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Tides of War Paperback – August 28, 2001
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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
Perhaps the Peloponnesian War, which lasted 27 years and featured an epic list of people and places, just doesn't lend itself to the six-hour audio format, for not even renowned Shakespearean actor Jacobi's reading gives this novel the sense of personal drama it requires. Pressfield (Gates of Fire) focuses his story on Alcibiades, the legendary hero whose strength, beauty and courage embodied ancient Greek ideals. An Athenian trained in Sparta, Alcibiades appears divinely well suited to feed his country's hunger for military victories. But democracy in its nascent stage being no less tainted than in its current manifestation, Alcibiades is feared for his popularity and ultimately exiled on a trumped-up charge. Once in the camp of Athens's enemies, he proves as unmatchable a foe as he could have been a champion. Unfortunately, the pace of this recording, as necessitated by the breadth of events covered in its relatively short length, lends it all the emotional depth of a textbook. And unless listeners have studied their ancient Greek geography, they will find themselves rewinding often to try to keep up with the movements of all the ships and forces. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 13). (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Gates of Fire
The Authentic Swing
The War of Art
Tides of War has Pressfield's always present skill as both a writer and storyteller. He has a unique ability to develop characters and take the reader into the action where every word is carefully chosen from a vast and rich vocabulary.
The story is awesome as are the characters. These are stories our young men ( and women) should be reading. The only problem is that he book is so hard to put down. It's rich in history and color of the area and times. Unfortunately it also serves as a reminder of the shallowness of so much of which passes for contemporary culture.
I found this to be a challenging novel with various narrators, rich literature, complex narraitve, incredible detail in description of ancient warfare and highly educating, even though it is a work of fiction. I had to constantly look up words in the dictionary. I think this is one of THE best novels I've read on historical fiction. It's better than Gates of Fire, it's that good. This is no light read, so take it on only your're looking for something good on the subject, it's well worth the effort.
Pressfield masterfully uses a character called Polemides to provide the narration of this tragic story and of Alcibiades, the central character and one of the most interesting characters in all of history. Polemides begins as a very innocent young man who, along with everybody else that suffered in this war, loses his innocence completely.
The Athenians had experienced their Golden Age, lasting about 19 years if one counts the start of its war against Sparta as the end of that period. In this time, Athens had become wealthy and controlled an empire that included most of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Technology had provided a better lifestyle and goods from many parts of the world flowed into Athen's port. A wealthy elite had emerged, with economic interests to protect, and an electorate of beneficiaries of Athen's "Greatest Generation" felt a need to continue the tradition and do great things. Hubris led Athens to start war with Sparta, the quintessential military culture of its day.
Neither side, Athens nor Sparta, could end this war within any short timeframe. Athens had the navy and walled protection of harbors, especially in Athens, and Sparta had the army and an easily defended geography with mountains surrounding all sides excluding the sea. This turned into a war of attrition over twenty-seven years and involved many other powers, particularly the Persian Empire. Alcibiades, the most capable leader of the time, was caught in the middle, beginning on the side of Athens and switching sides a couple of times. No leader was as effective as Alcibiades or as controversial.
To me the most powerful part of this epochal story was the disastrous Athenian invasion of Sicily. Syracuse, the powerful city-state of Sicily, was allied with the Spartans. This was where the Athenians suffered horribly and is the prime example of the horrors of this long war. Without giving too many details of the story, I can just say that Pressfield captured the historical suffering of the Athenians extremely well in this part of the story. I don't think you can make it through this part of the story without feeling the profound sense of tragedy of the human condition. Tides of War will probably make you think about the tragedy of war in the broadest possible sense.
I also give Pressfield credit for a strong ending to this story. We end up in Athens at the end of Polemides' life, and we learn a great deal about Socrates. What we see is a defeated city taking revenge on anybody it views as traitors, which actually happened. The Athenian empire was not reinstated. It was over. This is an excellent book and well-narrated.