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The Golden Mean Hardcover – International Edition, August 11, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: In mathematics, the principle of the Golden Mean refers to a series of numbers in which each new number is the sum of the previous two, poetically illustrated by the chambers of a nautilus shell. And so Annabel Lyon’s debut novel The Golden Mean portrays lives that grow bigger as they unfold--in this case, two of the most notable lives ever lived, those of Alexander the Great and his tutor, Aristotle. In sharply executed, revealing dialogue, Lyon draws contrasts between the rational, sensitive Aristotle and the charming, dangerous Alexander, and we're reminded of another sense of the Golden Mean, the classical ideal of a balance between extremes. In this subtle, earthy story, we watch as the events of Aristotle’s life mold the ideas that made him famous, and watch those ideas in turn mold the prince of Macedon who would one day "open his mouth and swallow the whole world." Lyon draws the curtain back on the smoke-filled huts and palace chambers that shaped the lives of these two great men, whose mutual admiration and intellect transformed civilization. It’s historical fiction at its finest. --Juliet Disparte

Hilary Mantel Reviews The Golden Mean

Hilary Mantel is the author of ten novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, and the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England. Read her review of The Golden Mean:

I think this quietly ambitious and beautifully achieved novel is one of the most convincing historical novels I have ever read. Lyon makes her reader avid for every detail of this strange world, whether domestic or medical or military, and she has steeped herself in the thinking of the time. She makes her characters entirely solid and real, while respecting their otherness, the distance between us. That is what characterized Mary Renault's novels, and I think that she would have deeply admired this book. There is a particular difficulty for the novelist in putting on the page characters, like Aristotle and Alexander, who are so famous that they have a mythic quality--there is the danger that anything you say will be bathetic. Lyon avoids this by clear-eyed directness, by freshness of vision, and prose that is clean and careful. And I thought that she chose to end the story at precisely the right point. Part of me said "please let there be more," but at the same time I recognize the job is done. Throughout, I think her judgment is sound and true, and the reader trusts her voice from the first paragraph.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The bond between teacher and student occupies the center of Canadian Lyon's debut novel covering the three years during which Aristotle tutored the young Alexander the Great, before Alexander's accession to the throne of Macedonia. The philosopher narrates, recounting his arrival in the court of Philip of Macedon, Aristotle's upbringing, and his bond with the ruling family. The teenaged Alexander is headstrong and arrogant, but also insecure and vulnerable. "Every student is both a challenge and a laurel leaf," Aristotle says in an early, disputatious meeting. "I haven't seen anything in you that tells me you're extraordinary in any way." Alexander matures as he absorbs Aristotle's core principles. "You must look for the mean between extremes, the point of balance," Aristotle advises the future military genius. Lyon depicts Aristotle's desire to instill a sense of virtue in his royal pupil in clear, often earthy language, and brings 4th-century Greece to startling life. Lyon richly imagines Aristotle's stint as Macedon's royal academician, who gave Alexander the intellectual tools to not only rule but to civilize.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Canada; 1st edition (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307356205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307356208
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,027,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The prose flows easily and beautifully.
I just wish that I could have liked this book as much as the critics, but I guess I'm just too much of a regular person.
L. Johnson
The characters are very shallow and it seems to be mostly centered around sex.
laura holland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 76 people found the following review helpful By David Island on January 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No holds barred, Annabel Lyon's triumphant "The Golden Mean" is an intelligent, savvy -- yet unflinching and parsimonious -- glimpse into the life and times of Aristotle (384 BC -322 BC). This book has to be the historical fiction coup of 2009. (Please read the media and other reviews above.) As a reader of Lyon's little masterpiece, you will be, as I was, struck by the grace and humor of her prose. The dialogue is stupendous. Aristotle becomes real, flawed and brilliant - an awesome human being.

Yes, Alexander (The Great), Aristotle's stellar, somewhat fawning, somewhat arrogant pupil, plays a prominent (though secondary) role in this well-researched story, which brings Aristotle, the father of Western science and philosophy to vivid characterization. Lyon's account of Alexander comports with other fictionalized portrayals of the greatest general of all times - here as a boy and youth. The resulting view of Alexander is indeed a "golden mean" achievement by Lyon.

