Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

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by Philip Freeman

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In the first authoritative biography of Alexander the Great written for a general audience in a generation, classicist and historian Philip Freeman tells the remarkable life of the great conqueror. The celebrated Macedonian king has been one of the most enduring figures in history. He was a general of such skill and renown that for two thousand years other great

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In the first authoritative biography of Alexander the Great written for a general audience in a generation, classicist and historian Philip Freeman tells the remarkable life of the great conqueror. The celebrated Macedonian king has been one of the most enduring figures in history. He was a general of such skill and renown that for two thousand years other great leaders studied his strategy and tactics, from Hannibal to Napoleon, with countless more in between. He flashed across the sky of history like a comet, glowing brightly and burning out quickly: crowned at age nineteen, dead by thirty-two. He established the greatest empire of the ancient world; Greek coins and statues are found as far east as Afghanistan. Our interest in him has never faded.

Alexander was born into the royal family of Macedonia, the kingdom that would soon rule over Greece. Tutored as a boy by Aristotle, Alexander had an inquisitive mind that would serve him well when he faced formidable obstacles during his military campaigns. Shortly after taking command of the army, he launched an invasion of the Persian empire, and continued his conquests as far south as the deserts of Egypt and as far east as the mountains of present-day Pakistan and the plains of India. Alexander spent nearly all his adult life away from his homeland, and he and his men helped spread the Greek language throughout western Asia, where it would become the lingua franca of the ancient world. Within a short time after Alexander’s death in Baghdad, his empire began to fracture. Best known among his successors are the Ptolemies of Egypt, whose empire lasted until Cleopatra.

In his lively and authoritative biography of Alexander, classical scholar and historian Philip Freeman describes Alexander’s astonishing achievements and provides insight into the mercurial character of the great conqueror. Alexander could be petty and magnanimous, cruel and merciful, impulsive and farsighted. Above all, he was ferociously, intensely competitive and could not tolerate losing—which he rarely did. As Freeman explains, without Alexander, the influence of Greece on the ancient world would surely not have been as great as it was, even if his motivation was not to spread Greek culture for beneficial purposes but instead to unify his empire. Only a handful of people have influenced history as Alexander did, which is why he continues to fascinate us.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Alexander the Great managed to conquer most of the known world before dying in 323 B.C.E. at age 33. The surprise is that he didn't die sooner. To defeat the Persian Empire, he led his troops on a ten-year campaign from his native Macedonia all the way to India. If the ancient accounts of his life are to be believed, daredevil Alexander risked death from battle, palace treachery, dysentery, and crossing vast deserts and mountains. How disappointing to die in bed in a palace in Babylon after too much partying. Alexander's empire quickly broke up, but Freeman (Classics, Luther Coll.; Julius Caesar) makes a persuasive case in his popular history here that the Hellenic tradition in successor states changed Western history. VERDICT Freeman ignores many conventions of modern historians: he never locates events in contemporary geography; if the classical source (always unreliable on numbers) says 100,000 soldiers, he generally accepts the number. Despite a persuasive epilog on the problems of sorting legend from fact, he rarely discusses his sources. It's a cliché-ridden biography, at times even reminiscent of the old Landmark Books some may remember from their childhood, likely to please neither the uninitiated nor the learned adult. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]—Stewart Desmond, New York
Kirkus Reviews

Historian Freeman (Classics/Luther Coll.; Julius Caesar, 2008, etc.) presents an accessible biography of the young Macedonian king.

The author's love for his subject infuses this footnote-free narrative with an unfussy breeziness, and readers are sure to come away from Alexander's story with an essential grasp of the details and understanding of his character. Freeman portrays the Macedonian people as having a shared language and culture distinct from Greek—to the Greeks' scorn but Macedonians' pride. Alexander's father was the "genius" on whom his son was able to establish his later empire, and the author wisely devotes some initial pages to Philips's masterly diplomacy, radical restructuring of his army and training of engineers. From his father, Alexander learned the importance of building alliances in the Greek world by marriage and immersion in the local religions. Conceived from his union with the strange, snake-loving daughter of the kingdom of Epirus, Olympias, Alexander was his father's pride—winning the magnificent but unmanageable horse Bucephalus out of cunning and bravery—as well as his scourge, demonstrating a troubling hubris. However, "the bull [was] ready for slaughter," as the oracle at Delphi proclaimed to the unknowing Philip, and when he was felled by a dagger, Alexander, at age 20, was swift to consolidate his own power. He won the loyalty of his troops, thanks to his moving rhetoric gained under his Greek tutors, and embarked on quelling rebellion among the Greek cities. His crossing of the Danube, a feat accomplished only Darius of Persia, amazed and inspired his men. From the destruction of Thebes through campaigns into Mesopotamia, Egypt and even India, Alexander was propelled over the next decade, driven by oracles, omens and what Freeman calls pothos, or longing, before he died, possibly by poisoning, still dreaming of his expedition into Arabia. In a readable, nonacademic narrative, the author capably sketches the powerful legacy of Alexander in spreading the culture of Greece that has proved the foundation for Western civilization.

A worthy addition to the seemingly endless flood of books on Alexander, including, recently, Paul Cartledge's literate Alexander the Great (2004) and Norman F. Cantor's opinionated Alexander the Great (2005).

From the Publisher
"Freeman tells us about Alexander's life like a novel—a remarkably interesting novel, to boot."
—Sarah Hann, The Saturday Evening Post

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.50(w) x 2.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Philip Freeman is Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a former professor of classics at Washington University in St. Louis. He was selected as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for January 2012. He earned the first joint Ph.D. in classics and Celtic studies from Harvard University, and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. The author of several previous books including Alexander the Great, St. Patrick of Ireland and Julius Caesar, he lives with his family in Decorah, Iowa. Visit him at

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