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Tides of War: A Novel of Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War

Tides of War: A Novel of Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War

3.9 36
by Steven Pressfield

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BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Steven Pressfield's The Profession.

Brilliant at war, a master of politics, and a charismatic lover, Alcibiades was Athens’ favorite son and the city’s greatest general.

A prodigal follower of Socrates, he embodied both the best and the worst of the Golden Age of Greece. A


BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Steven Pressfield's The Profession.

Brilliant at war, a master of politics, and a charismatic lover, Alcibiades was Athens’ favorite son and the city’s greatest general.

A prodigal follower of Socrates, he embodied both the best and the worst of the Golden Age of Greece. A commander on both land and sea, he led his armies to victory after victory.

But like the heroes in a great Greek tragedy, he was a victim of his own pride, arrogance, excess, and ambition. Accused of crimes against the state, he was banished from his beloved Athens, only to take up arms in the service of his former enemies.

For nearly three decades, Greece burned with war and Alcibiades helped bring victories to both sides — and ended up trusted by neither.

Narrated from death row by Alcibiades’ bodyguard and assassin, a man whose own love and loathing for his former commander mirrors the mixed emotions felt by all Athens, Tides of War tells an epic saga of an extraordinary century, a war that changed history, and a complex leader who seduced a nation.

Editorial Reviews

Pressfield serves up not just hair-raising battle scenes ... But many moments of valor and cowardice, lust and bawdy humor.... Even more impressively, he delivers a nuanced portrait of ancient athens.
USA Today
Pressfield’s battlefield scenes rank with the most convincing ever written.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Perhaps the Peloponnesian War, which lasted 27 years and featured an epic list of people and places, just doesn't lend itself to the six-hour audio format, for not even renowned Shakespearean actor Jacobi's reading gives this novel the sense of personal drama it requires. Pressfield (Gates of Fire) focuses his story on Alcibiades, the legendary hero whose strength, beauty and courage embodied ancient Greek ideals. An Athenian trained in Sparta, Alcibiades appears divinely well suited to feed his country's hunger for military victories. But democracy in its nascent stage being no less tainted than in its current manifestation, Alcibiades is feared for his popularity and ultimately exiled on a trumped-up charge. Once in the camp of Athens's enemies, he proves as unmatchable a foe as he could have been a champion. Unfortunately, the pace of this recording, as necessitated by the breadth of events covered in its relatively short length, lends it all the emotional depth of a textbook. And unless listeners have studied their ancient Greek geography, they will find themselves rewinding often to try to keep up with the movements of all the ships and forces. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 13). (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The battle of Thermopylae doesn't sound like best seller material, but Pressfield made it work in Gates of Fire. Here he moves on to Greek military leader Alcibiades (c.450-404 BCE). Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Pressfield’s battlefield scenes rank with the most convincing ever written.”
— USA Today

“Pressfield serves up not just hair-raising battle scenes ... But many moments of valor and cowardice, lust and bawdy humor.... Even more impressively, he delivers a nuanced portrait of ancient athens.”
— Esquire

“Unabashedly brilliant, epic, intelligent, and moving.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Pressfield’s attention to historic detail is exquisite.... This novel will remain with the reader long after the final chapter is finished.”
— Library Journal

“Astounding, historically accurate tale ... Pressfield is a master storyteller, especially adept in his graphic and embracing descriptions of the land and naval battles, political intrigues and colorful personalities, which come together in an intense and credible portrait of war-torn Greece.”
— Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

My Grandfather Jason

My grandfather, Jason the son of Alexicles of the district of Alopece, died just before sunset on the fourteenth day of Boedromion, one year past, two months prior to his ninety-second birthday. He was the last of that informal but fiercely devoted circle of comrades and friends who attended the philosopher Socrates.

