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Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities First Edition Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199233380
ISBN-10: 0199233381
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cartledge, professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge, has created an intriguing overview of Greek history by providing synopses of 11 key city-states, each representing a different facet of Greek life and culture, such as politics, gender, and philosophy. Beginning with the earliest example of the successful polis, proto-Greek Cnossos on the island of Crete, and continuing through the near-mythical city of Mycenae; Argos; doomed Miletus; Massalia (present-day Marseilles), the first of the great Greek colonies; and through to the rise of laconic Sparta, it is easy to trace the development of Greek civilization. Classical Greece is examined in the descriptions of Athens, Syracuse, and Thebes. The description of Hellenic Alexandria is symbolic of the transition of the classical period into the Hellenistic age. A final discussion of the polis of Byzantion notes the decline of city-state independence. A list of significant individuals, a glossary, and a time line are beneficial. Other than labeling Athens, Ga., as that state's capital in comments on the proliferation of Greek city names throughout the world, errors are few. 20 b&w illus., 4 maps. (Jan.)
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"Paul Cartledge has here pulled off a remarkably clever feat of compression and organization, and will once again place very many readers in his debt. Brilliantly carried through." --Simon Hornblower, co-editor of 'The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization'

"A wonderfully concise - and witty - introduction to an ever-popular subject." --Sir John Boardman, co-editor of 'The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World'

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 261 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (February 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199233381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199233380
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,177,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book, part of the extensive Very Short Introductions (Oxford University Press), is about Ancient Greece, which was characterized by its several city-states while lacking a central organization. The author took a potentially interesting, but also challenging, approach to organize the book chronologically in terms of 11 towns: Cnossos, Mycenae, Argos, Miletus, Massalia, Sparta, Athens, Syracuse, Thebes, Alexandria, and Byzantion. The several important facts about Ancient Greece are developed respectively to each of these city-states. For instance, the customs of the Dorians are described in the chapter about Argos, and greek colonization as part of the chapter on Massalia.

I felt the chapters read very differently, some being very engaging (such as Sparta) while others tend to be somewhat arid, perhaps even academic (e.g. Syracuse and Thebes). The manner, as well as the level of details, in which the several subjects are presented vary considerably. Several of the included figures are not referred to in the text and seem to float isolated through the book. I believe the book emphasizes history too much while providing less substantial description of important contributions from ancient Greece, especially arts and philosophy/science. Also, as several issues need to be covered in a given city, the text tend to be fractioned and heterogeneous. This is perhaps why most of the alternative approaches to ancient Greece are organized along themes such as history, religion, arts, philosophy, etc.

All in all, I believe the choice to organize the book along some main cities worked only partially, mostly in the cases of more self-contained city-states such as Sparta and Athens. The Appendix includes some nice material about the panhellenic sanctuaries, with emphasis on Delphi.

The reader should be aware that this book was also published as "Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities" by Oxford Univ. Press
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paul Cartledge's engaging history of Ancient Greece fills the niche of a quick guide to the places, names and events that a reader may want learn about in order to get oriented to a vast and much covered topic. He does this in a readable fashion with maps and a handful of well-chosen plates. He admirably uses the latest in archeological scholarship to fill out his work, which nonetheless remains intentionally cursory.

As noted in the Product Description, his framework is 11 cities that he describes in the chronological order that they were important to the evolving history of the Ancient Greek world, enabling him to cover such topics as Ancient Mycenaean Greece, the colonization movements both east and west of mainland Greece, the conquests of Alexander and the Hellenistic world, and the rise and fall of the Byzantine civilization.

The chief criticism is inherent in the project itself. Names, places speed by so quickly that one is left knowing that one has passed through the countryside but is unable to say much about it. Having read other histories, I was aware of the vast amounts of material that needed to be edited out. And in fairness Cartledge devotes many pages at the end for an annotated section of suggestions for further reading.

But if you are in the market for a Cook's Tour of the Ancient World, this Baedeker will probably fit the bill until you have the leisure to come visit at greater length.
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Format: Hardcover
It's been pointed out that this book is but a very short introduction to ancient Greece. Judging from its size and title, one can certainly agree. However, the level at which the prose is pitched is much more formal than the usual plain language that is more readily accessible to a broad readership. Also, because of the specifics of the topics discussed and the professional opinions expressed, scholars of ancient history may enjoy this book more than would a general reader who simply wishes to learn a bit of ancient Greek history. Aside from this, the writing style is relatively friendly, quite authoritative, often lively and even occasionally tongue-in-cheek. The book also has a rich and elegant vocabulary - so rich in fact that I occasionally had to re-read various passages with dictionary in hand. In addition, I found several passages to be rather convoluted, usually because of very long-winded sentences. The concept of focussing each chapter on a different ancient Greek city is a good one. However, each such chapter tends to concentrate mainly on a few highlights, issues and key individuals rather than an attempt at an abbreviated and evened-out chronological history aimed at the interested general reader.

In short, this book is not what I was expecting and, as a result, I was disappointed. I still gave it four stars because locked between its covers lies quite a bit of fascinating and detailed information. I intend to read it again in the future, but much more slowly.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most of us (including me) have only the haziest idea of what ancient Greece was like. This book takes an unusual approach, made up as it is of profiles of several of the individual city states. Many of them are well known, such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Alexandria, some of them less so. Because of the restricted length of this series of books, none of the profiles is heavily detailed, but I suspect most people will find that fine. Recommended as background for those reading the ancient Greek literature.
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