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Tides of War Paperback – August 28, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

After chronicling the Spartan stand at Thermopylae in his audacious Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield once again proves that it's all Greek to him. In Tides of War, he tells the tale of Athenian soldier extraordinaire Alcibiades. Despite the vaunted claims for Periclean democracy, he is undoubtedly first among equals--a great warrior and an impressive physical specimen to boot: "The beauty of his person easily won over those previously disposed, and disarmed even those who abhorred his character and conduct." He is also a formidable orator, whose stump speeches are paradoxically heightened by what some might consider an impediment:

Even his lisp worked in Alcibiades' favor. It was a flaw; it made him human. It took the curse off his otherwise godlike self-presentation and made one, despite all misgivings, like the fellow.
This tale of arms and the man requires two narrators. One, Jason, is an aging noble who serves as a sort of recording angel of the Athenian golden age. The other, Polymides, was long Alcibiades' right-hand man, yet is now imprisoned for his murder.

As they were in his previous novel, Pressfield's battle scenes are extraordinarily vivid and visceral. This time, however, many of these elemental clashes take place on water. "As far as sight could carry, the sea stood curtained with smoke and paved with warcraft. Immediately left, a battleship had rammed one of the vessels in the wall; all three of her banks were backing water furiously, to extract and ram again, while across the breach screamed storms of stones, darts, and brands of such density that the air appeared solid with steel and flame."

In addition to his gift for rendering patriotic gore, the author excels at quieter but no less deadly forms of combat. As Alcibiades' star rises and falls and rises again, we are escorted directly into the snakepit of Athenian realpolitik. Bathing us in the details of a distant era, Pressfield is largely convincing. But it must be said that his diction exhibits a sometimes comical variegation, sliding from Homeric rhetoric to tough-guy speak to the sort of casual Anglicisms we might expect from Evelyn Waugh's far-from-bright young things. No matter. Tides of War conquers by sheer storytelling prowess, reminding us that war was--and is--a highly addictive version of hell. --Darya Silver --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After Pressfield's stunning 1998 best-seller, Gates of Fire, which documented the Spartans' heroic last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., comes this follow-up epic novel of the Peloponnesian War, as Athens and Sparta slug it out for Greek hegemony during the Hellenic Age. Once again, Pressfield's narrator is a condemned man, in this instance the Athenian soldier and assassin Polemides, who is awaiting execution for treason. Spanning the 27 years of conflict, famine and plague that marked the Peloponnesian War, Polemides' death-row confession reveals the rise and fall of the powerful and mercurial Alcibiades, a brilliant general and shrewd politician, whose ego and ambition were as threatening to his jealous friends and allies as to his enemies. As his formerly trusted bodyguard, Polemides shows Alcibiades battling his enemies in his relentless pursuit of glory and power, only to die in exile at the hand of a familiar assassin. Despite his bloody victories on land and sea, Alcibiades changes sides too often to ensure his long-lasting legacy, and though over time he fights for the Athenians, Spartans, Persians and Thracians, he eventually discovers that he is an outcast and perceived as a danger to all of them. The voice of Polemides is ideal, for he relates this astounding, historically accurate tale with the hot, sweaty hack-and-stab awareness of an armored infantryman, the blood lust of a paid killer and the wisdom of a keen observer of complex and deadly Greek politics. Pressfield is a masterful storyteller, especially adept in his graphic and embracing descriptions of the land and naval battles, political intrigues and colorful personalities, which come together in an intense and credible portrait of war-torn ancient Greece.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (August 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553381393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553381399
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Last of the Amazons, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign, Killing Rommel, The Profession, The Lion's Gate, The War of Art, Turning Pro, The Authentic Swing, Do the Work and The Warrior Ethos.

His debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was adapted for screen. A film of the same title was released in 2000, directed by Robert Redford and starring Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron.

His father was in the Navy, and he was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. Since graduating from Duke University in 1965, he has been a U.S. Marine, an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout, attendant in a mental hospital and screenwriter.

His struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art, Turning Pro and The Authentic Swing.

There's a recurring character in his books, named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like Pressfield's conception of art and the artist:

"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."