The span of my grandfather's years ran from the imperial days of Pericles, the construction of the Parthenon and Erechtheum, through the Great Plague, the rise and fall of Alcibiades, and the full tenure of that calamitous twenty-seven-year conflagration called in our city the Spartan War and known throughout greater Greece, as recorded by the historian Thucydides, as the Peloponnesian War.

As a young man my grandfather served as a sail lieutenant at Sybota, Potidaea, and Scione and later in the East as a trierarch and squadron commander at the battles of Bitch's Tomb, Abydos (for which he was awarded the prize of valor and incidentally lost an eye and the use of his right leg), and the Arginousai Islands. As a private citizen he spoke out in the Assembly, alone save Euryptolemus and Axiochus, against the mob in defense of the Ten Generals. In his years he buried two wives and eleven children. He served his city from her peak of preeminence, mistress of two hundred tributary states, to the hour of her vanquishment at the hands of her most inclement foes. In short he was a man who not only witnessed but participated in most of the significant events of the modern era and who knew personally many of its principal actors.

In the waning seasons of my grandfather's life, when his vigor began to fail and he could move about only with the aid of a companion's arm, I took to visiting him daily. There appears ever one among a family, the physicians testify, whose disposition invites and upon whom falls the duty to succor its elderly and infirm members.

To me this was never a chore. Not only did I hold my grandfather in the loftiest esteem, but I delighted in his society with an intensity that frequently bordered upon the ecstatic. I could listen to him talk for hours and, I fear, tired him more severely than charity served with my inquiries and importunities.

To me he was like one of our hardy Attic vines, assaulted season after season by the invader's torch and ax, blistered by summer sun, frost-jacketed in winter, yet unkillable, ever-enduring, drawing strength from deep within the earth to yield up despite all privations or perhaps because of them the sweetest and most mellifluent of wines. I felt keenly that with his passing an era would close, not alone of Athens' greatness but of a caliber of man with whom we contemporary specimens stood no longer familiar, nor to whose standard of virtue we could hope to obtain.

The loss to typhus of my own dear son, aged two and a half, earlier in that season, had altered every aspect of my being. Nowhere could I discover consolation save in the company of my grandfather. That fragile purchase we mortals hold upon existence, the fleeting nature of our hours beneath the sun, stood vividly upon my heart; only with him could I find footing upon some stony but stabler soil.

My regimen upon those mornings was to rise before dawn and, summoning my dog Sentinel (or, more accurately, responding to his summons), ride down to the port along the Carriage Road, returning through the foothills to our family's mains at Holm Oak Hill. The early hours were a balm to me. From the high road one could see the naval crews already at drill in the harbor. We passed other gentlemen upon the track to their estates, saluted athletes training along the roads, and greeted the young cavalrymen at their exercises in the hills. Upon completion of the morning's business of the farm, I stabled my mount and proceeded on foot, alone save Sentinel, up the sere olive-dotted slope to my grandfather's cottage.

I brought him his lunch. We would talk in the shade of the overlook porch, or sometimes simply sit, side by side, with Sentinel reclining on the cool stones between us, saying nothing.

"Memory is a queer goddess, whose gifts metamorphose with the passage of the years," my grandfather observed upon one such afternoon. "One cannot call to mind that which occurred an hour past, yet summon events seventy years gone, as if they were unfolding here and now."

I interrogated him, often ruthlessly I fear, upon these distant holdings of his heart. Perhaps for his part he welcomed the eager ear of youth, for once launched upon a tale he would pursue its passage, like the tireless campaigner he was, in detail to its close. In his day the scribe's art had not yet triumphed; the faculty of memory stood unatrophied. Men could recite extended passages from the Iliad and Odyssey, quote stanzas of a hundred hymns, and relate passage and verse of the tragedy attended days previous.

More vivid still stood my grandfather's recollection of men. He remembered not alone friends and heroes but slaves and horses and dogs, even trees and vines which had graven impress upon his heart. He could summon the memory of some antique sweetheart, seventy-five years gone, and resurrect her mirage in colors so immediate that one seemed to behold her before him, yet youthful and lovely, in the flesh.

