotes, fourteen maps, and chronological and genealogical tables serve readers with more specialized interests.

Author Biography: Peter Green is Dougherty Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (California, 1990).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Green's vibrant biography--a History Book Club main selection and a BOMC alternate in cloth--deromanticizes the Macedonian general, portraying him as a ruthless megalomaniac. (Sept.)
Library Journal
When Alexander, king of Macedonia, hegemon of Greece, left the Balkans in 334 BC to conquer the Persian Empire, he undertook what was arguably the greatest physical adventure in human history. Ancients Plutarch and Arrian, modern scholars Wilcken and Tarn, popularizers Harold Lamb and Mary Renault, have all provided excellent accounts of the Homeric conqueror. To this body of knowledge Green adds a superb, engrossing, and balanced account--a book published in 1974 but never before available in the U.S. Convincingly maintaining that Alexander's absolute power corrupted him absolutely, Green's interpretation will displease those who acclaim the Macedonian as a proponent of the brotherhood of man. Includes maps, references, and genealogical tables. Recommended for all academic, school, and public libraries. History Book Club selection; BOMC alternate.--Kim Holston, American Inst. for Property and Liability Underwriters, Malvern, Pa.
Kirkus Reviews
A superb character study that's a massive expansion and revision of Green's Alexander the Great (1978, published only in Great Britain as a trade paperback). Like Robert Graves, Green (Classics/Univ. of Texas at Austin) can make the ancient world and its people come alive. Within a few pages, the reader knows that Alexander's father was devoted to wine, women, song, power, and young boys, and that Macedonia, typically perceived by us from the Hellenic view as backward and brutish, was most modern in being the first genuinely united nation in this part of the world. And barbaric: Alexander, his life saved by his nurse's brother, later killed the man in a drunken quarrel; his army purified itself before battle by marching between two halves of a slaughtered dog. Great names abound—Darius (utterly defeated), Demosthenes (casually brushed aside), Heracles (an ancestor), a sunbathing Diogenes (asking Alexander not to block the sun), and Aristotle (racist, dandy, manipulator, and xenophobe). The book is a thicket of intrigues, battles, treaties made and broken, and names that can't possibly be remembered. But it drives forward, clarified by Green's easy command of the material and saturated with his sense of that gorgeous, raging, brilliant time in which an implacable golden demigod rammed Hellenism forever into history and legend. The scale of Alexander's life is marvelously conveyed: For example, rebuked as a child by a tutor for wasting incense, when Alexander conquered the spice-trade centers years later, he sent the tutor 18 tons of myrrh, frankincense, etc., making him rich as a king. A magnificent biography—and an unflinching study of Realpolitik in the ancientworld.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520071667
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/5/1992
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 617
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author


Peter Green is Dougherty Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin and Adjunct Professor of Classics at the University of Iowa. He is the author of many books and translations, including Alexander to Actium, the poems of Catullus, and Apollonios Rhodios's The Argonautika, all published by University of California Press.

Eugene N. Borza is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Pennsylvania State University.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2005

    Greatness made great

    Dr. Peter Greene has written an astounding biography of the Macedonian conquerer. Alexander was envied by Julius Caesar, wondered at by Napoleon: Dr. Greene gives us reasons. Alexander's life was complicated by his bisexuality and his desire to wage war for the sake of waging war. Only a man doing the research that Greene has could paint such a clear picture of a subject lost in the myst of over 2500 years of history. A remarkable read for anyone interested in the saga of humankind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2004

    Extremely readable

    This is an excellent biography of Alexander and not only shows his tactical genius but also his luck in battle. No topic is left unexplored and after reading this book, you almost feel as if you were there marching alongside Alexander as he travelled as far east as India and Afganistan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2009

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