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Alexander the Great Failure: The Collapse of the Macedonian Empire (Hambledon Continuum) Paperback – 11 Jun 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hambledon Continuum (11 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082644394X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826443946
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 1.5 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,411,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

The author's puzzling thesis is stated in his book's title: Grainger believes that Alexander the Great was a failure...Grainger's failure to be persuasive in his thesis is compounded by careless book production: misprints, confused chronology, incomprehensible maps, and an inconsistent rendering of foreign personal and place-names into English. Better books about Alexander are available. Summing Up: Not recommended. - E. N. Borza, CHOICE, January 2009--Sanford Lakoff

About the Author

Dr John D Grainger is a respected historian with a particular reputation for military subjects. His recent publications include Cromwell Against the Scots and The Battle of Yorktown.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kuma on 28 Jun 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has been written that "there have been many Alexanders" and it is true that perhaps one of the most documented men in antiquity has given classical scholars more license than usual to study and theorise on his life. The truth is that this has not brought clarity to our picture of Alexander but rather a myriad of characters that we can buy into. In that respect it was a welcome addition to the work on Alexander to find a work of criticism that would cut so deep as to deny Alexander his "greatness".

The simple answer to why was Alexander great, is easy, he was great because he ensured we were told he was great. Alexander took several historians on his campaigns and they ensured his place in history and it is impressive that so ancient a PR machine has lasted so long. The problem is that Grainger was perhaps not equal to the task of toppling the works of Arrian, Plutarch, Curtius or of modern historians such as Ehrenberg or Tarn. This perhaps lies in the way in which this book targets its subject matter.

First up Grainger fails to recognise that Greatness and Goodness are two different things. Even when Alexander was morally reprehensible his actions were still often great by their scope, he still conquered the known world and inspired countless others to try the same.

The second problem with Grainger's work is that he gives into anachronism and misunderstands Macedonian kingship. He criticises Alexander for failing to plan for a succession, he criticises the lack of benevolence shown to the peoples of his empire and fundamentally his statecraft. this runs into two obstacles, Alexanders premature death which denied us an opportunity to see the statesman develop and secondly the Grainger model of rulership seems idealised and far too modern.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Turner on 14 Oct 2012
Format: Paperback
I found this to be an enjoyable, if short, read. The book covers the period of the rise of Macedon under Philip II, the conquests of his son Alexander, and ends with the collapse of Alexander's empire into its component parts - mainly Antigonid Macedon, Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Empire - following on from the wars of the Diadochi. As pure narrative history Grainger's book does the job, however a timeline would have made following events easier.

Grainger's main thesis is that Alexander was far from great, in fact he sees Alexander as a disaster for Macedon and little more a plunderer of the Achaeminid Empire, with no plans for his empire save more conquests. This view is far too simple, for a start Alexander did not live long enough to put a stamp on his empire - who knows what would have happened had he lived longer. The reason why Alexander was great in his and ancient times was the scale of his conquests. Later would-be conquerors and generals would look to him as the supreme example of military genius and achievement. Grainger's attempts to moralise Alexander's brutality and actions is anachronistic and would have not been understood by his contemporaries or the ancient world. Another problem with the work, pointed out by another reviewer, is that Grainger dos not understand Macedonian (or Hellenistic) kingship. Criticism of Alexander's (and other rulers in the book) treatment of his subjects is out of place. Modern ideas of rulership are irrelevant when dealing with the ancient world. Grainger also lays the blame for the collapse of the Macedonian Empire on Alexander's failure to leave an adult male heir. This too seems harsh, as Alexander did, posthumously, produce a son and heir.

