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144 of 147 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 7, 2006
If you don't know much about ancient Greek history or culture, this is the best short book I know of. On every page, in every sentence, the author gets straight to the point, with no fancy obfuscations, assuming no prior knowledge. I've never seen a better organized history of ancient Greece. Besides that, I strongly approve of the map selection and the timelines. He gives just enough depth to be a solid introduction--just a little bit more than "what you're supposed to know."

Some teachers I know prefer a book titled "Ancient Greece" written by a team of authors led by Sarah Pomeroy. It has just a bit more depth than this book, but it isn't nearly as well written. It seems that they wanted it to be easily comprehensible, but I'm not sure they succeeded. It does have the advantage of a little more depth, but if you're reading for pleasure, I recommend this one rather than that one.

It is, though, only an introduction; that's the obvious downside of being short. You might want more information about the culture: more excerpts from the poets, the thoughts of the philosophers described in more detail, more plates (or plates in color) about the art. Actually the book is amply illustrated in black and white. But of course a book dedicated to Greek culture would have better information on any of these aspects, and that would be a book worth reading. This one serves only as an introduction. I strongly recommend reading the Norton Critical Editions of the Iliad and Odyssey, Hesiod, a couple famous tragedies (in my opinion, Euripides' Medea is the one to read first), and a few of Plato's more famous dialogues. THAT is an introduction; but if that's the kind of thing you intend to do, this book will be a great place to start.

On the historical/political/social matters, this book is again a great introduction, but only an introduction. If you want more detailed information, especially a look at the reasons historians believe such and such happened, I very strongly recommend John V. A. Fine's "The Ancient Greeks," one of the very best history books I've ever read. Of course it's a lot longer, but it's worth it. Once again, if you're reading for pleasure, I recommend this one first, and then Fine's book, which is a bit harder to follow.

If you want to read about Greek religion, I would once again start here; but then you should read the classic, Walter Burkert's book, and follow it up with Jan Bremmer's book, both titled "Greek Religion."

Of course, why not a little cheerleading for learning about ancient Greece? Since the Renaissance and even more since the Victorian era, anyone in the West who would call themselves educated has had to have basic knowledge of ancient Greece. They were certainly very influential on Western culture, and via Bactria even had some considerable influence on East Asia.

I've found that Greek history somehow arouses more curiousity in students than modern European or American history. I think it's because of the nature of the ancient Greeks themselves, because they reflected on human nature via their own history, so as we study ancient Greece, we get to reflect on the nature of power, why governments take forms such as aristocracies or democracies or monarchies, why wars are won or lost, why empires rise and fall, how much blood and misery flow through history, and so on. Students don't merely have to memorize lists of events and prepared ideas, but they get to reflect about life, why the world is the way it is, for themselves. And that is what most people, young or old, are all about.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2002
Thomas Martin has provided the general reader with an excellent historical survey of ancient Greece, which emphasizes not only the political history, but also the cultural and social developments through the ages.
The purpose of this work is to give the reader a brief overview, and then to allow him/her to choose what topics to study in more detail. In this regard, "Ancient Greece" does a brilliant job.
In this situation, having a good bibliography is critical, and "Ancient Greece" does not fail. In my opinion, the annotated biliography at the end of the book is quite extensive and was designed for the general reader in mind. Thus, given this excellent feature of the book, the author effectively designed this book for a general audience. Additionally, I thought that the timelines and maps that were provided in the book were outstanding aids in helping to learn the material in the text. Hooray for Thomas Martin!
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2001
The best history book I've ever read!
Designed as an overveiw for students, this book is highly readable and contains useful timelines, maps, plans, and photographs, which clarify the narrative even further, making it a perfect choice for the general reader.
Mr. Martin begins with a prehistory of late Stone Age activity that provides background for the conditions of later Greek life. He then describes the civilizations of the Minoans on the island of Crete and of their successors, the Mycenaeans, on the mainland; the Greek Dark Age and the Archaic Age; the Classical Age of Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.; the transformation of the kingdom of Macedonia into the greatest power in the Greek world; and the period after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., when monarchies emerging from Alexander's fragmented empire once again came to dominate Greek history.
This book would be great background reading for those parents who homeschool their children according to a "classical" approach.
If any one who has read this book knows of another history book (any period) which equals this one in appeal, please email me and tell me about it!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2006
This is the book that aroused my interest in ancient Greek history. I've read a lot of general histories, and most are tough to endure. Not this one. Filled with helpful chronolgical charts, maps, organized headings, and clear and succinct prose -- this book conveys the ancient Greek experience in a little over 200 pages.