I inquired of my grandfather once, whom of all the men he had known he adjudged most exceptional.

"Noblest," he replied without hesitation, "Socrates. Boldest and most brilliant, Alcibiades. Bravest, Thrasybulus, the Brick. Wickedest, Anytus."

Impulse prompted a corollary query. "Was there one whom memory has driven deepest? One to whom you find your thoughts returning?"

At this my grandfather drew up. How odd that I should ask, he replied, for yes, there was one man who had, for cause to which he could not give name, been of late much upon his mind. This individual, my grandfather declared, stood not among the ranks of the celebrated or the renowned; he was neither admiral nor archon, nor would his name be found memorialized among the archives, save as a dark and self-condemned footnote.

"Of all I knew, this man could not but be called the most haunted. He was an aristocrat of the district of Acharnae. I helped to defend him once, on trial for his life."

I was intrigued at once and pressed my grandfather to elaborate. He smiled, declaring that to launch upon this enterprise may take many hours, for the events of the man's tale transpired over decades and covered on land and sea most of the known world. Such prospect, far from daunting me, made me the more eager to hear. Please, I entreated; the day is well spent, but let us at least make a beginning.

"You're a greedy whelp, aren't you?"

"To hear you speak, Grandfather, the greediest."

He smiled. Let us start, then, and see where the tale takes us.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Steven Pressfield is author of the international bestseller Gates of Fire, an epic novel of the battle of Thermopylae, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Tides of War: A Novel of Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an old warhorse I can attest to the accuracy of Mr. Pressfield's insights. He is a superb author, with an uncanny ability to present historical fact in the venue of the novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a connoisseur of both ancient Greek history and historical fiction, I approached Mr. Pressfield's newest book with as much anticipation as I did his masterpiece, Gates of Fire. It is often unfair to draw comparisons between works, but I think Mr. Pressfield probably thought success with Thermopylae would extend to the Pelopennesus. I would say he hit the mark, but not strongly. Often I felt confused by his narrative flow, and, unlike the story of the 300, I felt that there were really no admirable characters this time around to make the story engaging. As a hero, Alcibiades was less like Achilles than he was like Gilgamesh...a misunderstood demigod walking amongst a scared and sometimes jealous community. Add this in with the fact that, instead of dealing with a time-focussed event like the Stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae , Pressfield's story must cover nearly three decades of important events, you can see where he might be led astray. Oftentimes it seemed as if Socrates' imminent execution was a bigger subplot, for instance, than Polemides'. Ah, well. I gave this four stars on
Guest More than 1 year ago
Steven Pressfield himself declared that Tides of War was his least critically acclaimed book as it is so different from Gates of Fire. While the latter had characters who were admirable except for the somewhat villain Polynikes. Yet Tides of War is a fascinating book. With Pressfield I have decided not to focus on the battles like the 8th grader. Instead it is the characters that make the book moving. Here you see Polemides struggle with the loss of the majority of his family. He slips into the world of prostitues and drinking to ignore his problems. To see this is amazing and probably the best part of the book. As mentioned before Alciabades wasn't supposed to be a likeable character and you cannot speculate on if he didn't exist the war would be over sooner. Alciabades slips from one group to the next to achieve fame but eventually he must accept that he is an outcast. This book is on par with Gates of Fire maybe possibly less as the characters there are more enjoyable however both create a feeling of sensation for days. However with Tides of War it took a few days if you really focus on it to see the conflicts Polemides has within himself. Highly recommended to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A complex and layered tale, this one tracks the career of the ancient Athenian leader, Alcibiades, over the course of the 27 year struggle between Athens and Sparta for control of Hellas that was known as the Pelopennesian War. Based largely on Thucydides' History of the Pelopennesian War, Pressfield recounts the life and times of this charismatic and compelling kinsman of Pericles through the recollections of the man who was hired