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Pericles and the Triumph of Democracy [Hardcover]

Donald Kagan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 22 1990
This is a political biography that fully explores the social, intellectual, historical and cultural environment of an extraordinary life. Pericles, rose to power on a surge of egalitarian activism that extended the franchise to the Athenian lower classes and survived the rough-and-tumble of popular politics for over thirty years. Athens in his day became an imperial power and the centre of a creative, artistic and intellectual outburst that made Athens "The School of Greece". Pericles presided over the brief but intense cultural flowering that preserved the idea of political freedom for two thousand years. Donald Kagan's biography brings Pericles to life against the background of his times, and shows him as the model of those later well-born statesman, such as Roosevelt and Churchill. He details the shifting internal political interests, the international conflicts, and the intellectual currents that shaped and guided Pericles remarkable career. He also explores the perennial themes of democratic society - the tension between individual freedom and social control, the instability of popular will, and the risks that beset a volatile democratic government with expansive international powers and obligations. This narrative reminds us of the nobility of the democratic enterprise, as well its fragility and weakness. Donald Kagan is the author of a four-volume "History of the Peloponnesian War".

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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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5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy book Dec 10 2003
This is a good biography of a great man. Kagan not only distills a great deal of information into a very accessable book, he also manages to impart understanding and insight about Pericles and his Athens. This book is valuable to anyone interested in classical Greece. With particular emphasis - anyone contemplating an attack on "The Peloponnesian War" by Thucydides would do well to get "Pericles" as a companion. Even if you already have Thucydides under your belt, you will probably gain fresh insight into that famously difficult work through Kagan's lucid exposition.
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4.0 out of 5 stars democratic leadership June 2 2003
By Michael
An great book for understanding about leadership in ancient Athens. Since Pericles was elected to the position of general once a year he was required to walk a political tightrope. This book will give you a good feel for the difficulties of yearly elections. You will not get great detail for the life of Pericle beyond Plutarch. Fans of leadership, democracy, warfare and international relations this book is a must!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Work on Athens' Golden Age July 26 2000
By Jim Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Donald Kagan offers here a well-written popular account of the birth of democracy in ancient Greece. This book represents the capstone to a lifetime of research, reflection, writing (just check Amazon's list of his books; Kagan is perhaps the top writer in English on the Peloponnesian War), and teaching on classical Greece and illustrates both Kagan's eloquence and his belief that we can learn from the successes and failures of democracy in Ancient Athens. His Pericles is a hero but a tragic hero; his attempt to educate the entire population of Athens to achieve excellence reached an impressive level of success, but his relentlessly rational moderation refused to take into account emotional reactions of both individuals and states abroad and at home and helped bring on an unnecessary and disastrous war. His portrait of Periclean Athens offers many valuable analogies with contemporary democracy - and many warnings for us as well. Along with W.G. Forrest's The Emergence of Greek Democracy, sadly out of print, this is the best account of Greek History for the general reader, for its substance is intriguing, and it is a "great read."
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting to know Pericles May 11 2005
By D. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Donald Kagan of Yale university is perhaps the foremost authority on Periclean Athens in the world today. As such, it is only natural that he should write a treatise on the life of the great man known as Pericles.

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.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Adjunct to the Peloponnesian War Series Nov. 26 2001
By Timothy A. Curry - Published on Amazon.com
In reading Kagan's epochal Peloponnesian War series (if Amazon had a six-star rating that series would deserve it) one is struck by the relative paucity of material present on one of the central characters of that period, Perikles of Athens. While Kagan gives his usual detailed treatment of events, what led up to many of Perikles' attitudes and intellectual precepts is left untreated.
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.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Churchill of the Ancient World July 21 2004
By Frank T. Klus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When I was just a youngster I remembered reading about the "Golden Age of Pericles". What was this "golden age"? Who was Pericles? What impact did he have on the world today?

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?
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kagan Breathes Life into the Soul of Pericles of Athens April 1 2000
By JW Semel - Published on Amazon.com
Donald Kagan is one of the foremost historians on the Greece during the time of Pericles. This book is a skillful demonstration of his command of the history and historical texts combined with the story-telling aspect that makes history three dimensional. Pericles is a brilliant character in the history of the world, and Kagan is able to convey every aspect of his brilliance. A wonderful book for both the history buff and the simply curious
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