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Alexander the Great: Journey to the End of the Earth Hardcover – December 13, 2005

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The last work of the late historian Cantor (In the Wake of the Plague) is a flat and uninspiring study of a leader of gigantic proportions and unparalleled courage. Drawing heavily on previous modern biographies, as well as on biographical sketches from Plutarch, Arrian and other ancient writers, Cantor recreates Alexander's world, his military campaigns and his family life. Cantor mechanically traces Alexander's military exploits through Persia, Jerusalem and India, where he often freed the people of one region from a tyrant and then enslaved them himself. In tantalizing brevity, Cantor provides a picture of the bloody civil wars, the superstition and fears, and the environment of honor and shame in which the young prince grew up. Alexander's reputation as a chivalrous leader developed much later, Cantor says, both in the Alexandrine romances of the first century and in Christian legend and lore of the Middle Ages. The author clearly demonstrates that Alexander's greatness derives primarily from his abilities as a field commander rather than from his abilities as a political leader. Regrettably, Cantor offers no startling information that would help distinguish his short biography from the more complete and detailed works of Robin Lane Fox, Peter Green or Michael Wood. Map.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Has the famous Macedonian king been "done to death"? Several biographies of the conqueror of what was then the "known" world have appeared recently; however, turn to this extremely useful one for its incomparable mix of insight and cogency. Professor Cantor, author of, among other books, the best-selling In the Wake of the Plague (2001), begins with a trenchant explanation of the context for understanding Alexander--the tenets of ancient Greek culture--which is matched, as if by a second bookend, by the author's equally solid concluding--chapter summation of the man's "greatness." In between lies the heart of the book, in which Cantor, easing the reader along in an effortlessly styled, smoothly flowing narrative, reconstructs the events in Alexander's life; but more difficultly, given the expanse of time between then and now, he offers a valid evaluation of the man's character. Military exploits (in Alexander's case, of course, military talents) are excitingly revivified, and honesty is the hallmark of Cantor's appreciation of Alexander's relationship with his longtime male lover, Hephaestion. A book that does the biographical art proud. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (December 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060570121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060570125
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,068,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Warren on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book should be evaluated for what it was intended to be by the author, and not for what it was not!

This is a very broad summary intended for laypeople, not a detailed book for professional historians (nor even, really, for students studying the period). If you want to go much deeper, do read Robin Lane Fox's biography, which is scholarly. As such, I think it did a good job. It is written with a lightness of style - almost journalistic - and can be read in its entirety easily in a day. Initially, I found the anachronistic comparisons to modern events (e.g., Iraq War) a little intrusive and grating, but later I thought: why not? After all, if it helps to make ancient history have some relevance for the reader and encourages the lay-reader to learn more about the past then, so be it, the end justifies the means.

I have now enjoyed several of Norman Cantor's history books, partly for their light, summary nature, and partly for his easy and engaging writing style. They well suit non-fictional reading at the end of a hard day's work, when concentaration levels are, inevitably, not at their peak. I encourage the reader to try more of Norman Cantor's books if you liked this one, or to try this one if you liked other books of his.

For what it was intended to be, an interesting and engaging book.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Vergacus on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
With all due respect to the late Professor Cantor, the text needed a moderately interested editor. While amusing factoids and insights occasionally appear in it (though hardly provocative), much of the book reads as well as an undergraduate term paper for an introductory history course. There is a lack of cohesiveness and flow throughout the chapters, which sometimes lose focus. Considering the credentials and past successes of the author, I have to believe that an earlier draft of the book was mistakenly given to the printers. While a succinct piece on Alexander is welcome, this book sadly fails to provide an insightful and satisfying snapshot of the conqueror.

In my opinion, if readers are interested in an engrossing psychological examination of the historical Alexander, they would be better served by Michael Woods' documentary and/or companion book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By likes good books, music, movies on July 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
Late in his book Cantor warns against "history re-created from one era to another" and points out this malady in regards to Alexander the Great. He also judiciously examines other books on his subject, a testament to his thorough research.
To avoid any such re-creation of history, Cantor paints a broad context of the world into which Alexander was born, a "pre-Christian, thoroughly pagan world." Alexander remained "culturally and psychologically committed to an archaic Homeric time of heroic behavior." This theme seems correct enough, how else to explain a man whose army suffered a 50% mortality rate as it killed an estimated 500,000 and enslaved another half million people?
Cantor continually points out Alexander's cunning, especially when it came to establishing his power. He employed both historians and publicists to ensure his reputation during his lifetime and afterwards. Instead of trying to replace his conquests' way of life, he often allowed them to keep it in exchange for loyalty. Most revealing of his businesslike manner was his response to a soothsayer who had warned him of an impending wound if he attacked: "If anyone interrupted you while you were about your professional business, I have no doubt you would find it both tactless and annoying, correct? Well, my business--vital business--is the capture of the citadel; and I don't intend to let any superstitious crackpot stand in my way." Cantor uses numerous examples of how such single mindedness drove Alexander.
The book succeeds because Cantor writes in an understandable style and never gives in to the temptation to try and impress through overdrawn writing or overblown conjecture.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book expecting it to be an interesting and light introduction to Alexander the Great. A few pages in, I encountered too many obvious errors to continue. On page 3, Cantor summarizes the period of classical Greece, describing how the Greek city-states were in a state of perpetual war. He then points out some exceptions to this general rule, saying that,

"One was the period in the later fifth century BC when Athens and Sparta united during the Peloponnesian War against the menace of the Persian Empire coming over from Asia Minor."

As is commonly known, the Peloponnesian War was fought between Athens and Sparta, not against the Persian Empire. In the very next sentence, Cantor goes on to say,

"The alliance of Athens and Sparta defeated the Persians in the famous Battle of Marathon in 490 BC."

This is incorrect. Sparta did not fight in the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians asked Sparta to come to their aid, but the Spartans were observing a religious festival, and set out several days too late, arriving after the battle had already been won. Next sentence:

"After the war had dragged on for almost ten years, the Greeks forced the battle by advancing full force toward the Persian army and surrounding it."

This is clearly a description the Battle of Marathon, but the battle was not fought after the war had dragged on for ten years. Rather, the battle was fought, the Persian army defeated, and then ten years later a new Persian army came back and was once again defeated.
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