The prose enfolds you into the book as you read. It is not a simple matter of being unable to put the book down; you actually feel a desire for the story. The characters live in your world.

The book, as one reviewer said, is "full of intellect, profound," and, as another states, "fully convincing." Well, no novel has to be "convincingly" accurate to the facts, and this one takes literary license frequently, through its lovely dialogue.

Page 188, (Aristotle speaking to Alexander) "...You must look for the mean between extremes, the point of balance. The point will differ from man to man. There is not a universal standard of virtue to cover all situations at all times. Context must be taken into account, specificity, what is best at a particular place and time...."

Page 264, "...
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 3, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In 343 BCE, King Philip II of Macedon engaged the philosopher Aristotle as tutor for his 13-year-old son Alexander. Philip, who was well on his way to taking control of the entire Greek peninsula, and had his eyes on the Persian Empire, had already taken care to have Alexander schooled in the arts of war. But wishing to temper the warrior passions with the influence of philosophy and the arts, he turned to the celebrated philosopher, a former playmate from his own boyhood. The three or four years that Aristotle spent with the young man is thus both a treatise on education and the story of the formation of Alexander the Great.

Mary Renault told this story from Alexander's point of view in her 1969 novel FIRE FROM HEAVEN. By looking at the relationship through Aristotle's eyes, Annabel Lyon downplays romantic and swashbuckling elements in favor of philosophy and psychology. Aristotle himself comes over as a fascinating character, interested not only in ideas but in every aspect of the world around him, studying the organs of his wife Pythias to better understand the physiology of desire, or dissecting the body of a warrior on the battlefield of Chaeronea to discover how the various parts connect. His appetite for knowledge is so modern in its empiricism that his occasional reversions to received opinion come as a shock. He greatly loves Pythias, for example, but it is only after her death that he has cause to question the old teaching that sexual pleasure is not accessible to women.

Alexander, by contrast, is drawn less in the accumulation of detail than in the gaps between his flashes of brilliance or bursts of petulance.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Golden Mean is an account of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and his student Alexander of Macedon. The best part of the book is Aristotle's back story including his marriage and his possibly being mildly bipolar. His relationships pulled him out of his depression. When he tapped into the love he had for and from others he was able to get the energy to start working again. Lyon does a great job of portraying day to day life and concerns of the period. She touches on politics, contemporary philosophy, food, clothes, religion, gardening, relationships between the classes and sexes, etc. As interesting I found the book it never quite took off for me which is why I gave it four rather than five stars.
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Format: Hardcover
The philosopher Aristotle was engaged by King Philip II of Macedon in 343 BCE as tutor for his 13 year old son Alexander. This novel, written from Aristotle's first person perspective, tells the imagined story of the relationship between him and his most famous student: the boy who went on to transform the world as Alexander the Great.

Ms Lyon has crafted an interesting and enjoyable novel around the lives of some key historical figures (Aristotle, Plato, Philip and Alexander) and done so in a way that integrates the broad sweep of history with the very human foibles that each possesses. As depicted, Aristotle is a fascinating character: a blend of contradictions who is both curious about the world around him and caught within the conventions of the times in which he lived. On the pages of this novel, Aristotle comes to life.

Alexander is still being shaped: his training for leadership and war is tempered (in part) by Aristotle's training in philosophy and the arts. The aim is to find a balance, or the Golden Mean, between the two extremes of deficiency and excess. The objective is to prepare Alexander to succeed Philip, and while Aristotle views Alexander as `a violent, snotty boy' at the beginning, he comes to love and respect him by the end of the novel.

I enjoyed this novel because of its perspective of Alexander. I found the depiction of Aristotle fascinating. While he doesn't seem terribly pleasant person, he is believable and I could imagine him teaching, challenging and shaping Alexander. For me, one of the most interesting characters was Philip of Macedon, and I would like to read more about him.

'Never be afraid to enter an agreement you can't immediately see your way out of.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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