5.0 out of 5 stars Rivers of Blood
Years ago as an undergraduate history major I wrote an essay on Alexander the Great. He was an enigma to me then and I admit he remains so to this day. In my defense he was enigmatic to many of the authors I was reading so my confusion was understandable. Given the questionable reliability of many ancient sources surrounding Alexander this seems to be a common...
Published 22 months ago by Tom Gartshore
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A work of Historical Fiction, not History
Green's "Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B. C. : A Historical Biography", is a famous book which has had a great influence on not only general readers but also on serious scholars. I have much admiration for Green's lucid style and would accept his assertion that he wanted to discover the historical Alexander of flesh and blood stripped away from the accreted myth but I...
Published on June 28 2001 by Dr. Ranajit Pal
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rivers of Blood,
Years ago as an undergraduate history major I wrote an essay on Alexander the Great. He was an enigma to me then and I admit he remains so to this day. In my defense he was enigmatic to many of the authors I was reading so my confusion was understandable. Given the questionable reliability of many ancient sources surrounding Alexander this seems to be a common affliction. It also allows each new generation of Alexander scholars to invent their own Alexander. My interest in Alexander has not diminished over time and I read many Alexander studies including those by W.W. Tarn, Ulrich Wilcken, Richard Stoneman, Paul Cartledge, A.R. Burn, J.F.C. Fuller and many others. More recently I read Elizabeth Carney's Olympias (2006) and Richard Gabriel's Phillip II of Macedonia (2010) to round out my general knowledge of the man and his parents. Peter Green's Alexander of Macedon, to my mind, remains the best biography of Alexander. This is due in no small part to the author's elegant writing style. He dredges up every lurid story surrounding Alexander's short life. As a result the book reads like a novel even though it is a serious work of scholarship and encumbered with copious notes throughout. Dedicated students will delve into these notes if they desire further insight as to how the author came to his conclusions. The notes themselves make surprisingly entertaining reading. Green's portrait of Alexander changed my initial views of the man. Tarn's "universal brotherhood of man" interpretation had coloured my outlook to some extent. I had read Tarn uncritically in grade school and I was willing to accept Alexander may have had some loftier goals than personal glory in mind at one point. Time, further reading and experience altered this point of view. Green is certainly correct in asserting "universal brotherhood" was probably the last thing on Alexander's mind. He compellingly argues one doesn't murder one's father (probably) and wade through "rivers of blood" to establish universal brotherhood. It is as a field general, probably the greatest of all time, that Alexander should be judged according to Green and in this he is certainly correct. In any case Peter Green's Alexander of Macedon can be recommended to the educated layman and serious students of Alexander studies alike. It can also be recommended as damned good read period.
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich and detailed biography,
Alexander was an enigmatic figure, to say the least. Peter Green provides us with a fabulously detailed, if somewhat dry--though often quite funny--account of his life. It is a very scholarly work; cross-referenced, annotated like mad and full of esoteric French and Latin idioms with English words I had to look-up in my UNABRIDGED dictionary. Still, you get the sense of a real person behind this legend--and it is fascinating, to say the least. Some repetitious language, combined with a cast of characters that would leave Pynchon scratching his head (Green himself acknowledges the frustration caused by so many duplicate names) make it a little hard to follow sometimes, but the narrative is strong and cohesive. I would have really appreciated a larger number of more detailed maps, since a few of the sites the book makes reference to aren't marked (a pipe-dream, I'm sure, since history itself seems to have swallowed a great deal of that information). The battle-plan graphics for Alexander's major confrontations were helpful in visualizing the scene set by Green's exposition. I recommend this book for anyone who wants a comprehensive study of the man who aspired to be a god.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A work of Historical Fiction, not History,
Green's "Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B. C. : A Historical Biography", is a famous book which has had a great influence on not only general readers but also on serious scholars. I have much admiration for Green's lucid style and would accept his assertion that he wanted to discover the historical Alexander of flesh and blood stripped away from the accreted myth but I think he has miserably failed in this objective. Green rightly presents Alexander as the most incomparable general the world has ever seen but is not aware of the silent role Sasigupta played in many of his victories. He is totally unaware that Orontobates of Caria was none other than Diodotus of Erythrae of Caria and Tiridates who was at Persepolis. Throughout the work there is a deplorable tendency to carve out an Alexander from the most ghastly and detestable stories that one can lay hands on without for a moment bothering about the probity of the sources or the general scenario. Green mocks at Alexander's idea of Brotherhood of man and at the end what he offers us is essentially an unenlightened Elizabethan perspective. Unfortunately this propaganda has swayed the opinions of many unsuspecting modern historians of Alexander. About himself Prof. Green has recently written, "Professor David Halperin, rather flatteringly, has credited me with being a provocateur, a mischief maker-rather, one gathers, in the spirit of Sherlock Holmes, of whom it was said, in A Study in Scarlet, that he was quite capable of trying out the latest poison on his friends, not out of malice, but in the disinterested pursuit of scientific knowledge". From the recent Scotland Yard reports we now know a little more about the disinterested pursuit of Sherlock Holmes, but this spirit of frolic hardly befits the subject under study. As the great historian J.B. Bury stated, History, after allowing for all its uncertainties, remains a scientific pursuit of Truth and has some relation to the now-forgotten concept of morality. Through the Gedrosian desert Alexander was chasing the all- powerful Moeris (Chandragupta of Prasii). Green has no idea that the navy was carrying provisions for the army which was engaged in a grim and protracted battle. As a general Alexander can hardly be blamed for imposing a levy in order to arrange for the supplies for his army. This is why the people of Pattala had fled. Badian had totally misjudged the situation and had foolishly compared Alexander with Chengiz Khan and Green follows suit and turns history writing into a reckless propaganda exercise. Green's grasp of Indian or Iranian religion or society is extremely meagre. He has almost no time to reflect over the true nature of the Hellenistic miracle or eastern religions like Buddhism which benefited enormously from Alexander's intervention. In my opinion the book is famous for the wrong reasons.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars leaves you wanting MORE,
A good book for overview of subject. I read it several years ago when I was devouring everything I could get my hands on to do with the subject matter.
