From Publishers Weekly
After chronicling the fall of the Roman Republic in Rubicon
, historian Holland turns his attention further back in time to 480 B.C., when the Greeks defended their city-states against the invading Persian empire, led by Xerxes. Classicists will recall such battles as Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis, which raises the question: why do we need another account of this war, when we already have Herodotus? But just as Victor David Hanson and Donald Kagan have reframed our understanding of the Peloponnesian War by finding contemporary parallels, Holland recasts the Greek-Persian conflict as the first clash in a long-standing tension between East and West, echoing now in Osama bin Laden's pretensions to a Muslim caliphate. Holland doesn't impose a modern sensibility on the ancient civilizations he describes, and he delves into the background histories of both sides with equally fascinating detail. Though matters of Greek history like the brutal social structure of the Spartans are well known, the story of the Persian empire—like the usurper Darius's claim that every royal personage he assassinated was actually an imposter—should be fresh and surprising to many readers, while Holland's graceful, modern voice will captivate those intimidated by Herodotus. (May 2)
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Dramatizing ancient history--that is, amplifying the historical record's often fragmentary evidence with unknowable detail and inferred emotion--is always a gamble. Done well (think Herodotus), the long dead come alive, and readers are inclined to overlook their suspicions about what liberties the author may be taking with the story's veracity. Done poorly, one risks profaning history and literature alike. In dramatizing the Persian Wars--Athens' most glorious hour and the beginning of its decline into imperialism and hubris--Holland acknowledges the risks and strides boldly forward. The result is an ambitious contemporary retelling of an epic tale that, framed as a conflict between East and West, quietly subverts certain other recent histories' parallels between empires past and present. It has its awkward moments, mostly due to a predilection for melodramatic phrasing; for better or worse, its parallels to modern events are subtle and often implicit. But ultimately, one suspects that Holland's engaging narrative would do Herodotus proud--and it may even prompt readers to find out for themselves. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved