From Publishers Weekly
Beginning in 1978, Kagan's publication of the four-volume History of the Peloponnesian War established him as the leading authority on that seminal period in Greek history. Despite its accessible writing style, however, the work's formidable length tended to restrict its audience to the academic community. This single volume, based on the original's scholarship but incorporating significant new dimensions, is intended for the educated general reader. Kagan, a chaired professor of classics and history at Yale, describes his intention to offer both intellectual pleasure and a source of the wisdom so many have sought by studying this war. On both aims he succeeds admirably. The war between the Athenian Empire and the Spartan Alliance, fought in the last half of the 5th century B.C., was tragedy. Fifty years earlier, the united Greek states had defeated the Persian Empire and inaugurated an era of growth and achievement seldom matched and never surpassed. The Peloponnesian War, however, inaugurated a period of brutality and destruction unprecedented in the Greek world. Like the Great War in 1914-1918, participants recognized even while the fighting went on that things were changing utterly. The contemporary history written by Thucydides is the best source for this complex story, but not the only one, and much of the value of this work lies in Kagan's brilliant contextualization of his ancient predecessor's work. The volume's ultimate worth, however, lies in the perceptive, magisterial judgment Kagan brings to his account of the war that ended the glory that was ancient Greece. Kagan gives us neither heroes and villains nor victors and victims. What infuses his pages is above all a sense of agency: men making and implementing decisions that seemed right at the time however they ended. Such lessons will not be lost on contemporary readers.
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*Starred Review* Yale historian Kagan is the author of several books on the Peloponnesian War, including a four-volume set that is a leading academic work on the conflict between Athens and Sparta in the fifth century B.C.E. His latest mass-market book is likewise truly impressive, presenting a thorough, yet concise, erudite, yet accessible, narrative encompassing ancient Greece's 30-year Great War. His primary source is, of course, Thucydides' epic history, but Kagan draws on Aristotle, Xenophon, and others to provide an objective, nuanced perspective on the military drama. And it's quite a drama: the clash of democracy and oligarchy, the testing of great leaders, the innovative military tactics, and the unprecedented human cost. The Peloponnesian War has been likened to World War I and the Cold War--both themselves dramatic, paradigm-shifting clashes of civilizations--but Kagan wisely lets his readers make these connections for themselves. It is to the author's great credit that the war's many characters and places are presented accessibly enough to feel relevant to modern events, two and a half millennia later. Don't worry, Thucydides fans, the classic is safe. But Kagan's history is excellent. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved