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The Peloponnesian War [Paperback]

Donald Kagan
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 26 2004

For three decades in the fifth century b.c. the ancient world was torn apart bya conflict that was as dramatic, divisive, and destructive as the world wars of the twentieth century: the Peloponnesian War. Donald Kagan, one of the world’s most respected classical, political, and military historians, here presents a new account of this vicious war of Greek against Greek, Athenian against Spartan. The Peloponnesian War is a magisterial work of history written for general readers, offering a fresh examination of a pivotal moment in Western civilization. With a lively, readable narrative that conveys a richly
detailed portrait of a vanished world while honoring its timeless relevance, The Peloponnesian War is a chronicle of the rise and fall of a great empire and of a dark time whose lessons still resonate today.

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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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THE WORLD OF THE GREEKS extended from scattered cities on the south coast of Spain at the far western end of the Mediterranean to the eastern shore of the Black Sea in the east. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I have long wanted to read Thucydides but decided to read Kagan's work on the subject first in order to familarize myself with the historical terrain. For this purpose, the book is well suited since it both sums up some of the period covered by Thucydides and includes events that occurred after his death (before the end of the war). It also provides enough of the social, philosophical, and literary background to whet one's appetite to read more. Many of the most famous figures from Greek history were alive during or near the time of the war and were influenced by it. Plato, for instance, formed his political views in response to what he viewed as the failings of democracy. Euripides wrote his tragedies during a time when the common people of Athens were suffering tragedy on a daily basis caused by the siege of Athens by Spartan troops and the gradual disintegration of its empire.
Although I am sure that Mr. Kagan struggled with what to exclude from this scaled-down version of his longer work on the Peloponnesian War, I sometimes felt that he was rushing through certain sections, as if he were tired of expounding on the details of certain battles or the principals who took part in them. He is at his best when describing the dramatic defeat of Athens in the Sicilian campaign or when following the changing allegiances of Alcibiades or when explicating the political and strategic nuances of the war from all points of view. But, the drama of the story-telling starts to drag right at the moment it should build - the Fall of Athens. The last chapters of the book are anti-climactic in my opinion. Though, perhaps one could argue that that is the way with wars, especially wars of attrition, and both the Athenians and the Spartans had pretty much had enough of the whole thing. It is too bad that reality doesn't always make for good reading: maybe on this score Mr. Kagan and Thucydides both could learn a lesson from Herodotus.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, dull, dull... Nov. 28 2003
By A Customer
This is a great book for those desirous of a single volume reference to the Peloponnesian War. All the facts are here, and the maps are excellent and numerous. As an entertainment, though, forget it. Kagan is obviously bent on providing a simple, relatively brief history (short chapters make for easy reading), but his writing style is so pedestrian and bereft of passion that it is a challenge maintaining your interest. Every page reads like the bare bones summary of an interesting story, one that I'd like to read a good book about some day. But Kagan is definitely no story-teller. Anyone looking for an engaging, immersive read might want to pass on this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A monument to a lifetime's work Jan. 1 2013
The only way you could possibly write with such insight and understanding about a conflict so long gone, is by living and breathing the sources behind our understanding of it. Kagan has done just that, and has given us a beautiful gift with this 1 volume history of the Peloponnesian War. Kagan is also a fine writer. The story is complex with many characters coming and going throughout the drama, but Kagan does a fine job of maintaining clarity and helping the reader to understand the logic of the action. Kagan is also sceptical in the best sense, reading between the lines and carefully analyzing every story - nothing is dismissed out of hand, but no reasonable explanation is dismissed either.

Really, reviewing this book is beyond me - I must simply restate that this is history writing at its very finest.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining May 28 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book after listening to Donald Kagan's wonderful ancient greek history podcast on iTunes. This book is easy to read, never boring and quite complete. Donald Kagan is not shy about sharing his own insights and opinions about the war, much in Thucydides' style ;).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good enough account June 12 2004
I understand this is a sort of summary/abridgment of Kagan's 4-volume work on this subject. But I'm still a little bothered by the fact that in 500 pages of narrative there is not a single source note anywhere.
Also, the "Sources" chapter at the end, only 3-and-a-half pages long, contains a bibliographic essay with very few monographs titles, and none in original Greek - not even Thucydides's. Based on my limited impression, Kagan can hardly be called a classical scholar, only a specialist in ancient military history - the sort one might find in one or two professors at West Point (and indeed Kagan has a son who happens to be just that).
It doesn't bother me that Kagan has a tendency to draw parallels between current events and ancient ones. He does so elsewhere, and not in this book. (I should add by the way that his knowledge of any kind of history is strictly limited to that of the West, except for the 20th century). What bothers me is that Kagan is touted as a great classicist whose work on the Peloponnesian War is the final word for the time being, a claim absurd enough to make an Oxford undergrad in Lit. Hum. wince.
Still, this book reads fast and will do for the general reader.
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By A Customer
Sure you could read all three comprehensive books written by Kagan to get a really in-depth lesson on the Peloponnesian War, but for the casual history buff this is much easier. The book is not short on details though. In 494 pages Kagan does an outstanding job of covering the entire Peloponnesian War from start to finish, giving the reading a thorough understanding of the entire affair. Anyone interested in Greek history ought to read this book, and even then you will have just touched the tip of the iceberg for a country whose history is as vast as any other civilization on Earth.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Peloponnesian War
Kagan spent decades crafting his four-volume History of the Peloponnesian War, and while it is imbued with scholarship, it is nevertheless a daunting work. Read more
Published on April 15 2004 by B. Viberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Real Insights!
There is so much here. The Greeks must have been very prosperous, or else they could not afford to spend so much of their time fighting. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2004 by C Brunner
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent intro and overview; lacks drama
The Peloponnesian War is one of the most tragic events in the history of Western civilization. Classical Greece made contributions to science and art and thought that have been... Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2004 by "tdmattin75"
3.0 out of 5 stars Pro-Athenian View
For those who repeatedly hear about the wonders of Thucydides' prose yet can't make it through the entire work, this book is a welcome reprieve. Read more
Published on Dec 24 2003 by Joseph
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable.
A remarkable book in that it is set in ancient times, yet we know so much not only about what happened, but the political background. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2003 by algo41
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book!
This most excellent book provides a readable and concise history of the complex events surrounding the Peloponnesian War. Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by Roger Kennedy
3.0 out of 5 stars A Tough Slog
Kagan, a leading expert on ancient Greece, wrote this book to introduce the non-academic to the events of Greece's own "World War". Read more
Published on Dec 20 2003 by Richard R
5.0 out of 5 stars A Comprehensive, but Readable History
This readable and detailed history for a general audience analyzes at length how a true democracy behaves under pressure. Read more
Published on Dec 5 2003
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