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Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World 1st Edition

49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1585675661
ISBN-10: 1585675660
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The stand by 300 Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae in northern Greece is one of the most revered foundation stories of Western civilization. In 480 BCE, the Spartans heroically delayed the advance of a massive Persian invading force. Thus, so the story goes, the blossoming culture of a "free" Greece was rescued from the domination of oriental despotism and "barbarism." Cartledge, a Cambridge professor of Greek history, reveals a far more complex story. Much of mainland Greece refused to embrace the emerging free and democratic culture associated with Athens. Persians were hardly barbaric, and their imperial control generally left subject peoples, including the Ionian Greeks, considerable latitude. Still, as this beautifully written and stirring saga asserts, the history of Western civilization would almost certainly have been fundamentally different had the Persians prevailed. When describing the actual military conflict, Cartledge's account has a special urgency and poignancy. An outstanding retelling of one of the seminal events in world history. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Cartledge's account has a special urgency and poignancy. An outstanding retelling of one of the seminal events in world history." --Booklist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 313 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press; 1st edition (November 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585675660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585675661
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Cartledge is the inaugural A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College. He is also Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. He written and edited over 20 books, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. He is an honorary citizen of modern Sparta and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor awarded by the President of Greece.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 115 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The epic stand of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan hoplites against hordes of invading Persians at the pass of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. is one of the most dramatic and mythologized events in military history. For well over two millennia, the main source on this battle was the works of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Now, Cambridge historian Paul Cartledge - an expert on Greek history and the Spartans - uses Herodotus as well as a limited number of other sources to reconstruct the battle and its subsequent historiography in his book entitled, Thermopylae: the Battle that changed the world. The author's central hypothesis is that the 300 Spartans deliberately chose a suicidal course of action at Thermopylae but this was done for a higher good - freedom - which still benefits us to this day. Overall, this book is well-organized and well-written but it does not necessarily convince.

Thermopylae is organized into nine chapters, beginning with several introductory sections that describe the ancient world of 500 B.C., the Persian Empire, the Hellenic World and Sparta. In discussing Sparta, the author is clearly torn between admiring their ascetic military-based ethos and despising their treatment of the down-trodden Helot slaves; the author's inability to discard his 21st Century prejudices and viewpoints appears again and again throughout the text as an annoying distraction. The campaign proper begins in Chapters 5 and 6, with the description of the mobilization for battle of both sides. Readers will be disappointed to see that the battle proper is only cover in the 14 short pages of Chapter 7 - barely 5% of the book's entire length.
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162 of 185 people found the following review helpful By George R Dekle on November 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I wondered whether this book was necessary in light of Ernle Bradford's excellent book "Thermopylae: Battle for the West," and Peter Green's "The Greco-Persian Wars," but being an ancient history junkie, I bought it. I could have saved my money. Cartledge's book is long on describing the context and short on describing the conduct of the battle.

Cartledge obviously thinks the battle has some relevance to Iraq and Afghanistan, and strains mightily to find it. One example of how mightily he strains is his comparison of Leonidas with the 9/11 hijackers.

Cartledge can't seem to see the difference between Leonidas' heroic-but-doomed last stand against Xerxes and the 9/11 hijackers' suicidal massacre of innocent people. Let me point out just one minor difference. Leonidas faced, killed, and was killed by men who were trying to kill him. The 9/11 hijackers ambushed and killed noncombatants and killed themselves in the process. Another difference lies in the very real possibility that Leonidas intended to actually survive the battle if he could. Although he took with him only men who had sons, that measure can be seen as precautionary rather than preparatory. As J.B. Bury points out in his "History of Greece to the Death of Alexander," had the Phocians held the pass and frustrated Xerxes' efforts to turn Leonidas' position, and had the Greek fleet at Artimesium held, Leonidas might well have returned to Sparta as the living savior of Greece.

The rest of Cartledge's "modern application" of the lessons of Thermopylae appears as off base as his Leonidas/hijacker analogy. Bradford's and Green's books are far, far better than this offering.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend on November 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I bought Paul Cartledge's Thermopylae based upon a couple of favorable reviews. However, on reading the book my expectation - that the Greco-Persian War would receive an in depth treatment - was not meet. Dr Cartledge has some good information on the Persian's and Spartans, describing their way of life and their differences, but he does not go into great depth. I did appreciate the comparison of the Spartan's to the Samurai in their attitude toward battle and death. The battle of Thermopylae is adequately described but was lacking the dramatic description that a writer like Peter Green could supply. It seemed that Xerxes' bridge over the Hellespont was a cake walk instead of the awesome engineering feat that the ancients felt it was.

I sometimes found Dr. Cartledge's writing a bit rambling, as if someone had transcribed a lecture with all of the quirks and asides of spoken language included. I agree with Bob Dekle and I also found Dr. Cartledge's comparison of the 9/11 hijackers to the 300 was a bit strained. There was also a remark concerning President Clinton's shocked reaction to the savage death of an American soldier in Somalia as being foreign to the way a Spartan would feel the same event. I could not help thinking that this reflected Dr Cartledge's own political beliefs and had no place in a book about an ancient battle.

I did more skimming as I read toward the end of the book, particularly in the sections dealing with the modern legacy of Thermopylae but I was interested in reading that Dr Cartledge liked the 1962 film The 300 Spartans. The maps and black and white illustration are good and, in general, add to the understanding of the text. Thermopylae, for me, is a decent book but not one that I would want to save as a reference.
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