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Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 11, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Gripping . . . Romm is a gifted storyteller as well as a respected scholar, and he knows that compelling history is driven by consideration of character.”
“Fascinating . . . Romm’s writing has vigor and style.”

“Thrilling . . . Bringing the sources into artful alignment—affirming one account here, dismissing another there—takes expert eyes, and Romm clearly has them . . . A careful work of fine scholarship . . . It binds an otherwise mind-boggling narrative into a skillfully coherent whole.”
 —Brendan Boyle, New Criterion
“James Romm succeeds brilliantly in bringing to life the seven-year period. . . The range of personality types in this complex web of tales is broad, and Romm delineates them sharply enough so that most readers will soon enough have picked their favorites.”
 —Jeremy Rutter, History Book Club

"Fast-paced and absorbing . . . Romm brings to life the Bodyguards and their struggles to maintain their territories . . . Romm’s captivating study stands alongside Robin Waterfield’s engaging recent Dividing the Spoils as a sterling account of a little discussed era in ancient history."
Publishers Weekly

"Scholarly but colorful account of the toxic fallout from the untimely demise of a continent-striding conqueror. . . Romm paints a vivid portrait of ancient politics . . . lively enough to engage newbies [to ancient history] as well."

"After the death of Alexander the more amazing story begins. It's a story of astonishing courage and endurance, and of desperate battles, diplomatic intrigue, debauchery, assassination, and treachery. Romm tells the story of these often neglected decades with an eye for vivid detail, clarity about the often surprising military operations, and alertness to the transformation of the ancient world that took place when Alexander left his empire "to the strongest."
—W. R Connor, Andrew Fleming West Professor of Classics emeritus at Princeton, and Senior Adviser to the Teagle Foundation.

"Professor Romm is a leading scholar of the ancient Greek world. He is also a brilliant storyteller, and in the tale of the prolonged and murderous war for succession to Alexander the Great's throne and empire he has a truly gripping tale to tell. This combination of historical accuracy and original research with exciting, action-packed dramatic story is exceptionally rare in any field of history-and we are fortunate to have Professor James Romm as our mentor and dramaturge."
—Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, Cambridge University, and author of Alexander the Great: The Hunt for A New Past

"Ghost on the Throne illuminates the dark mysteries and personal motivations that swirled in the turbulent, little-studied era ushered in by Alexander's untimely death in Babylon. In Romm's gripping, detailed account, we watch the tragic drama unfold, as the young leader's closest companions become vicious rivals, shredding Alexander's grand dream amid blood and paranoia."
—Adrienne Mayor, author of The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy

"James Romm brings together impressive scholarship, an engaging prose narrative, and excellent maps and illustrations to bring alive the bloody aftermath to a general audience-as he sorts out in riveting fashion the failed efforts of successor would-be kings, thugs, and killers to restore Alexander's brief empire. A model of what classical scholarship should be."
—Victor Davis Hanson author, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War; and The Other Greeks; Senior Fellow, the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

"In his gripping new Ghost on the Throne, James Romm adds the narrative verve of a born writer to the erudition of a scholar. Taking what until now had been a murky gray area of ancient history that was once the province of specialists--the eventful, convoluted, and bitter struggles for power immediately following the death of Alexander the Great--Romm has crafted a richly colored, expertly narrated page-turner. A wonderful book for anyone interested in history, power—or just an amazing tale."
—Daniel Mendelsohn

From the Back Cover

"What became of Alexander's stunning accomplishments and his vision of  a vast, unified empire? Ghost on the Throne illuminates the dark  mysteries and personal motivations that swirled in the turbulent,  little-studied era ushered in by Alexander's untimely death in  Babylon. In Romm's gripping, detailed account, we watch the tragic  drama unfold, as the young leader's closest companions become vicious  rivals, shredding Alexander's grand dream amid blood and paranoia."
--Adrienne Mayor, National Book Award nominee and author of The Poison King: The Life of Mithradates, Rome's Worst Enemy

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307271641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271648
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Romm was born in 1958 in New York. After receiving his B.A. in Classics from Yale, he went on to earn a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1988. He has taught Greek language, literature and history at Bard College since 1990.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Very rarely does a work of popular history come along that combines the readability and excitement of popular history with the careful, accurate scholarship of a critical history. James Romm's Ghost on the Throne is one of the best of those select few.