Nevertheless, the section dealing with the struggle for the empire is well told and brings to life such rulers as Antigonus Gonatas, Seleucus I, Demetrius and Kassander. Cautiously recommended for a differing, critical view of Alexander.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Mice Guy TOP 100 REVIEWER on 26 April 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the fourth book by this author that I have read recently, and I have developed a high opinion of his work. This book is targeting a more general readership than some of his academic studies (see further reading list below). The book itself is as well written and researched as the previous ones. The Notes however are mainly straightforward citation references, without as much of the in-depth criticism of the sources you find in the academic volumes, though he still gets a few barbs in:
"...on 10 June, 323, he [Alexander], died. Conspiracy theories surround this event: one has it that Antipater organised the assassination all the way from Macedon and involved half the imperial administration in the plot. These can be dismissed as the imaginings of desk-bound historians and over-imaginative novelists"; and he carries on in the footnotes. Philip's death has also attracted attention:
"During the celebration of [his daughter's] marriage Philip was murdered. His assassin was Pausanias, a man who had a grievance against Attalos, the uncle of Philip's new queen, a grievance which Philip had refused to deal with... Pausanias ran off, but was chased and killed by members of Philip's bodyguard. Conspiracy immediately comes to mind, probably unnecessarily. Almost everyone of any note in Philip's family and court has come under suspicion, but the main accused are Alexander, Olympias, Antipater and perhaps Parmenion; and superficially plausible cases can be constructed against all of them. There is even one theory which sees a plot by men of Upper Macedon against domination from the original kingdom. None of the theories stands up very well, and the most that can be said is that no one shed tears at the king's killing....
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
enlightenment 29 May 2010
By C. Loucks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this is in response to the 2 "1 star reviews". these reviewers obviously missed the point of the book, which was that alexander was a failure at empire building. it was not to say that alexander failed at everything he did. no question, he was a great conqueror, and worthy of admiration. but specifically in empire building is were his failure lies. if he was trying to build something lasting his efforts were self-defeating. an excellent book that helps the open minded form a clearer understanding of this outstanding general. those blinded by hero-worship might not see it for what it is.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Uneasy lies the head that bears the crown 10 May 2011
By Mr. Mice Guy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is the fourth book by this author that I have read recently, and I have developed a high opinion of his work. This book is targeting a more general readership than some of his academic studies (see further reading list below). The book itself is as well written and researched as the previous ones. The Notes however are mainly straightforward citation references, without as much of the in-depth criticism of the sources you find in the academic volumes, though he still gets a few barbs in:
"...on 10 June, 323, he [Alexander], died. Conspiracy theories surround this event: one has it that Antipater organised the assassination all the way from Macedon and involved half the imperial administration in the plot. These can be dismissed as the imaginings of desk-bound historians and over-imaginative novelists"; and he carries on in the footnotes. Philip's death has also attracted attention:
"During the celebration of [his daughter's] marriage Philip was murdered. His assassin was Pausanias, a man who had a grievance against Attalos, the uncle of Philip's new queen, a grievance which Philip had refused to deal with... Pausanias ran off, but was chased and killed by members of Philip's bodyguard. Conspiracy immediately comes to mind, probably unnecessarily. Almost everyone of any note in Philip's family and court has come under suspicion, but the main accused are Alexander, Olympias, Antipater and perhaps Parmenion; and superficially plausible cases can be constructed against all of them. There is even one theory which sees a plot by men of Upper Macedon against domination from the original kingdom. None of the theories stands up very well, and the most that can be said is that no one shed tears at the king's killing.... The fact is that the murderer was Pausanias, a man who had nursed a grievance for a year and had been unable to get redress. His abuser had been Attalos, who was away in Asia and was the uncle of Philip's new wife; Attalos was also the sworn enemy of Alexander. In Pausanias's grievance-filled mind, the only available man on whom he could gain revenge was Philip, who had refused to take action. It cannot have been absent from Pausanias' mind that killing Philip would benefit Alexander; perhaps he expected to get away with it. The question of 'cui bono' used to accuse Alexander, is, given Pausanias' state of mind, irrelevant".

The first chapter covers the history of Macedon from 370-359 BC, before the reign of Philip II. The state has almost collapsed from neighbours taking advantage of succession disputes. Macedon has a blood-soaked history of disputed successions, and Philip no doubt learned important lessons from this, as did Alexander.
Chapters 2-5 cover Philip's establishment of Macedon as a major power, up to his death in chapter 5 during the 'Conquest of Greece'. Alexander shares chapter 5 and has chapter 6 and 7 to himself. Chapters 8-15 cover the period of the first generation of Successors. There are a Conclusion, Notes, Bibliography, Index and 5 pages of maps.

While the book covers the story of the rise of Macedon and its acquisition of an empire, it does focus in particular on the effect this has on Macedon, often lost or ignored in histories of the early Hellenistic period. The problems of succession are also highlighted, and the many deaths that accompany the event, at Philip's, at Alexander's, at the establishment of the regency in Babylon, at the death of the regent, and at the several subsequent kings of Macedon, successful or not. Eventually Antigonos Gonatas marries a surviving female member of the royal house and spends his reign rebuilding Macedon, which as been invaded and divided several times. The Persians also had the same problem, and Philip's control of Greece co-incided with major dynastic upheavals, which meant there was little Persian intervention: "In 338, Artaxerxes III was murdered on the orders of his vizier, Bagoas, who had been one of the commanders of the invasion of Egypt. Bagoas killed off all Artaxerxes' sons as well, except for Arses, who became the new Great King as Artaxerxes IV. Not surprisingly Arses and Bagoas could not work together, and soon Arses and all his sons were also murdered. A distant member of the royal family was placed on the throne as Dareios III. Well warned, Dareios murdered Bagoas". And so it goes. You'd think that a Jacobean playwright would have found some inspiration here.