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#85 in Books > Self-Help

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

219 of 272 people found the following review helpful By Newt Gingrich THE on May 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a much more complex and demanding novel than his brilliant and fast moving Gates of Fire (reviewed March 28, 2000). This is also a very sobering novel for any American who assumes that our economic prosperity, our international position of unchallenged leadership and the stability of our political institutions are safe and unchallengeable. Pressfield's novel carries Athens from a position of stunning power and wealth just before the beginning of the Peloponnesian War to its defeat and subjugation to the Spartans after 29 years of conflict.
Athens was so powerful and so wealthy that it could survive a plague that may have killed one-third of its population (brought on probably by the need to crowd inside the city's walls to avoid the Spartan Army) and it could fight off Sparta, most of Greece and the Persians for decades. Pressfield makes vivid the decay of Athenian democracy into a bloodthirsty system of revenge and brutality that helps us better understand our own founding fathers' fears of mob rule, tyranny and direct democracy. He uses the life of Alcibiades, a brilliant general and politician whose victories were undermined by his enemies, as a thread that holds together a generation of war and pain.
This is a slightly demanding book to read but it will profoundly trouble anyone who worries about the human propensity to repeat history rather than learn from it. There is much in this work for any American to think about.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Carlton on July 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Yes, yes, we know Pressfield's great at battle detail and historically accurate story lines. More important in this work is the brilliant choice of character (Alcibiades) and the narrative technique of using two narrators (Jason & Polemides). Then the plot thickens.....Socrates shares the jail with Polemides and enters the script as well......Jason & Polemides have their own tangled web to unweave......this is a great novel that rises far above the thunder of the battle to enter the realm of a psychological analysis of democracy, theocracy, and a slew of both the finest and basest of human motivations.
This one wins on all levels.....Pressfield is cementing a beautiful reputation on these works.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By K. Freeman on October 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
I am very fond of Pressfield's work --both Gates of Fire and The Last Amazon -- but this novel, in my opinion, represents a bumpy spot.
Pressfield likes to use framing devices, and he generally makes them work well, but here they become confusing. The voices of Polemides, the narrator to whom Polemides tells his story, and at least one other character are used, and they're indistinguishable. This means that characterization, never a huge Pressfield strength, is lacking, and it adds a degree of confusion.
Pressfield, in this novel, had a vastly complex historical situation to work with. It's hard to criticize the plot for the many turns and twists, for the fact that the reader loses track of who's on what side, what Alcibiades' current standing is, and who Polemides is working for, when the reality was just about that chaotic. What it means, though, is that the essential narrative thread tends to get lost. Long expositions of political minutia and philosophy slow the text considerably. Alcibiades, rather than an incredibly charismatic troublemaker, comes across as a blowhard whenever he opens his mouth (or pen) in this novel. It's hard to see how he bamboozled so many people.
Pressfield's great strength is the representation of battle, and that does appear here with the Syracuse campaign. As ever, he combines elevated diction with soldier slang to create a unique and gripping tone. Though this book did not work well for me, I believe in the author and feel that he is among the most interesting historical fiction writers currently publishing.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By karl b. on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Peloponnesian Wars have an enduring intrigue, framing as they did the rise of the golden age in Greek arts, architecture, philosophy and science. The rivalry of Athens and Sparta lasted roughly 100 years, commencing in 490 BC with Athens's military consolidation in the victory at Marathon and ending in 404 BC with the defeat of its armada at Aegospotami. It has come to symbolize the competing agencies and ideals in warfare between nations to this day. The first wars to emerge from the mists of mythology to objective analysis and record, they were described in written chronicles by Herodotus and Thucydides. This heralded the transition from the oral, mystical tradition of Homer's heroic poetry to the 'modern' era which formed the bedrock of Greco Roman and then Western civilizations. Into this galaxy of events came the pivotal figure of Alcibiades, who anchors Pressfield's book. He was a student and foil of Socrates in Plato's dialogues, a military leader for Athens, Sparta and Persia; respectively playing agent-provocateur against former allegiances. He lived for conquest and to usurp the established order. Blessed with eloquence, bravery, passion and overarching ambition, he stamped his imprint on history, as much for self glorification as political necessity.
Pressfield's book is expansive in scope rather than penetrating. The perspective is colloquial and personal, which skirts the labyrinth of Athenian politics of the time. He has, though, effectively used some of the techniques Thucydides employed in presenting rhetorical argument to elucidate the underpinnings and objectives of the wars, with a modern accessibility. The lush, descriptive writing provides a sweep which tends to engulf the characters in the current of events.
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