Ghost on the Throne begins in the last weeks of Alexander's life and follows his would-be successors through several years of bloody in-fighting. Most histories of this period begin and end with Alexander, leaving the chaotic decades following his death either summarized or completely unexplored. It's easy to see why--Alexander was an arresting personality who centered over a decade of politics and conquest on the single focal point of himself, while the generals who fell to squabbling for preeminence after his death were a hodgepodge of individuals of varying quality, and the ever more complex politicking among them makes for a potentially confusing narrative.

At Alexander's death he had no clear heir. He had an illegitimate son, a Bactrian wife in her final trimester of pregnancy, and a clique of high-ranking generals of firm loyalty to himself but riven with strife among each other. He gave one general his signet ring, a clear mark of favored authority, but at his death the rivalries and suspicions among the generals and their distrust of the foreign elements in Alexander's army--the Persian and Indian soldiers and generals, Alexander's Bactrian wife--not to mention decommissioned veterans eager to return home after over a decade at war and rogue local commanders, fell apart without Alexander's powerful center at the top. The empire fractured, fragmented, and finally collapsed into chaos.
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Format: Paperback
Ghost on the Throne by James Romm is a study of the power struggle that broke out immediately after the death of Alexander the Great. I say study, but this studious and well-researched book is also highly entertaining. The remarkable Alexander left a legacy debated to the present (was he an enlightened ruler spreading Hellenic culture, a convert to the despotism of the Persians whom he conquered, or some mixture of both?). As he lay dying, he was asked who should rule and said, "To the best," or, perhaps even more presciently, "To the strongest."
The seven years that followed that death saw a struggle involving his closest generals, royalty of various degrees of relationship (including his famed mother Olympia and his sister Cleopatra), and efforts by the Athenians to free themselves from Macedonian domination. The players are fascinating and well-drawn. The shifting alliances are easily followed. Strange fates, such as the defeated general Eumenes being offered enormous power by both sides, lend fascination to this account of men and women seeking to rule an empire.
The author, James Romm, is professor of classics at Bard College and shows his thorough knowledge of the period and sources (many of which are either missing or unreliable). I particularly liked a caveat in the preface about statements regarding the "private lives and inner thoughts of historical figures." Romm says, " . . . I have tried to assure readers that they were not simply made up, or at least not by me." I appreciated both his candor and his modesty.
The structure of Ghost on the Throne is dramatic and there is a wonderful film lurking in the personalities and marvelously rendered conflicts that erupt among the dramatis personae and find inevitable resolution with the resolute advances of phalanxes of sarissa-wielding infantry and the lighting thrusts of cavalry.
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Format: Hardcover
This book reads like a political thriller! The characters come to life against a backdrop of mystery, murder and mayhem. I could not put it down. When I picked it up, I thought it might be too scholarly. But what a fabulous surprise. It is not only accessible to people who don't know the field, but it picks you up and carries you to another time and place.
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Format: Hardcover
James Romm really puts the reader into the psychological minds of these ancient figures as to their motivations and machinations. Their personalities were as colorful as if he had plumbed the depths of his imagination to create characters in a novel.

I didn't realize that to the ancients Alexander the Great was NOT Greek and Greeks within his ranks and of that era were looked down upon by the ruling Macedonians. I'm confused how modern Greeks can so vociferously claim Alexander as their own. I would have greatly appreciated a remark from Romm on this paradox, but he only had a minor one-sentence footnote that was not enlightening.

Romm gives the reader clear visions of so many thrilling events: the first female to female combat in history (Olympias vs. Adea), the teen-age princess Adea standing up to hardened generals, Xerxes' infantry crossing the Hellespont on 300 warships laid side by side (I put my bike on a ferry to cross the Hellespont when I cycled Izmir to Thessaloniki, 1000 km), Polyperchon's elephants charging Megalopolis in the Peloponnese, the tent in which Eumenes set up a sort of phantom Alexander which put a spell on the warriors, the aerie refuge Eumenes held out eating bread and salt until the tide turned, Perdiccas' fatal inability to solve the conundrum of crossing the Nile, the leader of the Silver Shields thrown in a pit and burned alive and Ptolemy's soldiers capturing the body of Alexander from under Perdiccas' nose ("picked his pocket" as Romm mischievously described it). These and other images just riveted my attention.
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