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Kirkus Reviews★ 2014-04-08
A delightful new translation of what is widely considered the first work of history and nonfiction.Herodotus has a wonderful, gossipy style that makes reading these histories more fun than studying the rise of the Persian Empire and its clash with Greece—however, that's exactly what readers will do in this engaging history, which is full of interesting digressions and asides. Holland (In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, 2012, etc.), whose lifelong devotion to Herodotus, Thucydides and other classical writers is unquestionable, provides an engaging modern translation. As Holland writes, Herodotus' "great work is many things—the first example of nonfiction, the text that underlies the entire discipline of history, the most important source of information we have for a vital episode in human affairs—but it is above all a treasure-trove of wonders." Those just being introduced to the Father of History will agree with the translator's note that this is "the greatest shaggy-dog story ever written." Herodotus set out to explore the causes of the Greco-Persian Wars and to explore the inability of East and West to live together. This is as much a world geography and ethnic history as anything else, and Herodotus enumerates social, religious and cultural habits of the vast (known) world, right down to the three mummification options available to Egyptians. This ancient Greek historian could easily be called the father of humor, as well; he irreverently describes events, players and their countless harebrained schemes. Especially enjoyable are his descriptions of the Persians making significant decisions under the influence and then waiting to vote again when sober. The gifts Herodotus gave history are the importance of identifying multiple sources and examining differing views.A feast for students of ancient history and budding historians of any period.