OK, Tom Holland gets my vote for fun and read-able history. Although he is not good enough for some of the other reviewers, he is a godsend for the regular guy. For example, he can take an historical event like the Battle of Salamis and rachet up the tension and drama to the point where you feel like you are reading about it in this morning's newspaper. That said, you need to know your Punic from your Peloponnesian War, your Samos from your Lesbos, and your Darius from you Xerxes in order to fully enjoy this account, In that sense Tom Holland's PERSIAN FIRE is probably too middlebrow for the scholar and too complicated for the novice. But boy O boy he he fun for the rest of us.
In a world where the East rubs up against the West he can fill in the historical blanks that still bedevil us to this day. And today it still seems to me that we are living in the same battle of the past (East) versus the future (West). PERSIAN FIRE sets todays headlines, in some respects, against a 2500 year old backdrop. As we might watch the CBS news, the Athenians, in the shadow of their burned and gutted Acropolis, would watch the young buck playwright, Aeschylus, stage THE PERSIANS one year after the exhausted Greeks had won the war and returned to the abandoned Athens.
Spartans, that weird and long-haired race of warriors, get their fair share of exposure but lose some of their mystique in Holland's re-telling of Thermopylae and the Spartan king's last stand.
The bottom line is that I like my history books to try and be as exciting as the actual events they describe. Tom Holland fits the bill perfectly. This stands with RUBICON, his earlier effort, as one of my favorite history books. For the scholarly historians, well, I just want to reassure them that this book will push me toward a deeper exploration of ancient Greece, not drive me away. And for that, a tip of the helmet is due to Tom Holland