The problem the empire and its rulers - actual or hopeful - face is administration. Alexander didn't seem to be interested in establishing an administration (or it was too difficult) - Julius Caesar allegedly faced the same problem, and was going off on a Parthian war so he wouldn't have to deal with it, just as Alexander was proposing to invade Arabia. Eventually Seleukos established control of a large part of the former Akhemenid empire and re-established much of their administration.

Page 193: "...It bears repeating that the accession to power of Alexander on the killing of his father in 336 was the first time in two centuries that a royal succession in Macedon did not see a civil war or a collapse of the state, or both. Even then, Alexander had to drive off invaders and indulge in several murders to ensure peace. It is scarcely surprising that Alexander's own death resulted in civil war and political collapse. The problem was repeated on the deaths of Antipater, Kassander, Kassander's sons, Demetrios and Seleukos. Only the horrifying experience of the Galatian invasions and the careful manipulations and innovations of Antigonos Gonatas ensured that his dynasty succeeded in overcoming the problem for the next century.... The problem lay with the Macedonians. Kassander tried to appoint his successor, but his widow then interfered. The Macedonians whom Kassander ruled were those who had not gone overseas, the traditionalists who disliked any innovation. Only their experience of the Galatian invasion - another drastic winnowing process - finally compelled the abandonment of their indulgence in succession disputes. In the meantime they had, by their self-centredness and obduracy, effectively wrecked their own empire". One of Alexander's murders was Attalos - if you have seen Oliver Stone's film, he is the man with the evil grin at the wedding-feast when Philip banishes Alexander. The man being raped by Philip at the feast is meant to be Pausanias, according to some writers.

Further recommended reading by John D. Grainger:
The Cities of Seleukid Syria
The Cities of Pamphylia
The League of Aitolians (Mnemosyne, Supplements)
The Syrian Wars (Mnemosyne, Supplements)
The Roman War of Antiochos the Great (Mnemosyne, Supplements)
Hellenistic and Roman Naval Warfare 336BC - 31BC
Hellenistic Phoenicia
Seleukos Nikator: Constructing a Hellenistic Kingdom

An Aside - the Hellenistic period (Philip and Alexander to Actium) can be confusing, especially when there are both Greek and Roman versions of names. I have found that playing historical board games help in learning names & places. The following are particularly useful for this period.

Sword of Rome (GMT Games)
Successors (GMT Games)
Hannibal (Valley Games)
Julius Caesar (Columbia Games)
Spartacus (Compass Games)
boardgamegeek c*m
boardgameguru c* uk
12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Examines the rise and fall of an empire which rested on the king's absolute authority 9 Jan 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
ALEXANDER THE GREAT FAILURE: THE COLLAPSE OF THE MACEDONIAN EMPIRE examines the rise and fall of an empire which rested on the king's absolute authority: when the king failed his empire crumbled. Alexander needed an adult successor, but refused to provide one and even killed potential candidates for the job: the foundations of his empire and their shaky grounds are analyzed here in an outstanding in-depth survey recommended for college-level collections strong in early history.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Self Defense 3 Jan 2011
By Alexander - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In my defense, I passed away before completing my quest to spread Hellenism to all stretches of the known world. On that wretched day in 323 BC, I realized the mistake I had made. I thought I would live to win many more battles. Instead, I would never leave my bed in Babylon, alongside many of my most trusted generals. My future conquests throughout Arabia never came to fruition, nor did the opportunity to name my heir. Contrary to Grainger, whom I will confront in the same manner as I confronted Kleitos, I did plan to have an heir to provide stability to my work, but my aspirations for kleos and time grasped me and controlled me. Curse the day Keraunos assassinated Seleukos after Korupedion, impeding the reunification of my lands!

~Megalos Alexandros
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Review please - review ?? 3 Nov 2011
By Roger A. Newman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I came in search of information on the worthiness of buying this book and found the same 2000 year old emotional argument of Alexander, not even a discussion. I have more books than Amazon on Alexander and disagree with principles of them all. Will this book provide a new scholarly viewpoint on the subject? All five, even if they read more than the title and actually read the book, missed the point. I don't wish to read a book that grinds the same old meat, most "experts" give me that. Obviously Alexander was not a "failure", I doubt the author said that, so I will buy the book without viable input to find out. [Alexander is only a failure in our expectations, certainly not to his own expectations, he ran out of things to do (conquer).]
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