Pericles and the Triumph of Democracy Hardcover – Oct 22 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
Democracy past and present is explored in this biography of Pericles, who governed Athens during the fifth century B.C., associated with such philosophers and artisans as Sophocles, Aeschylus and Phidias, and commissioned the Parthenon. Illustrated.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Kagan is well known for his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War ( The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War , LJ 1/5/70; The Archidamian War , 1974; The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition , 1981; The Fall of the Athenian Empire , 1987, all Cornell Univ. Pr.). His latest work is the first genuine biography of Pericles in English since A.R. Burn's Pericles and Athens (1949) and the most spirited defense of the Athenian democracy since W.G. Forrest's The Emergence of Greek Democracy (1966). The book is a lively and thoughtful chronicle of the years leading up to and into the great war between the Athenians and Spartans. Pericles is cast as the tragic hero whose flaw is the very rationality with which he so skillfully guided the Athenians and forged an empire. Contrary to the charges of both ancient and modern critics, Kagan argues that the democracy was a rational, deliberate, and moderate regime, and Pericles is portrayed as the consummate visionary political leader whose great mistake was to expect everyone to think and behave as rationally as he did. This learned and passionate book is sure to cause controversy and is recommended to both academic and public libraries.
- V. Bradley Lewis, Univ. of Notre Dame, Ind.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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All of the major facets of Pericles' life are brought together in this edition, from his rise to prominence to his scandalous affair with Aspasia to his strategy of fighting the Peloponnesian war against Sparta and her allies. The latter topic, of course, will gather the most interest to modern readers.
While I have read Thucydides, I felt that Kagan did a wonderful job of elaborating on a lot of details of the Peloponnesian war that were a bit unclear in primary sources. The problem with historical primary sources is that they many times take as a given the reader knows all the background information behind specific events. Kagan makes no assumptions and walks the reader through the various political and social aspects that underlie sundry events of 5th century Greece.
One of the more surprising elements of this book is that Kagan is not reticent in his criticisms of many Periclean policies and war strategies. While moderation is typically seen as a positive thing (just ask Aristotle!), Kagan points out how Pericles could over-rely on human reason and be moderate to a fault. In short, this book is NOT an encomium on the Greek leader. Rather, it is an open an honest examination of his life & times. Kagan disinters both the best and the worst in Pericles' character and foresight.
This book is highly recommended to all persons who are interested in Greek history. For those who wish to become more acquainted with Athens in the turmoil of war, this book is a can't miss.
A reader lucky enough to possess this volume will find the time spent in reading it in parallel with the four-volume magnum opus to be well spent. It supplies a view of the great man and his city with a color and richness that truly makes the reader's cup overflow, and might, if treated in this detail in the larger series, have slowed the latter's breakneck pace to a crawl. It is, of course, wonderful as a standalone reference.
Readers unfamiliar with Professor Kagan are missing a real treat. His prose is lean and concise, and its vividness lights the sometimes bland subject material of ancient Greek history with clarity and a contemporary relevance that is always illuminating and occasionally breathtaking. This is not "pop" history, but it is so well-written that it achieves the latter's accessibility without its superfluity. If more ancient history were written this way it would a much more popular subject of study.
To begin with, the "golden age" marked the beginnings of the Athenian Empire. Athens became the Mecca for the world, attracting the greatest minds. It became an important trade center. With this, Athens became one of the greatest cities in the mid-Fifth Century BC world. At the center was Pericles.
Pericles rose to prominence under less than favorable circumstances. He came from an old family that was involved in a sacrilege to the gods about one hundred years earlier. His family was cursed and expelled from Athens. When Pericles came of age he neglected politics, as the Athenian aristocracy was firmly entrenched. When his opportunity finally came Pericles was able to win over the citizens to his way of thinking by the power of his oratory.
Pericles didn?t invent democracy but under his leadership democracy flourished. He firmly believed that when the opportunity for power belonged to all the citizens, instead of only a few, that the best people would rise to leadership roles. This was democracy?s strength. The critics?and there were many?feared mob rule. For that reason it would be a long time before democracy rose to prominence in the world again. Even our own founding fathers feared mob rule, but representative democracy would prevent that while preserving democracy?s strength.
The legacy of Pericles was that he was a true statesman. He understood the ramifications of the peace with Sparta and what would happen to Athens if she caved into the demands of Sparta. The result was a great Peloponnesian war that would eventually cost Athens her empire. It was faulty strategy, wrong assumptions, and a lack of strong leadership after Pericles died that did Athens in. Donald Kagan mentions the connection with Winston Churchill, who found his country facing a great danger from Germany because its prime minister backed down. Like Pericles, he knew Great Britain would have to stand and fight. One can only wonder what the world would be like if Pericles? Athens had won as Churchill?s Britain had?