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The Peloponnesian War Paperback – April 27, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*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 Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004371
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The reader bent on getting through the classic history books always starts with Herodotus, who may often be gullible but is always entertaining. The next on the list is _The History of the Peloponnesian War_ by Thucydides, which is completely different. His classic history of the war between Sparta and Athens has been an object of respect and close study ever since it was written, but is tough reading. Translators agree that Thucydides's style is difficult and subject to varying interpretations, and the different battles and overall strategies of the war can get lost. If you plow through Thucydides, you don't even get to find out how it all turns out; his account ends almost seven years before the war did. If this is daunting, help is at hand. A new volume titled _The Peloponnesian War_ (Viking) has been written by Donald Kagan. He has previously written a four volume history of the war for scholars, but has here distilled the narrative into one (admittedly large) volume. His goal was "... a readable narrative... to be read by the general reader for pleasure and to gain the wisdom that so many have sought in studying this war." He has certainly succeeded. The complexities of the conflict all across the Mediterranean make clear that this was a true "world war," but Kagan has made it as clear for non-specialists as we have any right to expect.
Of course one expects detailed descriptions of the basis of the conflict, the nature of battles, and the personalities of the leaders involved, and these expectations are certainly met, throughout all the arenas of the war. Kagan has deliberately not drawn parallels between this, the first well-documented war effort, and all the others that came after it.
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Format: Hardcover
Donald Kagan is the foremost authority on the Peloponnesian War, having authored an comprehensive four-volume history on the subject. But perhaps more importantly, Professor Kagan is also a wonderful storyteller. Do not be intimidated by the length of the book, or it's topic. The subject matter is extremely rich and interesting - just because something happened 2,500 years ago doesn't mean it's boring. On the contrary, one of Prof. Kagan's strengths, both as a teacher and a writer, is his ability to make relevant the events of the past, not through strained parallels and comparisons, but through a deep understanding of human nature.
The Peloponnesian War reminds many of the major conflicts of the 20th century, and some of those comparisons are quite illuminating. For example, the showdown between the two "superpowers" of the era, Athens and Sparta, reminds many of the Cold War, and there are indeed many intriguing similarities. Professor Kagan, who has written about such comparisons at length (see "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace"), understands these parallels as clearly as anyone. But focusing on these parallels to make distant events appear "relevant" is, to him, unnecessary. His view, which I share, is that the Peloponnesian War does not need to be "made relevant:" it IS relevant, because of the unchanging character of human nature and human problems. If you expect this book to be filled with statements like "President Bush is just like Pericles because..." you will be disappointed. What you will get, however, is much more valuable.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read Donald Kagan's previous four volume book set on the Peloponnesian War which set the standard of that war for many years to come. So when I read his one volume book on the subject, I did wondered what more can I get.

This one book treatment of the Peloponnesian War proves to be superbly well written for almost any reader. Unlike his four volume series which was academically rich and complex, this one book treatment scaled down the narrative into an easy to read, easy to understand and yet complete enough to make any reader understand what, how and why of the Peloponnesian War. Added by nice maps, almost anyone can tackle this book and come out wiser on the subject. The author's ability to reduced the complex nature of this conflict into an easier format is a clear example of his knowledge and total command of the subject matter.

This book come highly recommended for anyone who have an initial interest on the matter and even for experienced readers as well.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kagan, a leading expert on ancient Greece, wrote this book to introduce the non-academic to the events of Greece's own "World War". From Pericles to Aegospotami, the Peloponnesian War matched the Spartan and Athenian empires in twenty-seven years of unrelenting struggle in the fifth century BC. Kagan does a good job of recounting the events, but the book is far from an unqualified success. Among the high points are the excellent maps --two dozen of them sprinkled liberally through the text showing key battlefields from Sicily to Asia Minor. Kagan does not make the typical scholar's mistake of forgetting maps. The prose is simple and clear, with periodic references to source material (mostly Thucydides), but without cryptic footnotes or other academic fetishes. The narrative smoothly makes sense of complicated events, referring to alternative theories, and offering sensible explanations for controversial decisions by generals and rulers. Descriptions of leading Athenians like Alcibiades and Pericles (who noted the four characteristics necessary to a statesman: "To know what must be done and to be able to explain it; to love one's country; and to be incorruptible.") are nuanced and interesting.
On the other hand, there are two related downsides to the book. First, in a text aimed at an audience unfamiliar with ancient Greece, it does a surprisingly poor job of describing anything BUT the war. In addition to the maps, Kagan could usefully have sprinkled short "box texts" throughout to describe items of interest such as the culture and architecture of the Greeks, their lifestyles, food, population, and economy.
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