by Sparta to assassinate him. In this 'as told to' narrative, the killer, awaiting trial, tells his story to a man named Jason who he has asked to defend him. Awaiting his day in the courts of Athens, in the same prison where Socrates sits condemned to death, the assassin, Polemides, recalls his own career and the many times it crossed paths with the brilliant Alcibiades. In the course of his story we get an in-depth look at the ravages and viscissitudes of war as Athens pursued its struggle against the obdurate Spartans who controlled the Pelopennesian Greek heartland and had never been defeated on the battlefield. Like Alcibiades, the Athenians are bold, clever and energetic as they develop and fight for an overseas empire that makes them richer, and stronger militarily, than their stay-at-home Spartan cousins. Into this mix, after famine and plague have laid Athens low while under siege by the Spartans and their allies, Alcibiades steps. He convinces his mercurial countrymen to fund and support a war against the Greek colony of Syracuse in Sicily to the west, thereby outflanking the Spartans. But just as his campaign is getting off to a brilliant start, Alicbiades' enemies at home cause him to be recalled to face charges of sacrilege. Fearing the worst, he bolts to the Spartans. Without Alicibiades, the Syracusan adventure collapses. But Alcibiades soon runs afoul of the Spartan king, Agis, over an indiscretion with the king's wife, and must flee again, this time to Persia. Called home at last by his desperate countrymen, Alcibiades again takes charge of the war against Sparta, turning the tables on the Pelopennesian city-state in a remarkable series of brilliant military campaigns. But just as before, Alcibiades' enemies, fearing his growing success and dominance, conspire to bring him down. Bringing lawsuits and initiating investigations against him, they prompt the Athenian citizenry to finally turn against him by denying him continued funding for the war. After 11 months of continuous victories, Alcibiades sees the handwriting on the wall, realizing that he cannot outlast the Spartans (who are supported by a seemingly endless stream of Persian gold). And so he chucks it all again and quits the field for exile. Replacing him with a committee of generals (to prevent any one of them from becoming too preeminent), the Athenians continue their victories (albeit without Alcibiades' consistency and panache) until a freak storm, after one battle, claims the lives of thousands of their countrymen on the high seas. Recalled to face charges of negligence, those generals who cannot flee are tried, condemned to death and cruelly executed. Bereft of its best leadership and left with only second-stringers who are afraid to make a move for fear of being similarly condemned by the fickle Athenian populace, Athens at last goes down to defeat before the stolid and stubborn Spartans who are led by the scheming and relentless Lysander, a general who may be Alcibiades' only equal on the battlefield . . . and off. Alcibiades in exile dreams of a third comeback but the Spartans are set on preventing that. And so Polemides recalls his final charge, to find and slay the man he served with, and under, a man he had grown to both love and hate by turns. Alcibiades is building a third army of Thracian tribesmen in the north and it is there that Polemides initially goes to find him. This tale suffers from its complex narrative structure no less than from the complex series of events on which it is hung. S
Amon_101 More than 1 year ago
Another great book by Mr. Pressfield. The characters leap off the pages, especially Polemides and Alcibiades. If you know at least a little of the history of the Peloponnesian War, it makes the book that much more enjoyable. The more you know of the history of Alcibiades, the more you can appreciate the book, and the way Mr. Pressfield is able to give life to someone who lived and died almost 2500 years ago. If you enjoy historical fiction, I strongly recommend picking up a couple of Steven Pressfield's book.
barry58 More than 1 year ago
Tides of War is another wonderful story by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is a fantastic author who creates full and enjoyable characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was just as good as Gates of Fire! Anyone who disagrees should read again.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IF I COULD GET MY MONEY BACK I WOULD i just started this book and am bored tearless the names are hard to keep straight,very disjointed in the telling of the story. Will need to read a couple of times maybe to figure what the h!!! Is going on Very disapointed in this book and I love historical novels fiction or not if you are intrested in greek history skip this book
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