“Ambitious....a sweeping popular account that seems destined to become a classic.” —The Seattle Times“Excellent. . . . There is an even-handedness in Holland’s treatment of both Greek and Persian cultural riches that is rare in popular accounts of these wars.” —Sunday Times“Holland has a rare eye for detail, drama, and the telling anecdote. . . . A book as spirited and engaging as Persian Fire deserves to last.” —The Telegraph
In 480 B.C., something inexplicable happened. In the 70 years previous, the Persian Empire had amassed victory after victory, expanding its dominion, which now stretched from India to the shores of the Aegean. His ambitions still unquenched, Persian King Xerxes launched a massive invasion of mainland Greece. Somehow, despite elaborate preparations and seemingly overwhelming military superiority, the Persians were repulsed. As Xerxes watched the battle from the island shores of Salamis, his naval forces were vanquished by the much smaller fleet of the Greek city-states. As Tom Holland's stunning Persian Fire reveals, the battle changed the course of history.
After chronicling the fall of the Roman Republic in Rubicon, historian Holland turns his attention further back in time to 480 B.C., when the Greeks defended their city-states against the invading Persian empire, led by Xerxes. Classicists will recall such battles as Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis, which raises the question: why do we need another account of this war, when we already have Herodotus? But just as Victor David Hanson and Donald Kagan have reframed our understanding of the Peloponnesian War by finding contemporary parallels, Holland recasts the Greek-Persian conflict as the first clash in a long-standing tension between East and West, echoing now in Osama bin Laden's pretensions to a Muslim caliphate. Holland doesn't impose a modern sensibility on the ancient civilizations he describes, and he delves into the background histories of both sides with equally fascinating detail. Though matters of Greek history like the brutal social structure of the Spartans are well known, the story of the Persian empire-like the usurper Darius's claim that every royal personage he assassinated was actually an imposter-should be fresh and surprising to many readers, while Holland's graceful, modern voice will captivate those intimidated by Herodotus. (May 2) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Portrayed mainly as a clash of civilizations, the invasion of ancient Greece by the Persians in 480 B.C.E. is given a fresh look in this account by Holland (Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic). Much of the book focuses on the history of both cultures before the wars, including the founding of major players Sparta, Athens, and Persia. Although the subject is an old one, Holland makes the story of Greece's repulsion of the immense forces of Xerxes seem relevant to the current clash between East and West. Holland draws many parallels with present-day conflicts, referring, for instance, to the Persian belief that the Greeks were in violation of the path of righteousness as dictated by the Persian gods and therefore deserved the destruction that was planned for them. Most readers will not have any difficulties in seeing the implicit comparisons that Holland makes between the Persians and present-day religious extremists. Holland tells a story in an efficient and engaging manner, with clear and concise prose enhanced by a time line and endnotes. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Sean Fleming, Lebanon Pub. Libs., NH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Why do they hate us? That's what Herodotus wanted to know, and this lively history of the Persian Wars ventures a few answers. Indeed, writes historian/novelist Holland (Rubicon, 2004, etc.), if history begins with Herodotus, then that question is the foundation of history. "Why, he wondered, did the peoples of East and West find it so hard to live in peace?" Herodotus thought it might have had something to do with the business of kidnapping princesses, or the savage attacking of Troy. Holland takes a longer view, writing of restless tribes of Central Asians and their push-pull migrations, of power-hungry satraps, of great emperors. The first was Cyrus, who dominated all of southwestern Asia. His lieutenant Harpagus seems to have had it in for the Greeks who lived along the coast of what is now western Turkey: "City by city," Holland writes, "he brutally subdued them all," except the lucky ones who fled to Greece and farther westward to Italy and Sicily. The Persians seem to have taken a liking to the things of Greece, and they pushed ever westward, led by the great general Xerxes. Cyrus knew of the Greeks; a delegation from the mainland once came to his palace and told him bluntly that they had better leave them alone, or "he would have to answer to those who sent them-the Spartans." The Greeks apparently thought that mention of the Spartans was enough, but Cyrus and company were undeterred-and, to their sorrow, they learned their lesson in battles at places like Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae. Holland's descriptions of these epochal battles are suitably stirring, and if his East-versus-West notion is just a touch anachronistic, it points to all the misunderstandings, ambition andignorance that have characterized that struggle ever since. A welcome popularization of ancient history, with a nicely vengeful cliffhanger of an ending that begs for a sequel.