Trust me, if you want to begin your study of the ancient Greeks (or reinforce and give context to what you already know about the Greeks) read this book.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2000
Dr. Martin writes a very clear and concise work on Ancient Greece. His use of pictures and timelines throughout the chapters greatly aids in the reader's understanding of Greece's History. He proposes his own ideas and backs them up well with archaeology and primary texts while still leaving room for the reader to think for his/herself. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a knowledgeable understanding of the ancient world.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Martin's history of Ancient Greece is comprehensive and thorough, providing a useful overview of the development of civilization in Greece and covering the major events of the subsequent history while also paying attention to lifestyle and cultural topics. I have two quibbles with the book. I think the early section covering pre-Bronze Age civilization could have been shorter, as much of the analysis is of necessity overly speculative. I was also slightly disappointed with the tone of the work, which often read like a textbook: I felt as though I was reading lists of fun facts without theme or context, and I found myself mentally preparing lesson plans and hypothetical quizzes. I hoped for a slightly deeper examination of Greek civilization.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 1997
One of the most readable summaries of the Greek experience I have read in years. The section on Sparta, for example, is especially well done. However, in my opinion, there is one (albeit minor) shortcoming: The period between the Peloponnesian War and the Rise of Macedon is too brief; I just wish Mr. Martin had enlarged it. Other than that, if you are looking for a good, short history of Greece, this is the one for you
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 1999
This is by far the most well-written, informative, interesting history I have ever read on Ancient Greece or any other subject. I am extremely impressed by the way Dr. Martin weaves political, social, and cultural history all into one engaging narrative. If you have any interest in history (or even if you don't) I urge you to buy this book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2004
Professor Martin has done a great job here, compressing into 221 pages the history of Greece from prehistoric to Hellenistic times. The book is very well written, and the fact that it includes maps, timelines and pictures helps a lot. The prose is clear and concise, with brief biographies of the most remarkable people. Martin has an ability to vividly depict the daily life and social structure of the Greeks, especially Athenians, that makes it very engaging and approachable. Of course, the main attraction of the book is that the Greek civilization was so fascinating, and that there is much in our own time that comes straight from them, so it's easy to feel empathy with the Greeks. We owe them so much. An excellent book to put some order in your chronology of events when you read texts from these times, and excellent as well as introduction or reminder.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
If you are a casual reader who wants to pick this up and be finished with it quickly, I'd recommend a different book. Although it is a short book, it is not one that can be read very quickly. The sentences are long, often repetitive, and verbose. I'm not sure if the author cannot convey his message in more reader friendly terms, or if he simply wants to flaunt his extensive vocabulary.

For example, on page 17: "The thorniest question concerning the Indo-European background of Greek culture is whether groups of peoples collectively labeled Indo-Europeans migrated into prehistoric Europe over many centuries and radically changed the nature of the society already in place there, of which indigenous inhabitants of Greece would have been a part" (Martin 17). Although this is comprehensible, the same thing could be said in shorter and less confusing language.

The good thing about the book is that the author quotes many primary sources, unlike many others who quote secondary sources. The use of maps and time lines help to put events into perspective. I gave the book a three because it is a useful source for a student, but it is not a leisurely read, it is one you must reflect on and often stop to think about and to decipher the language used by the author. The book could use a good editing to clean up the language and sentence clarity if the author wishes for a broader audience than undergraduates.
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