I give it a 4-star rating for it's bibliography and for the author's modesty when he suggests that it is a subject requiring exhaustive and on-going enquiry. Also has excellent maps.
The work itself is broad in its scope a tour-de-force in this regard, but so too are many other works e.g., Hammond, Bosworth, Badian,Fox, Renault etc.. etc...To gain the most benefit from such a work further reading will make the study of this worthy subject in history much more enjoyable and worthwhile.
Perhaps Hammond's "The history of the Macedonian state"(?) would be a good companion to this book....
If you really want to get into it start with the ancient sources, the most accessable are Arrian and Plutarch. They may be a little difficult and enigmatic but you MUST read as much as you can because all authors on the subject of Alexander will refer to these two sources time and time again.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint of history,
I bought this book about 15 years ago when my 7th grade teacher offered a lot of extra credit for it. I didn't read it then, and now I understand why he chose it. His thinking must have been that any 7th grader who could complete this book must be a genius, and he was prepared to reap the scholastic benefits of making this discovery.
I have picked this book up several times in the last 15 years in an attempt to finish it, or to leave it casually on my nightstand when I wanted to impress someone. Unfortunately, I believe my main problem with trying to finish this novel is that I'm just not smart enough.
"Alexander of Macedon" is a very detailed account of the life of Alexander the Great, and to a lesser extent, his father, Philip. If you've ever wanted to know everything there is about Alexander, this is the book for you, and is probably the most exhaustive text available. It is thoroughly well researched and is loaded with sources. It is evident Greene spent his time putting it together. I would not recommend this book to anyone who simply wants an enjoyable biography of the man however. This book is an incredibly difficult read. New battles and people are mentioned every other paragraph, and it takes at least 100 pages just to get into anything interesting. I was mind-numbingly bored out of my skull for the first 50 pages and was incredibly confused before Greene even got to talking about Phillip.
I imagine once the movie comes out next year, many will be looking to expand their knowledge on Alexander and learn more about him. As I said, unless you are really obsessed with the man and want to know every detail of his life, I wi=ould look for a simpler read. This book is not written for a general audience and any exciting facts or stories about Alexander are buried under mounds and mounds of historical data.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Introduction to Alexander,
In the University I was a math major, but I have always been interested in history, and more particularly in ancient Greek and Roman history. The perspective I bring to this book is not one of expertise, but rather of enthusiastic interest. Peter Green's "Alexander of Macedon" was one of the more enjoyable biographies that I have ever read because it was not only well written, but passionately written. I have read other books, and heard other interpretations of events than those which Green gave, but for the most part I was persuaded to believe his version by his realism and his inspired sense of reality and probability. Some scholars such as Tarn have presented an Alexander as a figure of hero worship; Tarn's Alexander does very little wrong, and garners great praise for his prowess. Green's Alexander is more a man that we can recognize; he is a man driven by a will to ever be the best, driven by a lust for power, and driven by a strong belief in his own superiority. Green does not pass idle judgement on Alexander, for how can a man be so judged who lived in such different times, and who we know only through sources written hundreds of years after his death. We can and Green does, however, make many strong inferences regarding not only the character of Alexander, but his means, motivations, and intentions.
