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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

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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: 9.3 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #688,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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

James Romm writes like a masterpiece storyteller, a book that is character driven and plays out like a movie.
Luis A. Hernandez
Though I have read many books about the life of Alexander, before this book I had never read about the aftermath, but I am *so* glad that I decided to grab this book.
Amazon Customer
Romm does a great job of outlining the events following the death of Alexander the Great and actions of his leading generals.
Rene C. Borbon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jordan M. Poss VINE VOICE on November 22, 2011
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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By diana on November 2, 2011
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By yescolleen on July 17, 2013
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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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Gilman on November 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though I enjoyed reading this book I have two problems with it, one important & one only annoying. The first is that it only tells half the story of the Wars of the Successors of Alexander the Great. It ends with the deaths of Alexander's relatives & Eumenes but leaves out the years of fighting between Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy & Seleucos & the final disposition of Alexander's empire. Why only half the story? My other (minor) problem is the endlessly repeated phrase "old man Antipater". There is only one character in the book named Antipater & yet every time his name is mentioned (which is often) he's called "old man Antipater". Over & over & over again. I got it. I got it the first dozen times. Antipater was old. Why repeat it 100 times? Where was the editor? Anyway, the author needs to write a second book about the second half of the story that was left out of this one.
Additional review: I have, since writing the above, read another book on the same subject, "Dividing the Spoils", by Robin Waterfield. It covers the entire history of the successors of Alexander including through the deaths of Lysimachos, Seleucus, Demetrius Poliocetes, Ptolemy I, etc. I would recommend "Dividing the Spoils" to anyone wanting all the history of this very important period.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on February 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When Alexander ("the Great") died in Babylon at the age of 34, he controlled most of the known world from Greece to India, and including Africa. He more than likely intended to live much longer, for he failed to designate a successor. This well-written book recounts the struggles after Alexander's death to control his empire.

There's a lot of distrust, outright hatred, and betrayal practiced by most of his generals and others who believed that they should inherit the mantle of Alexander. Wars raged across all of the empire's lands, and slowly but surely the prospective leaders were eliminated. There were many instances of outright murder, not only of the leaders, but of the followers of these leaders, and even the female members of Alexander's family, not to mention his young surviving son.

This is history written for the reader who is interested in this era, and the story is told in language all can understand. There's nothing better than a history book that tells a good story in such a way that the reader doesn't feel that he is reading some type of work by a scholar only intended for other scholars. This is history for the masses, and good history at that.
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