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Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World Paperback – Nov 6 2007

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (Nov. 6 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400079187
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400079186
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #201,243 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Booklist

The stand by 300 Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae in northern Greece is one of the most revered foundation stories of Western civilization. In 480 BCE, the Spartans heroically delayed the advance of a massive Persian invading force. Thus, so the story goes, the blossoming culture of a "free" Greece was rescued from the domination of oriental despotism and "barbarism." Cartledge, a Cambridge professor of Greek history, reveals a far more complex story. Much of mainland Greece refused to embrace the emerging free and democratic culture associated with Athens. Persians were hardly barbaric, and their imperial control generally left subject peoples, including the Ionian Greeks, considerable latitude. Still, as this beautifully written and stirring saga asserts, the history of Western civilization would almost certainly have been fundamentally different had the Persians prevailed. When describing the actual military conflict, Cartledge's account has a special urgency and poignancy. An outstanding retelling of one of the seminal events in world history. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“Impeccable...Enthralling...Vividly reconstructs [the Spartans’] finest hour.”
The Independent

“Briskly written...Offers a fresh look at the battle and the complex events leading up to it.”

“In the annals of heroism, the Battle of Thermopylae is an archetype, a classic.”
–Noel Malcolm, The Telegraph (UK)

“The real passion of Thermopylae lies in the author’s sudden discovery that his subject is exciting to other people again.”
The Wall Street Journal

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The battle between the Greeks and Persians, is one of the greatest in military history. Cartledge does a good job laying out the details. However, the entire book itself, tends to be a little dull. I believe there are better picks regarding Thermopylae.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars 52 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars look elsewhere Aug. 1 2007
By JLL - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree with many reviewers who stated that this book is mostly a long and painful description leading up to the battle and seeingly a fly by with just a few words about the actual battle. The writing is terse and reminds me of my least favorite courses in college. Please consider purchasing:
The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization by Barry Strauss. I learned a lot more about Thermopylae with Strauss' book plus a TON about the naval counterpart. Extremely well written and engaging. It was hard to put Strauss' book down.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine and Thought-Provoking Study Nov. 17 2006
By Suzanne Cross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paul Cartledge, besides his superb studies of the Spartans, is known for writing studies of ancient Spartan and Greek history focused equally between what happened in history, and the implications of what happened. He is interested in understanding "why". Thus, his most recent book, Thermopylae, is perhaps most helpful for those who already know the basic facts of the echoing defense at a pass known as Thermopylae, the "Hot Gates" that barred entry from northern into southern Greece. In 380 AD, a small Greek army, captained and comprised largely of Spartans and their allies, died defending the Pass at Thermopylae against the vastly superior army of Darius, Great King of Persia, the superpower of the day.

I found this a moving and thought-provoking look at why Thermopolyae, a defeat to almost the last man, is almost more famous that victories elsewhere these past 2,500 years or so. Cartledge provides resonant reasons. I had not known that, prior to going to Thermopolyae, the Spartans chose only men (including one of their kings) with living sons, supporting Cartledge's suggestion that, for a Spartan warrior, death was not to be feared and could sometimes be welcomed. I had learned to dislike many aspects of the Spartan autocratic state, but I had not learned to appreciate their courage or learned to slightly understand how they thought and believed. Nor had I quite understood that their semi-suicide mission united the fractious Greek city-states against Persia as, perhaps, nothing else could have. It arguably allowed them, later, to defeat first the Persian Navy at Salamis, then its army at Plataea. Cartledge suggests, and one could argue, that without death at Thermopolyae, Xerxes might have conquered Greece, with its resonant impact on future world history.

I'm sure I have read these ideas in other, more detailed studies of the battle, but somehow the ideas did not make sense as they do when Cartledge ponders them. As Cartledge notes, the pass at Thermopylae was one of the first great clashes between the cultures of East and West, and he devotes some time to that conflict, even as it continues down to the present. He also reminds us that, under the leadership of the Spartans, citizen soldiers of other Greek cities died to a man defending the Pass: a defeat that partook of a morale victory, as he calls it.

There are many, many books about the Persian Wars of the early 5th century, but I believe this one deserves a place among them for helping us to understand why, as its subtitle asserts, Thermopylae was a battle that changed the world.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful analysis that provides context Jan. 14 2007
By Steven Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book to read--and a pretty quick read, too. It is the story of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and the Spartan 300 stood against Xerxes' mighty host at a narrow pass. Ultimately, they were betrayed by another Greek, and Xerxes sent troops by a narrow pathway to outflank the Spartan position. In the end, the Spartans died and the massive army--and accompanying naval force--moved toward Athens and defeat at Salamis to the naval forces of the allied Greek city-states. Cartlede identifies the Persian-Greek War as critical in the development of western civilization. He notes that this was (page xii): ". . .a clash between Freedom and Slavery. . . . In fact, the conflict has been plausibly described as the very axis of world history." I am not sure how convincingly that the case is actually made, but it indicates the importance of the batle in Cartledge's mind.

First, there are some very useful maps that help one understand the gegoraphy of the battle, as well as the pathway taken by Xerxes in his invasion of Greece.

Second,the book begins by looking at the world scene before the battle even began. He outlines the ancient world at about 500 BC, including the development of the Persian Empire (and the Achaemenidean dynasty, featuring kings such as Cyrus the Great, the unfortunate Cambyses, Darius, and Xerxes). He also describes the dynamic and unsettled nature of the Greek city-states and the colonies that they planted throughout the Meditteranean. A considerable emphasis, of course, is placed on the culture and polity of Sparta, explaining, in part, why the 300 were ready to die. The book argues that Leonidas and the soldiers under him knew that they were to die. He likens them to others who fought, knowing that death was inevitable (e.g., kamikaze pilots).

Third, the battle itself. It is somewhat disconcerting to have him depend so much on Herodotus' rendering of the story. However, he weaves in much detail on the actual geography of the battle site, the cultural background, and so on.

Fourth, and an interesting effort in itself, he discusses the impact of the battle on history and culture, including a listing of movies related to the battle and the political side of some of these movies. The final chapter returns to his theme that the battle--and the entire Persian-Greek War--represents a "turning-point in world history" (the subtitle of the chapter). He concludes with a quotation from William Golding, Nobel laureate, who, after having visited the battleground, said (page 211): "A little of Leonidas lies in the fact that I can go where I like and write what I like. He contributed to set us free."

Again, I am not sure how strong that case is, since Thermopylae was a defeat; it would appear that subsequent naval combat at Salamis and a disastrous defeat of the Persians by the Greeks at Platea were more important events (and one wishes that the author had discussed even briefly that battle as well as Salamis, to understand better the totality of the war). All in all, though, a nice volume on the Greek world of its time.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars INteresting read with some flaws Dec 12 2006
By nmhahl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Easy reading with good background information. A good review of the period and the interrelationships among the key players. One problem was the maps -- they are excellent, provide a sequential narrowing of the field of view and are well-placed at the start of the book, BUT they are presented so that the spine of the book interrupts key areas of the maps. This made them difficult to use and was a shame.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice read, contemporary comparision April 10 2007
By David Belfry - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a very easy read and well done. The author illustrates with contemporary events. Great insight.

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