Green's prose is eminently palatable, and was not stiff or dry at all. For somebody who knows little about Ancient Macedonia or Greece, this book is strong in that it does not presuppose knowledge. Green's tone is neither condescendingly scholarly nor unabashedly folksy, but one of an intelligent person ardently interested in his subject and eager to communicate it to the reader be he or she expert or layperson. If you are more interested in Alexander's generalship, then Green's book does not provide the fullest account, though he understands what took place at the main battles of the Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela (Arbela), and against Porus. For Alexander's generalship read J. F. C. Fuller's book "The Generalship of Alexander the Great," though you will notice an important difference between what Green and Fuller say about what happened at the Granicus (I tend to lean towards Green's view on this one).
By those who find Alexander fascinating, and who want to gain a greater understanding of how his myth came to be, this book should definitely be read. It deserves five stars.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good,
This book on Alexander the Great kept me turning pages, and I managed to finish it in under a week. It completely changed my understanding of this ancient king. Prior to reading this work, I only knew what popular culture had thrown my way. The man himself was arguably the greatest general that ever lived, but his actions reveal him as a butcher and a tyrant. The book itself is unbiased, but one quickly learns through Alexander's actions that he was very posibly a sociopath. After reading this excellent book, I still admire him for his unequalled military genius, but detest him as a human being.
5.0 out of 5 stars "Let the Strongest Rule",
I have to give this book my full recommendation. Green really has done his homework as he puts together the jig-saw puzzle of Alexander's life with brilliant clarity. I LOVED this book. If you want a primer on Alexander in preparation for the two blockbuster Alexander movies coming out in the near future, look no further. Alexander truly had one of the most action-packed lives, and it makes for a fascinating read. My only criticism is that the maps provided are poor quality. I had to get another book on ancient Greece and Persia to place all of the different city-states, nations, and satraps.
5.0 out of 5 stars Have sword and spear, will travel,
Only occasionally have I read a work of history that's in the "can't put down" category. DISTANT MIRROR by Barbara Tuchman, MEN TO MATCH MY MOUNTAINS by Irving Stone, and Shelby Foote's monumental Civil War trilogy come to mind. ALEXANDER OF MACEDON, 356-323 B.C. by Peter Green is now another.
This material first appeared as ALEXANDER THE GREAT in 1970. This particular volume, a revision and expansion of that earlier book, is the second reprint (1991) of the title first published in 1974.
For the sake of background, the author necessarily begins his masterpiece with Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon, whose achievement was to unify Macedonia and coerce the Greek states to the south to join with him in an Hellenic League. But, after Philip is assassinated on page 105, it's all Alexander as he marches his army on a peripatetic route of conquest against the Persian Empire throughout Asia Minor and the Middle East as far as present-day West Pakistan - and then back again. Twenty-five thousand miles - the circumference of the Earth - in eleven years. I kept turning the pages to see what he was going to do next.
In his "Preface to the 1991 Reprint", Green makes it clear that his study of Alexander is a work in progress, and that even this book needs further revision in the light of new information. However, as flawed as the author may consider his ALEXANDER OF MACEDON to be, his masterful distillation of 17 pages worth of ancient and modern sources makes the narrative of Alexander's life sing. Green's prose is crisp and touched with a dry humor, and it never bogs down.
Though Green concludes that Alexander is "perhaps ... the most incomparable general the world has ever seen", he doesn't spare his subject from charges of megalomania and tyranny. But, in a man who never lost a battle and was proclaimed first the son of a god, and then himself a deity, can this be so surprising? Alexander is, in a sense, a tragic figure - one who couldn't see the wisdom in the statement of his subordinate commander, Coenus:
"Sir, if there is one thing above all others a successful man should know, it is when to stop."
ALEXANDER OF MACEDON is replete with a Table of Dates, fourteen maps and battle plans, and a 24-page appendix examining in detail the poorly documented battle on the River Granicus, Alexander's first victory in Asia against the Persian king Darius III.
My only complaint regarding this riveting historical piece is that the author didn't summarize the chaotic dissolution that overtook Alexander's empire immediately after his death. The contrast would have made me appreciate Alexander's achievement all that much more.
3.0 out of 5 stars Cultural references really not needed,
By A Customer
A very detailed accounting of Alex the Greats exploits
based upon numerous historical authors.
The book could very much benefit from additional
maps included in the appropriate sections.
The chapters dealing with Alex's early campaigns in Persia
mention MANY persion cities, and there is NO map
in these chapters showing their locations!
There is a rudamentary map a few chapters back,
but a more detailed map is really needed.
Also, its arrogant of the author to use
numerous references to people and events in British culture
to describe Alex's exploits (never mind the
unending use of cliche'd french, latin, greek, and german
phrases-is he just showing off
his language skills??)
Believe or not Mr. Green, the whole world does not reside
in Great Britain,and chic cultural references will
become incomprehensible through time.
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Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography by Peter Green (Hardcover - Aug. 5 1991)
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