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Alexander the Great Paperback – November 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; (1st,2004) edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400079195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400079193
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alexander the Great's brilliant military campaigns in the fourth century B.C. spread not only his reputation as a heroic and ingenious leader but also the culture of ancient Greece throughout the known world. With his usual riveting storytelling, Cartledge (The Spartans), chair of Cambridge University's classics faculty, narrates Alexander's life and rise to power. Cartledge takes issue with those who contend that Alexander's greatest contribution was to spread Hellenism. He argues instead that Alexander, while sincerely attached to Hellenism, was more concerned with the glory his conquests brought him. Cartledge provides detailed chronicles of Alexander's battles with the Persians, the Tyrians and the Babylonians as he demonstrates the young king's military genius and hunger for success in war. According to Cartledge, Alexander's love of hunting game offers the key to his life and reign. It led him, for example, to successfully adapt for military battles many hunting strategies, such as the surprise attack, a uniquely Alexandrine contribution. A number of appendixes, including a glossary and an extensive bibliography, enhance the book. Cartledge's knack for bringing history to life makes for an absorbing new biography of the legendary Greek leader. 37 b&w illus., 4 maps, 6 battle plans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“May be the most accessible introduction in print.... An amazingly solid, balanced, and evocative view of the man.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Readable and engrossing.... Immediate, discursive, insightful, and highly engaging.” –Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Incisive and judicious.... What Cartledge does so well is explain the ancient world of Greeks and Persians.”
The Sunday Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Bob Estes on October 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a well written and seemingly well researched book.

I am no scholar of Alexander though. This is where my frustration begins. This biography is not written in a linier or chronological style. It is more of a thematic presentation.

If, like me, you are not already familiar with the characters and events of Alexander's life, you will be frustrated as the book jumps from event to event as the author explores the persona of Alexander.

I will put this book back on the shelf for a while and revert back to a more conventional chronological biography.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on September 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Despite some reservations, I'll give this book a top rating based on the quality of the scholarship. The author defines his aims in the preface: to "do full justice" to Alexander's achievements -- but "respecting the limits of the evidence and of the historian's craft." Many of the popular biographers of Alexander have made of him what they wished him to be. Cartledge reminds the reader over and over of the paucity of solid information about Alexander's nature and character.

This is not the book to read first if you don't know much about Alexander the Great. The author presumes you are familiar with the outlines of his life and jumps into thematic descriptions. Chapter titles include: Alexander and the Greeks, The Divinity of Alexander, and The Generalship of Alexander. He is conservative with his sources and what emerges is a bare-bones outline of Alexander's life. Speculation is clearly labeled. We have few flights of fancy about Alexander's love life or his supposed aims to create an empire of universal peace and brotherhood.

In taking a narrow view of Alexander, what emerges is not overly favorable. That's fine. Alexander is also one of the enigmatic persons of history and he will be seen as a monster by some and as an enlightened idealist by others -- although all those massacres are hard to explain away. Cartledge is probably more reliable than most in writing of Alexander and he attempts to enliven the story with an occasional attempt at humor or frivolity. The maps of Alexander's five great battles are outstanding.

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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Mercurio II on October 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Being a history addict and a Soldier has led me to read everything printed in english on Alexander the Great (nuministic and logistical books included). Some biographers depict him as a shining idealized soldier-king, while others as a drunken despot on a self delusional path to deification. Cartledge balances the historical record with fresh interpretations of events and a common sense test of putting the reader in Alexander's shoes at the moment of each event. This leads to a connection with the man and an understanding of his actions that lacks in most biographies of Alexander. The answer, it seems, is that Alexander was a man like any other before and since; brilliant and flawed, just like the rest of us. If you are going to read your first book on Alexander, or only one book ever, this is the one to pick up.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Alan Maxwell on July 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you enjoy relaxing with an informative and entertaining biolography, this is not the book for you. The thematic presentation and frequent reference to other works, both recent and ancient make this a study of Alexander with the emphasis on "study". Almost every page required referrals to the Timeline, the Maps, the "Dramatis Personae", and the Glossary. I found myself having to work through parts of the book as I would a text book. In other words, its too much like schoolwork! I do have to concede that Cartledge is extremely knowledgable on the subject and, as the book jacket suggest, may well be "our leading expert on the subject of Sparta and ancient Greece."

If you are really into the history of this era and already have a fair knowledge of Alexander and the politics of his time, you will enjoy. As for myself, I prefer the "lay person", chronological styles of history writers such as David McCollough and Stephen Ambrose.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Tomas Cvrcek on August 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This biography of the Big Alex was clearly not intended as a dry scholarly work. It is a relatively light reading, as regards the style - almost informal (cf. "When Julius [Caesar] was on an early tour of imperial duty in Spain, Plutarch relates, he is said to have gazed at a statue of Alexander [...]. And he wept because, whereas Alexander had died at thirty-two, king of so many peoples, he himself at that same age had not yet achieved any brilliant success. I am no Julius Caesar. But I am fify-six at the time of writing this - so you can, I hope, imagine how I feel." p. 39). That makes the reading highly entertaining but it also shows that this book, while well researched, does not obsess about the protocol of scientific writing (footnotes etc.). It is targetting intelligent non-specialists or perhaps college students who want to be introduced to the story of Alexander. That is why the book contains a glossary and an overview of all important figures (experts in the field presumably know these things by heart so the book would not include that if it was designed for them).

The book is organized thematically, not exactly chronologically. The chapters are titled: Alexander and the Macedonians, Alexander and the Greeks etc. The disadvantage of this is that you do not get a clear chronological story line (but that's for dimwits anyway). The advantage is, however, that many facts and dates and events are mentioned in several chapters - and this repetition (though every time with a slightly different point in mind - depending on the topic of each chapter) is a very good way of remembering them. The book contains quite a bit of military history but does not provide minutely detailed descriptions of the battles.
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More About the Author

Paul Cartledge is the inaugural A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College. He is also Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. He written and edited over 20 books, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. He is an honorary citizen of modern Sparta and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor awarded by the President of Greece.